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The Drive: How N’Keal Harry against Washington is like David Lynch’s Dune

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Dune, David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel, is available for streaming on Amazon. Which is how my wife and I saw it for the first time early Thursday morning. It is an impressive work of camp. Rather than be a simply bad movie in the vein of Manos: The Hands of Fate or The Room, in which the sheer incompetence steadily moves the work from joke to joke on the audience, Dune is that rare movie which is great and awful almost simultaneously. Rather than bore you with flimsy adjectives, consider only this, a brief recap of the climactic scene, in which Yakima native and UW grad Kyle MacLachlan, um achieves his destiny.

A very relatable dilemma. That is the exact face I give when I recognize a need to conquer the worm.

The worm.

The worm conquered.

And when a buddy drops in and offers to help you conquer the worm.

Lynch is a great director who is only great at certain parts of directing. He did not have complete control over this project, and that may have accentuated how tin-eared, stilted, unintentionally funny and prismatically campy Dune is, but who’s to say exactly. Dune aspired to be Star Wars and became The Stars Wars Holiday Special. I am so glad it exists. David Lynch is not.

Which at least half describes tape of N’Keal Harry’s performance against The University of Washington Huskies. Harry probably wishes this tape didn’t exist because he probably wishes his performance against UW didn’t exist. It is the only tape I have on Harry, and I am happy to have any tape at all. It is also rotten-ass tape which has to be interpreted generously to produce any even halfway defensible conclusions.

Harry didn’t have anything like creative control. The Sun Devils made a coaching change prior to the 2018 season, replacing Todd Graham—of whom I know very little—with Herm Edwards—of whom I know a few things: He had a .422 winning percentage as an NFL head coach; He is a defensive-minded coach and his teams have only performed above average in scoring offense twice, 15th place finishes by the 2002 Jets and the 2006 Chiefs; He retired and became a TV analyst for 10 years or so prior to coaching at Arizona State.

Harry also could not control who was throwing to him or what passes quarterback Manny Wilkins could reasonably complete. Which is how we got this dreadful, dreadful tape of three screen passes, a slant-and-out and one mystery route, which netted 20 yards on five receptions. Behold. From one suggestive wrinkle, we will attempt to see the whole worm.

1st & 10 at ASU 28

(0:33 - 1st) Manny Wilkins pass complete to N’Keal Harry for 2 yds to the ArzSt 30

Harry runs a tunnel screen to the left. The back runs what looks like a crack screen to the right. In other words, out of five potential receivers, three are blockers. This is the kind of play you call when the kicker has been impressed into quarterback duties.

As one might infer from above, the offensive lineman pulling to block never makes it, but the ball placement is pretty good. Harry is left attempting to run through a collapsing mine shaft. Doable if you’re fast and elusive but a deathtrap for the slow-moving.

Harry lets the pass almost strike his helmet before snatching it out of the air, but over-pursuit by Benning Potoa’e creates a pretty good opportunity for Harry.

Two-way go, one man to beat, and at least a little initiative, but Jojo McIntosh (#14) is able to square up and arrest Harry with a very Seahawks-like tackle.

McIntosh is draft eligible but a bit of a longshot to be drafted. Harry is able to twist his way forward for about two yards.

3rd & 5 at ASU 49

(13:17 - 2nd) Manny Wilkins pass complete to N’Keal Harry for 5 yds to the Wash 46 for a 1ST down

Slant and out—Harry again lets the pass eat him up a bit. I wonder at a route combination which allows one receiver to alligator arm a pass which may have been intended for another receiver.

Harry is quickly tackled but achieves the first. He measured 6’2” with 33” arms at the NFL Combine: not bad at all but not at all distinguishing for a prospect valued for his size.

1st & 10 at ASU 45

(5:40 - 3rd) Manny Wilkins pass complete to N’Keal Harry for 3 yds to the ArzSt 48

Myles Bryant anticipates this screen pass. Wilkins is forced to throw it behind Harry.

Harry has to hold back and pivot on his foot backward to catch the ball. He catches it in his breadbasket, which in this case only slows him slightly, but on a contested catch, could easily result in a pass breakup.

Bryant is closing with momentum as the ball is caught. The block by Kyle Williams (#10) whiffs. Harry is stuck attempting to spin into a small and closing seam between Bryant who is closing from behind and to his right, and Jordan Miller (#23) who has him dead to rights, within three yards of Harry, unblocked and nearly squared up.

3rd & 3 at WASH 48

(4:49 - 3rd) Manny Wilkins pass complete to N’Keal Harry for 5 yds to the Wash 43 for a 1ST down

Sun Devils run a slightly different look to enable this screen.

A baby stiff arm, but not of the Marshawn Lynch ironic understatement variety.

My computer expresses its inner Paul Signac with this, shall we say, pixelism take on two Husky defenders working together to spin Harry out of both tackles.

Harry is left staggering backward. But Miller is able to conga-line drive Harry for five and the first.

2nd & 10 at WASH 31

(5:50 - 4th) Manny Wilkins pass complete to N’Keal Harry for 5 yds to the Wash 26

This is actually the way my father taught me to catch a football: corralling the ball against my torso.

Miller drives him back, preventing run after the catch.

N’Keal Harry was the number one wide receiver prospect in the 2016 recruiting class, and the 18th overall prospect.

If you think highly of his future prospects, you might see this as validation of his potential and further indictment of Wilkins and Herm. Certainly he was not being played to his strengths in the above set of plays. Harry’s a big target and as slippery as a gecko foot. But if you don’t think highly of Harry’s future prospects, that ranking may be proof that talent evaluators have anchored their expectations to outdated information. He didn’t get bigger and he may have gotten a lot slower. Harry may be one of those unfortunate athletes who peaked too early, spending his best seasons exploited by the NCAA. His precociousness perhaps conflated with potential, talent evaluators may be trapped thinking he can only continue to grow, when he has in fact bloomed and died.

Such may have been said of Lynch in 1984. Directing actors, writing dialogue, and controlling for abundant silliness may be Lynch’s tunnel screen. Wayne Gretzky can’t ball. Michael Jordan couldn’t play baseball. Lynch had succeeded, making enduring works in both Eraserhead and The Elephant Man, and two years after Dune’s failure, Lynch created Blue Velvet. If only movies were still made, Lynch would be recognized as one of the great directors of his era. In this era of feature-length advertisements for insipid franchises, he is mostly remembered as a maker of television and pop music.

I do not know ultimately how good Harry can be. My guess from very incomplete information is: not very good. If you’re gonna ball in the pros, you’re usually absolutely murdering dudes in college. If your potential is being hidden by a poor surrounding cast, that potential often reveals itself at the NFL Combine. Even at ASU’s pro day, he was letting passes eat him up before snatching them, and iffy hands alone can derail a wide receiver’s career. Maybe it’s a bad habit. Maybe I am wrong in my evaluation.

Harry is big but not NFL big, even for a wide receiver. It’s easy to forget just how many very large wide receivers enter the NFL every season. The Combine result Harry really needed, a good showing at agility drills like the 3 Cone or the 20 Yard Shuttle, he didn’t get because he didn’t participate in either drill. That’s a double red flag. Some might wish to extrapolate from this 92-yard punt return for a touchdown, but I see no evidence of lateral quickness. Harry turns his shoulder perpendicular to the goal line in order to run sideways but straight ahead, and that shit ain’t flying in the pros.

We are in that cruel time of year in which people who have spent their short lives being among the unquestionably best at what they do are told they are not good enough, not even good enough to be camp fodder. Harry then is a bit fortunate. He’ll at the very least stick somewhere, stay on a practice squad maybe, or play special teams while coaches attempt to nurture his talent into performance. And, of course, I could be a tremendous ass, and Harry may very well be great. He would certainly benefit from better coaching, a better more able quarterback throwing to him running a diverse range of routes. And it is not impossible that his relatively underwhelming 2018 season is something like Lynch working on Dune. Proof that he is not defined by superlatives and buzzwords but talents and limitations. If so, here’s hoping he finds his style in the NFL, and spends roughly a decade styling on defenders with his mix of power and straight-line speed. And here’s hoping it’s not in Seahawks blue.