The Arizona State Sun Devils kept their title hopes alive with a win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. ASU’s final drive featured two well-designed plays; a pick play that took advantage of a coverage mismatch and perfectly executed play-action fake. On a CFB Saturday filled with great plays, this sequence is FCU’s Optimum Offense Play of the Week.
With the college football playoff on the horizon, Arizona State hosted Notre Dame on Saturday to keep their selection hopes alive. The two one-loss teams dueled in the desert, with the Sun Devils roaring out of the gate and staking themselves to a 24-point halftime lead. The Fighting Irish clawed back with three unanswered touchdowns in the second half, the last of which cut the ASU lead to three points with 7:18 remaining in the contest.
Arizona State responded with a 5-play, 75-yard drive that kept their championship hopes intact. Running back Demario Richard secured two crucial receptions, the second for a touchdown that restored the Sun Devils’ double digit lead.
The Pick Play
Following a touchback off the Notre Dame kickoff, Arizona State took possession and fed running back D.J. Foster on the drive’s first three plays, netting 31 yards and setting the offense up with 2nd and 8 at the Irish 44-yard line. Quarterback Taylor Kelly aligns in the shotgun with trips to his right (the third receiver is at the top of the screen, with only his foot visible in the still below) and Richard in the backfield to his left (circled in red). Notre Dame has a pass defense package on the field and will blitz a defensive back on each edge:
Defensive end Sheldon Day (circled in white) drops into coverage and is responsible for Richard on this play in the Cover 0 Robber scheme that uses freshman safety Drue Tranquill as the robber (#23). From the left, receiver Jaelen Strong runs a slant route and he will soon meet Day up-close:
But Richard avoids the blitzing CB, setting the stage for Strong and Day:
The WR and DE collide and Richard is wide open with no nearby defender:
Since it is the defender who initiates contact, yellow flags remain tucked in the officials’ pockets:
Day disengages from Strong, but too late to prevent the completion. Kelly spots his RB open along the sideline and hits him in stride:
Richard races down the boundary until he is finally forced out of bounds by Tranquill inside the Notre Dame 5-yard line:
This is a perfectly executed pick play; the receiver’s route takes him into the path of the DE, who is inexperienced in zone coverage and engages Strong instead of avoiding him. The WR makes the play legal by smartly angling his route ‒ into the path Day would need to take in order to impede him ‒ without initiating contact. Instead of cutting off Richard’s route, Day himself is cut off from the play and the running back sets ASU up at first and goal.
From his deep alignment in the i-formation, Richard carries out a fake with his quarterback and the defense bites. All but the two outside defenders come forward on the run simulation:
The RB slips through the line and cuts to the outside:
By the time the defense identifies the play, the ball is in the air and it is too late:
Richard’s touchdown increases the Sun Devil lead to 10 pending the PAT:
The first play succeeds due to recognition by the quarterback, Kelly, who identifies the man coverage scheme and gets the ball out quickly to his RB for a huge gain. But, it is equally reliant on the Strong’s ability to execute a perfect pick on Day, allowing Richard to gallop into scoring range.
The second play works because of the situation: 1st and goal is a great time for an offense to attempt play-action. Nine defenders bite on the run fake, opening up a large swath of turf for Richard on his route.
With the lead down to three, Kelly and Richard rose to the occasion and delivered two colossal plays for their team. While the Irish (7-2) will likely have to be satisfied with an upper-tier bowl bid, Arizona State (8-1) remains on track for the Pac-12 title game and a possible shot at the NCAA playoffs.
All video and images courtesy ABC/ESPN.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.