TEMPE, Ariz. — The play that summed it up came late in the third quarter. With the Tigers trailing 23-16, and Arizona State driving into Missouri territory, safety Matt White had a chance at a game-changing interception.
The pass from Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler was intended for A.J. Pickens but instead found its way right to White, who didn’t even have to move. But inexplicably, the ball careened off of his hands and instead ended up in the arms of Pickens.
The play was eventually called back because of an illegal formation penalty on Arizona State, but an interception by White would have ended the drive that culminated in a 12-yard Osweiler touchdown scramble to put Arizona State ahead 30-16 with 14:23 to go in the game.
“I don’t even know,” White said after the game about the play. “I’m just not really sure.”
The entire Missouri secondary might not be sure what happened Friday night after Osweiler shredded it for 353 yards and three touchdowns.
The numbers don’t lie. There are major concerns for the Missouri secondary.
During the first half, Osweiler consistently found holes in Missouri’s Cover 2 coverage scheme. At times it seemed every pass he threw to the outside went for an effortless gain of at least 20 yards. As the ball was in the air, Missouri fans could only watch and come to the sad realization that the safety supposed to make a play on the ball wasn’t going to get there in time.
Time after time, Osweiler made a virtual mockery of Missouri’s zone, firing passes past its cornerbacks and beyond the reach of its safeties. Cornerbacks failed to slow down Arizona State's receivers at the line of scrimmage for long enough to give Missouri's safeties a chance to react, head coach Gary Pinkel said.
“A couple times in the Cover 2, we didn’t get a hammer on the receiver coming off the line of scrimmage,” Pinkel said. “If you don’t get a hammer, he runs clean up the sideline, and the safety doesn’t have time to get over.”
The problems reached beyond the Cover 2 as well. Kip Edwards got beat clean by Aaron Pflugrad on a post route when he got caught backpedaling into deep zone coverage. By the time Edwards recovered, it was too late: touchdown, Arizona State.
Edwards said after the game that he even knew the play was coming, but because of a lack of focus he “got ran right by.”
The Tigers gave up five pass plays of 20 yards or more, including gains of 51 and 60 in the first half, compared to just one in their opener against Miami (Ohio).
“It was a little different,” safety Kenji Jackson said of giving up big plays. “I feel like we did good but just those third down plays and those key plays that we didn’t make, it just sucked that we didn’t make them.”
This isn’t the last time the Tigers are going to be seeing prolific passing games in 2011. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones-Ryan Broyles combination looms on Sept. 24 in Norman, as does a date with the duo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State on Oct. 22 in Columbia. The big play threats won't stop as the season rolls on. To be competitive, Missouri’s secondary will have to figure out how to stop them.