How Arizona State’s Kenny Dillingham decided to use the swinging gate formation to beat UCLA

Nov 14, 2023, 7:43 AM | Updated: 8:16 am

Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham reacts during the second half of the team's NCAA college footb...

Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham reacts during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against UCLA, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

(AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

With Arizona State missing so many players, including five offensive linemen, in Saturday’s victory over UCLA, first-year head coach Kenny Dillingham turned to multiple players taking snaps at quarterback and the swinging gate formation to beat the Bruins.

Tight end Jalin Conyers, who was a quarterback in high school, took the opening snap of the game, making him the fourth starting quarterback of the season for ASU. The Sun Devils have dealt with injuries to Jaden Rashada, Drew Pyne and Trenton Bourguet, who exited ASU’s 55-3 loss to Utah two weeks back with a leg injury after only three plays.

With all the injuries and with Bourguet limping during much of the contest against UCLA, it was running back Cam Skattebo who tossed ASU’s only passing touchdown during the game.

Dillingham used the swinging gate formation a total of 18 times in the 17-7 road win at UCLA. The swinging gate sets up the entire offensive line, with the exception of the center, on one side of the field. It leaves the quarterback and center, and sometimes the running back, unprotected.

Why did Arizona State and Kenny Dillingham turn to the swinging gate formation?

Dillingham employed the formation to get UCLA’s elite linemen away from the quarterback.

“I don’t know if you saw the fire-breathing dragons we saw on defense. Let’s just take those guys and put them on the sideline,” Dillingham told the Pac-12 Network crew after the game. “If we can put three fire-breathing dragons over there on the sideline 20 times a game, we’re going to do it.”

The use of the swinging gate came out of a meeting last week with ASU special advisor Marvin Lewis. The former Cincinnati Bengals head coach mentioned to Dillingham that in the 1980s, Jim Fassel used a swinging gate formation for passing plays while he was the head coach at Utah and Lewis was the linebackers coach at New Mexico.

“We’ve done unique things like that this year already,” Dillingham said. “We ran the quarterback sneak from nobody out there, which is a form of swinging gate. Last year, I did some of that, but to truly create a sound scheme around it was just the matchups that we had … I was looking at different ways to do it. We didn’t copy-paste what Fassel did for Utah, but it was more the premise of how they did it. We kind of added our own flair to it but teams have been running the swinging gate for a long time.”

Lewis and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson also deployed the swinging gate formation with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014 and 2015.

“This is not like we reinvented anything,” Dillingham said. “People are acting like I just pulled this magical rabbit out of a hat. No, we’ve done something that people have been doing since the 1980s. Now did we run it more than some people have done it? Yes, because it was working and it was sound, but this is not anything special in my opinion — just maybe weird and not normal, but you can’t be scared of what’s working.”

Lewis was hired as a special advisor at ASU in May 2019.

He presents a write-up for the offensive staff and the defensive staff on the summary of the opponent in terms of their strengths and their weaknesses, but Dillingham, as a first-year head coach, has also turned to Lewis for his veteran presence.

“I just always bounce ideas off him on like, where do you think our team is?” Dillingham said. “How do you think practice is going or are we practicing hard enough? Are we practicing too much? How do I handle this situation? How do I handle that situation? So he’s just been a really good sounding board for me in terms of stuff like that.”

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How Arizona State’s Kenny Dillingham decided to use the swinging gate formation to beat UCLA