Key to the Game: A Look Back at the Key Play from UCLA vs. Arizona State

Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE

The fifth installment in a series looking at the key play from each UCLA Pac-12 game from the 2012 season. This week looks at the Bruins' 45-43 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils.

The Arizona State game from the 2012 season was either my second or third favorite game to watch. At the time, Arizona State looked imposing. Their defense was loaded with talent, Taylor Kelly looked every bit as good as Brett Hundley had and their 3-headed monster at running back was as impressive as nearly any group in the country. For the most part, nobody was quite sure what to make of UCLA. The Oregon State loss was looking forgivable with the high level of play the Beavers were maintaining, but the Cal game only looked worse sandwiched between an uninspiring win over Utah and the blowout of a bad Colorado team. At 5-2 (2-2), the Bruins needed to deliver on the road to be in position to make a run at a Pac-12 South title.

Setup:

If you had to give an example of what a shootout game looks like, you could just run the film from this one. Over 1000 yards of combined offense, 11 combined punts compared to 15 scoring drives and 88 points.

The game featured primarily back-and-forth scoring, the biggest lead was 14-0 ASU in the first quarter thanks to another fumble on a punt return by Steven Manfro after a 3-and-out on the opening possession. UCLA tied up the score at 14-14 by the end of the first quarter with a rushing TD by Johnathan Franklin and a 15-yard TD pass from Brett Hundley to Devin Fuller.

A field goal by Arizona State was the only scoring in the 2nd quarter until a beastly pass rush by Cassius Marsh turned into an interception of Taylor Kelly by Dalton Hilliard at the UCLA 5-yard. Franklin would score for the 2nd time on the next play to give UCLA a 21-17 lead at halftime.

The first four possession of the 2nd half all led to scores. A FG by ASU was answered in one play on a 65-yard TD pass from Hundley to Damien Thigpen. That was quickly followed by a 20-yard TD pass from Kelly to Marion Grice and a failed 2-point conversion kept UCLA ahead at 28-26. The Bruins’ next drive ended with a TD reception by Joseph Fauria, giving UCLA a 35-26 lead until Marion Grice caught another TD pass in the opening minute of the 4th quarter. Another Hundley to Thigpen connection followed by another ASU field goal gave UCLA a 42-36 lead.

A truly pathetic drive after the FG (15-yard penalty on XSF, 2-yard run, dropped pass, sack) gave Arizona State the ball back at roughly midfield with just under 3 minutes to play. A broken play led to a 32-yard scramble by Kelly to get ASU inside the redzone and a 7-yard pass to D.J. Foster gave the Sun Devils a 43-42 lead with just over 1 minute remaining in the game.

The drive started promising with a 14-yard completion to Manfro along with a 9-yard run by Franklin and a 7-yard flare route to Thigpen that put UCLA at the ASU 45-yard line. An 11-yard hitch route by Shaquelle Evans on 2nd and 9 gave UCLA a 1st down at the 33-yard, just outside of potential field goal range for Ka’imi Fairbairn. After a spike on 1st down to stop the clock, UCLA faced a 2nd and 10 with 25 seconds left in the game.

Positioning and Execution:



(The play here starts at 0:48. Thanks to punitingiswinning for uploading this compilation of the game winning drive. Well worth the watch all the way through.)


OL/RB vs. DL/LBs:



On this play, UCLA lines up Torian White, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Jake Brendel, Alberto Cid and Jeff Baca from left to right. Baca slid out to RT to replace Simon Goines who was fairly ineffective in this game. UCLA had given up 5 sacks to this point in the game and had been penalized several other times. Arizona State lined up with 3 down lineman and an OLB to the outside of White on the left side who had been spying Hundley late in the game. Johnathan Franklin also falls into this category this week because he stays in to pass block. He’s lined up to the right of Hundley, where the biggest threats to Hundley are lined up.

The Sun Devils best defensive player in my opinion is Carl Bradford. Apologies to Will Sutton, but Bradford is a complete player. Sutton is a superior pass rusher, but Bradford plays well against run and pass. Anyway, he is lined up outside-eye of Jeff Baca with an additional LB showing blitz directly behind the DE. The DT to that side is seemingly head-up with Cid.

To the left side, there is a DT outside-eye of XSF and the stand-up LB I mentioned earlier. With no immediate threat in the middle of the field, it was a safe bet that XSF and White would be responsible for the two players to the left and Brendel and Johnathan Franklin would take care of the right side along with Baca and Cid.

As always, I’ll break down the blocks here matchup by matchup in the Analysis of Action.

QB/WRs vs. Coverage:

Brett Hundley is just in a simple shotgun setup, with Johnathan Franklin to his right side. At WR, UCLA has Shaq Evans wide to the right and Steven Manfro in the slot on that side. To the left, Jordan Payton is off the bottom the screen with Joseph Fauria lined up in the slot just inside the hash marks.

ASU’s safeties are off screen, but are almost certainly playing 2-deep coverage to stop any possibility of being beat for a TD. The corners are all in press coverage on the receivers, which they are all physical enough to do effectively.

There isn’t any motion or trickery on this play, just a pretty obvious passing situation with a standard 4-WR set against press coverage.

Analysis of Action during the play:

The play works out to be a pass on 2nd and 10 with 4 WRs running routes against press-man coverage by the corners with safety help deep and a 5-man pass rush against 6 blockers.


OL/RB vs. DL/LBs:

I’ll work from left to right on this play:

Torian White:


White has a pretty straightforward assignment on this play. Block Anthony Jones. This is made an even easier job because Jones is not actually rushing Hundley on this play, he’s spying him to make sure he cannot scramble if the coverage is solid (which it was on this play).

Torian takes a good first step and realizes that Jones isn’t rushing. So he looks to help out on XSF’s block, though Xavier does not need any help locking down ASU’s backup DT. As the play progresses, White goes to block a defender coming across the field late as Hundley scrambles. There was essentially no way that White could have screwed up on this play unless he willingly gave Jones an unabaited path to Hundley.

Xavier Su’a-Filo:

Xavier has the same responsibility as White on this play. All he has to do is block a backup DT. As expected from one of the best guards in the country, he handles the DT easily and does so with great footwork and technique. It is almost boring to watch over and over again. I know that this is supposed to be about last season, but I can’t see anyway that moving XSF to left tackle is the right thing to do. The guards in this offense are more important players than the tackles. If the offense is going to be more pass heavy, than maybe that’ll work out. But the running game needs athletic guards to get going.

Jake Brendel:

With no immediate threat to either his left or right, Brendel’s job on this play is to wait until a defender becomes a threat in the middle, identify that defender and block him. The player that he ends up making contact with is the LB that was lined up behind Carl Bradford. It isn’t a very complex blitz by the Sun Devils defense and that makes Brendel’s job much simpler. When the LB shows up Brendel makes decent contact, but could do a better job of staying on the defender. That’s the reason why the defender is able to come across the line of scrimmage to where White is waiting.

Alberto Cid:

Cid did a decent job filling in for Baca on this play. With Baca at RT, the guard spot loses a lot of talent but Cid at guard is a far better option than any other player at tackle instead of Baca. The DT head-up on Cid tries to bullrush him on this play with minimal effectiveness. Cid stalemates him and gives up enough ground that the blitz by Arizona State becomes obvious and clear to all of the offensive linemen very quickly.

Jeff Baca:

Baca has the toughest block on this play both pre-snap and post-snap. His pre-snap read is either Carl Bradford, one of the best pass rushers in the Pac-12 or a blitz from an OLB. It ends up being Bradford trying to speed rush around the edge of Baca. Jeff does a good job of setting the edge and turning Bradford inside. By doing this, Baca actually gives Bradford a chance of cutting underneath him for a sack. Baca gets away with a little bit of a hold here at 0:52-0:53, but no referee is calling that with 25 seconds left. Not even in the Pac-12.

Johnathan Franklin:

Franklin stays in as an extra blocker on this play. He reads the defensive line and blitzing linebacker well, but there is no lineman that needs any of his help. After staying available for help for about 3-4 seconds, Franklin releases as a safety valve underneath for Hundley. If Hundley had made the decision to dump off to Franklin, he might have gotten 10-15 yards. There are only CBs in man coverage on the second level, so the first threat to Franklin would have been a safety rallying to the ball.

This isn’t to say that Hundley made the wrong decision on this play because he didn’t. It would have been a tough throw and he had another read on his checklist before dumping off is an option. The threat of the dump off being there is something that teams certainly prepared for in future weeks based on this play and others. It isn’t always the play that gets made that coaches look at when scouting, it’s the plays that could be made in the future.

QB/WRs vs. Coverage:

This is where football being a game of matchups makes the difference. Arizona State wins this play in the secondary. Every receiving threat is covered for 4-5 seconds from the snap at 0:49 in the video until the throw is made at 0:54.

Going from the top of the screen to the bottom, Shaq Evans looks to just be running an 8-10 yard in-route or a slant at the same depth. He goes off screen for the middle of the play, so I cannot tell exactly. But based on where he ends up, that seems to be the most logical route. He gets covered the entire play and when Hundley looks his way at :52 in the video, there is no chance that he is getting the ball.

Manfro in the slot looks to be running a deeper pattern over the middle, he gets a decent release but is covered up again by the time Hundley gets to that part of his progression on the play (right between :51 and :52 in the video before he looks to Evans). He never shows up again on the video, so I assume he gets blanketed by that slot corner and one of the safeties over the top because he is the only true deep threat on the play.

On the other side of the play, Jordan Payton is the hardest part of the entire play for me to figure out. He’s off screen until after the ball is thrown, where he ends up blanketed by Deveron Carr, who is an NFL defensive back. My guess is that he got jammed pretty well at the bottom by Carr and had to cut off his route short to 6-8 yards. He looks to be Hundley’s first or second read on the play and Brett quickly sees that there is no shot to get Payton the ball.

Joseph Fauria is the mismatch on this play and for the majority of the play he is handled by Chris Young, who is an athletic LB/DB hybrid measuring up at 6 foot even and 233 pounds. Giving up more than a half foot in height on a matchup is tough for any defender, but Young handles Fauria off the line of scrimmage and gets a solid reroute that you can see the beginning of at :50-:51 in the video. What ends up happening is size winning and a quarterback taking advantage of a mismatch.

Before coming back to Fauria, I’m going to address Brett Hundley on this play. He goes through at least 6 progressions on this play (from the snap: what the safeties are doing, Payton, Fauria, Manfro, Evans, back to Manfro, possibly back to Payton and finally to Fauria). That is a lot to ask of a redshirt freshman. That is a complex series of progressions for a lot of NFL QBs. When Hundley makes the decision to get the ball to Fauria, he has to make a very specific throw or else Young is going to break up the pass.


After seeing that Fauria created a sliver of space, Hundley throws a jumpball for him on the sideline. The worst case scenario on this pass would be the ball sailing out of bounds, the best case scenario is what happens. Fauria makes the grab for 9 huge yards to put the Bruins in a easy 3rd down situation with Franklin averaging 6 yards a carry on the day.


Fauria doesn’t run a particularly good route on the play, but he uses his two NFL level tools to his advantage. His hands and his size. If he were 6’4", I don’t think he’d be on an NFL roster at the moment, but the fact that he is 6’7" with great hands makes him a matchup problem at any level.

Aftermath:

This play moved the Bruins from outside of Fairbairn’s range to inside of it. Another 9 yards of rushing yardage by Franklin would give Fairbairn a shot for the win from 33-yards away with 4 seconds left. You all remember what happened next, a missile straight through the middle of the uprights for the big victory over Arizona State.

The win pushed UCLA to 6-2 (3-2) making UCLA bowl-eligible in October for the first time in a long time. By beating the Sun Devils, UCLA also put them in position to control their own destiny with games against South division challengers Arizona and Southern Cal in upcoming weeks. Win those games and UCLA wins the Pac-12 South. That simple.

Next week, we’ll look at the most complete game that UCLA has played in as long as I can remember. Almost a flawless performance against the Arizona Wildcats at the Rose Bowl.

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