ASU will face Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, a team known of its use of the quar­ter­back sneak.

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Todd Gra­ham re­cently was asked about the sim­plest play in football, the quar­ter­back sneak, may it (al­most) rest in peace.

“We haven’t run a quar­ter­back sneak?” the Ari­zona State coach asked.

Not yet.

This isn’t a huge deal. For the most part, the Sun Devils – who host No. 4 Wash­ing­ton on Satur­day – have fared well in short-yardage sit­u­a­tions. Just one mea­sure: On third downs with less than three yards to go, the Sun Devils have se­cured a first down on 14 of 20 op­por­tu­ni­ties.

At the same time, they have botched two short­yardage chances. On Sept. 23 against Ore­gon, ASU

faced 4th-and-1 near mid­field. In­stead of run­ning a sneak, the Sun Devils put se­nior run­ning back De­mario Richard in their “Sparky” for­ma­tion. Tak­ing a di­rect snap five yards off the ball, Richard rushed forward, but ran into re­ceiver Kyle Wil­liams, who was in mo­tion from the left. The run­ning back was stuffed and ASU lost pos­ses­sion.

The sec­ond un­folded Sept. 30 against Stan­ford. On 3rd down with less than a yard to go, ju­nior quar­ter­back Manny Wilkins took the snap in the shot­gun. He faked a hand­off to Richard and looked right but no one was there. Wilkins then tried to make some­thing of the bro­ken play but was stopped short.

Ob­vi­ously, run­ning the sneak de­pends on sev­eral fac­tors. Time. Score. Yard line. But as more teams go to shot­gun for­ma­tions (ASU op­er­ates al­most ex­clu­sively out of it), the quar­ter­back sneak has be­come en­dan­gered in many pro­grams, left on the back pages of the dig­i­tal play­book.

“No­body does it any­more,” said re­ceivers coach Rob Likens, who has called plays through­out his ca­reer. “Here’s the thing: If you go with a team that does shot­gun, the last thing you want to do is put a guy in a sit­u­a­tion (where) he hasn’t done a lot of it and it’s at the most im­por­tant time of the game.”

Likens gives an ex­am­ple: Back dur­ing his days as an as­sis­tant coach at Louisiana Tech, the coach­ing staff called for a quar­ter­back sneak. As the Bull­dogs lined up, Idaho -- that day’s op­po­nent -called time. That gave Louisiana Tech’s quar­ter­back a chance to take a few snaps un­der cen­ter on the side­line.

He fum­bled the first.

“I was like, ‘Thank good­ness we had a chance to work on it,”’ Likens said.

Not ev­ery team has ditched the sneak. Wash­ing­ton, for ex­am­ple, runs it reg­u­larly, Gra­ham said, but some are rusty. On Sept. 29 at Wash­ing­ton State, USC ran it for the first time this sea­son, but the Tro­jans did so in an un­usual cir­cum­stance. Af­ter Ron­ald Jones II was tack­led near the first-down marker, the Tro­jans hus­tled and quickly snapped the ball to quar­ter­back Sam Darnold, lined up un­der cen­ter. Darnold rushed forward for the first down.

Only prob­lem: USC hadn’t re­al­ized it had se­cured a first down on the pre­vi­ous play, so the sneak ba­si­cally made it 2nd-and-9.


“One of the trends you see nowa­days, teams will go tempo and hand the ball off,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Billy Napier said. “Watch­ing NFL games, they’re headed that di­rec­tion.”

The clos­est ASU has come to a sneak came against San Diego State in Week 2. Fac­ing 1st-and-goal from the 1, the Sun Devils hud­dled (a rar­ity) and then quickly lined up with Wilkins un­der cen­ter. At the snap, Wilkins handed off to se­nior run­ning back Kalen Bal­lage, who was stuffed for no gain.

On the next play, Bal­lage scored from the “Sparky” for­ma­tion, which has be­come the Sun Devils’ short-yardage play of choice. Richard, Bal­lage and se­nior re­ceiver N’Keal Harry all have had suc­cess find­ing holes off di­rect shot­gun snaps.

But Napier ac­knowl­edges that the time will come when ASU will have to line up un­der cen­ter, for a sneak or some­thing else. He said the Sun Devils have it in their play­book. They have worked on it. They’ll be ready.

“I tell you what drives me crazy,” Gra­ham said. “When it’s fourth-and-afoot and (teams) get in the shot­gun. That drives me crazy. Fourth-and-a foot, (the sneak is) what you ought to run. That’s what I think.”

Some­thing to keep in mind.

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