A Closer Look at Barkley’s First Interception

Let us take a closer look at Barkley’s first interception against ASU.  Many debate over whether this was Barkley’s mistake, a poorly designed play, or a great play by Burfict.  However, the intent of this post isn’t to lay blame or praise, but to show exactly what happened.  I leave it to you to determine your own opinion of this play.

To view the play, go here: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=7017250

Pre-Snap Formation

USC comes out in Shotgun with five wide receivers.  Robert Woods is on the right sideline at the top of the screen.  ASU’s defense shows blitz and has three defensive backs on the right side of the field covering two wide receivers.  The left side of the field shows two defensive backs and possibly the linebacker covering the wide receivers in trips.

Here is my drawing of the formation in the frame.

Robert Woods is highlighted in yellow and Burfict is highlighted as red.  The defensive tackles are lined up in the A gaps in the 1 technique (one defensive tackle may also be in the 0 technique, it is hard to say) and the defensive ends are in the 5 technique.  Burfict shows blitz in the B gap on the right side and the other linebacker looks to cover a wide receiver or blitz on the outside (but a blitz would leave a WR on the left completely open).  From here, it looks like they will put safety support on top of Robert Woods.

However, prior to the snap, the safety on the right side motions all the way over to the left on top of the closest wide receiver.  On closer inspection of the video, you can see the linebacker on the left side pointing to the wide receiver while looking at the safety.  It is possible that the safety lined up incorrectly at first and was corrected by the linebacker.  The linebacker knew he was blitzing on this play and didn’t want a wide receiver uncovered on the left side.

This leaves the two WRs on the right with one on one coverage.

Formation at Snap

Here is a look at the snap of the ball.

This is where things get interesting.  Let us look at the overhead first.  It is pretty much what was shown last time, so let us take a step back and look at how this play is designed.

Kiffin called this play a Jailbreak Screen play to Robert Woods.  In this play, Robert Woods advances forward a couple yards before cutting and coming back towards the quarterback.  The WR next to Woods will cross and block the corner who is directly in front of Woods.  The center and right guard bump their respective players then advance to block for Woods.  I imagine in the general case, the right guard is responsible for taking Burfict out of this play if Burfict does not blitz.

On the left side is another screen pass setup.  The two WRs on the left side double team block one of the defensive backs while the third WR gets behind them.  If the ball gets thrown his way, he has to break the tackle of the unblocked defensive back.  If he can accomplish this, it could potentially be a big gain.

Now let us look at the defensive play.

The defensive play call was a blitz by two linebackers, including Burfict, with man coverage backing them up.  The left defensive end starts with a rush, but breaks contact and drops back into coverage.  The purpose of this is to open up the B gap for the blitzing linebacker, who does a switch.  The defensive tackles both rush the A gaps and the right defensive end rushes around the offensive tackle.  Burfict is supposed to rush the B gap on the right side here.

Against this defensive blitz, the jailbreak screen should be an easy touchdown.  The Right Guard will bump Burfict before going out with the center to double team block the defensive back.  On paper, this play should have three USC blockers against two ASU defensive backs and the ball in Robert Woods’ hands.  It is a simple numbers mismatch and should succeed.

Post Snap

Let us look at what happens.

In this frame, Barkley has seen Burfict blitzing.  Barkley then turns to his left to pull the defense onto the screen play forming away from the actual play side.  The center has bumped his man and is already on his way to block down field.  Robert Woods has made his cut and is getting in position.  Now lets look at the next frame.

After looking off the play, Barkley turns back to his right and fires the ball towards Robert Woods.  The Right Guard has bumped Burfict and is on his way to get in front of Woods.  Unfortunately, Burfict has been bumped right into the passing lane.  It is at this point that Burfict’s instincts cause him to slow his momentum down rather than continuing on the blitz.  Please note that Burfict did not actually “drop back” into coverage as some people have said.  He always kept his forward momentum going, but simply did not follow through on the blitz.  Next frame.

Had this play not been broken up, you can see the center coming down on the defensive back with the right guard not too far behind him.  Woods is in position for the ball.  Unfortunately, Burfict reads the ball in the air and makes a jump on the ball.

Burfict intercepts the ball and it is going the other way.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that this helps in the general understanding of what occurred on that play and the play call.  In my own opinion, this was a great play by Burfict and not the fault of the play call itself.  Barkley did make a mistake that he did not properly locate Burfict after trying to look off the play, but I also believe this is not a huge mistake.  I do put some blame onto Barkley, but I think this play was more a great read by Burfict.

Take another look at the video of the play in action: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=7017250

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17 responses to “A Closer Look at Barkley’s First Interception

  1. Thanks for the breakdown! Great read.

    If I was to apportion blame…

    50% Barkley
    45% Dumb stupid luck.
    5% Good read by Burfict

    Hopefully Barkley makes up for it in the U of A game.

    Fight on!

  2. If you look at the third picture from the top you will notice that Woods has already made his cut. Matt is already looking at him but does not throw the ball. It needs to come out early or the play gets too close to the middle, like it did. This is not the first time in the game that Matt did not deliver the ball early enough. Good QB’s know where to throw the ball before the WR gets there. In this case, if you keep that thought in mind and then review the play in the video, you will see that Matt should have got the ball out much sooner to remove any linemen or linebackers from the play.

  3. Great breakdown! Love this step-by-step analysis with your diagrams backed by direct shots from the game.

    Why would the fault not be on Barkley, if there were open guys to his left? If it’s his committment to the play, then can we lay this one on Kiffin since Barkley wouldn’t improvise so?

  4. Nice write-up but I still feel that ASU practiced against this play and knew it was coming. Thats why Burfict hides out in line and waits for Matt to throw, if Matt just throws when woods was open eariler it would have been successful.

  5. I can’t imagine the coaches teach the right guard to block the LB into the passing lane. I blame the right guard (mostly) and Barkley (some).

    • It isn’t necessarily that the RG is blocking the LB into the passing lane. The chip block is designed to slow the pressure down. It actually forces the MLB into no man’s land where they can no longer drop back into coverage nor get to the quarterback in time. The angle of the block actually won’t be dictated much by the RG since it is a chip block and his responsibility is to get into the next level. He must take whatever type of push he can get based on the blitz of the MLB and then it is on Barkley to ensure the passing lane is clear. This is just my opinion, but we probably will never know for sure since we don’t know the full details of the play.

  6. Martinez (RG) is so ineffective in his block of Burfict that in fact he ‘bumps” him into the passing lane. Had he been aware of the play concept and less concerned of getting to the second level, he would have driven Burfict down or out of the play to the right and/or turned him to the inside. This was a well called play that required perfect execution. Alas, it was another mental breakdown by young/inexperienced players. I’m sure that Martinez had a “teachable moment” in the film review.

    • It would be interesting to know what the RG’s responsibility was in this play call. In my opinion, he probably did what he was supposed to do: chip the blitzing MLB and get to the next level. I do not think he deviated from the play and decided not to block the MLB due to selfish reasons. If the play called for him to block the MLB, then he was at fault, but I do not imagine this is the case. Now, if the MLB had not blitzed, my guess is that the RG would have then seal blocked the MLB to prevent him from making a play on the screen. Of course, this is all speculation as we do not actually know the full design of this play, including what responsibilities or reads the RG must make. I, however, do not feel that the RG made much error in this case. But of course, it will always be up for discussion and none of us will really know for sure.

  7. After looking at the break down of the play, I would have to say this, 1) the play was designed well, 2) the OL did what they were supposed to do, any longer on the block of Burfict it would have tied up the lineman going down field, 3) Burfict did not continue his direct line, he actually stoped, 4) Barkley threw the ball from his back leg moving backwards, this caused Barkley to throw up a pillow, and if one was to look at more coverage of Barkley dropping back to pass, Barkley does this often in the game. Why, I do not know . . . . So for me I will have to put this one on Barkley. If you look at where Woods was going to recieve the ball, Woods would have had to wait for the ball to get to him. Barkley just had a really bad game over all. Barkley really needs to stop thinking that he has to carry the team, I think thats was the cause of the second pick later in the game . . . . just trying to do too much . . . . “SC for LIFE”

    • Agreed on your points. Barkley did throw off his back foot, which is a reoccurring theme for him. In terms of screen passes, quarterbacks often throw off of their back foot as they are typically retreating from the pressure that the offensive line has purposefully let through. In this case, he does look like he has time to set his feet, but it may actually be kinda built into the play for him to throw in such a manner.

      Barkley does throw the ball behind Woods, which would have caused Woods to have to slow down or even stop. I don’t think this played much into the actual interception, as throwing the ball behind Woods actually put the ball further away from Burfict than if Barkley had thrown where he should have. Agreed that Barkley still has room for improvement on his technique and accuracy in certain situations.

  8. Why wouldn’t an offense call a simple slant for the slot, if the Mike was blitzing, especially if less than 10 yards away from the end zone? Screens would seem to be less effective if the field is compressed by the end zone, and the defenders are all close-in.

    • @ derrr.
      Well, the simple answer is the offense does not know what the defensive play call is. They have no idea whether the Mike linebacker is blitzing or not. He may show blitz prior to the snap, but this is not a good indication of what he will actually do. Screens should be effective even in the redzone. It all depends on how much pressure the defense is applying. The concept of the screen is to allow the pressure in, then get the ball past them. Essentially, you use their aggressiveness to take themselves out of the play.

      This isn’t to say that we will always use screens in this type of situation in the redzone. There will be times that we will use the slant routes instead of a screen. It just so happened that this particular play that I reviewed and analyzed was a screen. Football is a chess match and there is always a certain amount of unpredictability that must go into your play calling. You can’t establish too many tendencies or else the defense will be able to jump on it. Of course, if your execution is strong enough, it won’t matter if the defense knows what is coming.

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