ASU football: Short passes could prove vital for ASU’s offense

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25: Wide receiver N'Keal Harry
TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25: Wide receiver N'Keal Harry /

During their scrimmage at Camp Tontozona, the ASU football passing attack showed a deficiency trying to complete the deep-ball, and in doing so, they found their glaring weakness.

Wide receivers N’Keal Harry and John Humphrey had no problem getting past their corners Saturday, and with only green grass standing in their way on the path to the endzone, six points seemed evident.

Like the ball in their hands, those six points never came.

With Harry and Humphrey still in stride, the ball hit the ground just feet in front of them and the Arizona State offense had just missed an ample opportunity.

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As quarterbacks Manny Wilkins and Blake Barnett continue to gain chemistry with their receivers through repetition, the overthrows should turn into completions.

“The vertical passing game is an area where we need to improve and that really started to show up here in the last couple days,” offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. “But we’ve had tremendous success doing that in the spring and early in training camp.

“It’s a point of emphasis for our offense over the next four days to really work hard and improve in that area.”

But, with no timetable for when that chemistry will come and when those 40, 50-yard passes will turn into completions, the Sun Devils still need to put the ball in the hands of their play-making receivers including Harry and Humphrey.

“One of the easiest ways to get those guys involved is like quick gain, easy perimeter screens,” Napier said. “They’re basically runs on the perimeter to some degree and that’s a huge part of what we do.”

The short passes keep the offense flowing and are the fastest ways to, essentially, let playmakers, make plays.

Harry showcased this most prominently last season, going for a 34-yard touchdown off a lateral against NAU and pulling off this unbelievable play against Utah.

One receiver primed add on to the yards after catch repertoire that Harry started last year is Texas transfer Ryan Newsome.

The 5-foot-8 redshirt sophomore wideout says he ran a 3.33 second 40-yard dash when last clocked during his freshman year and praises Napier for using the short passes and laterals to help get everyone their touches.

“It takes a great-minded offensive coordinator to be able to balance everybody and cater to each skill position, or skill-set rather,” Newsome said. “I appreciate Coach Napier for that, trying to get the ball in my hands, so when it comes my way I try and make the most of my opportunities.”

Short passes, like a change of pace back coming in on third down, work to catch the defense off guard. Calling an excess of one play so that late in the game, they can strike with the opposite.

And judging by Monday’s practice, short throws will set up their deep shots. During 11-on-11 play, the first and second-team offenses combined for three passing plays — all three were short, quick throws relying on the receivers to pick up the yardage.

But when the season rolls around, the opposing defense will dictate the game plan and Newsome has faith that his offensive coordinator will lead them in the right direction.

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“It’s just based on what defense we’re seeing when we study film, how we can hit them,” Newsome said. “You know if we can hit them short then deep, or deep then short — you know Coach Napier has a great mind for those kinds of things.”