Bruns: Anatomy of the upset

By Ben Bruns, Contributor & former Cyclone All-American

I’ll start by saying I told you so.

Sort of.

After UNI, I felt that the two teams we had the best chances of beating in our four-week stretch were Texas Tech and Texas. If you don’t believe me, go here:

And still, after two-straight beatings, I had a good feeling on Friday night:

See Cyclone fans: I told you so.

All right; enough with the bragging. Why did the Cyclones make this happen? Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t know how you can go from playing as poorly as we had the previous two weeks to a lights-out showing on Saturday. Emotion plays such a role in the life of a football team. The Cyclones entered the Utah and Oklahoma games like the blue-collar, lunch-box-toting group they are…except their lunch boxes seemed to weigh 500-pounds. The burden of stress and sport was heavy on our team in those contests for some reason. On Saturday morning in Austin, our guys just played the game they love. We made Texas feel like they were coming to work at a job they hated and the longer the game went on, the heavier the stress weighed on the Horns.

Playing with joy, passion and spark is what we did Saturday. It is why we dominated the football game. Yes: dominated. We overcame officials who gave Texas the benefit of the doubt in several key instances (OPI call, one of the holding penalties on Hicks, no holding calls on Texas in spite of several take-downs in the backfield, and a totally blatant clock operation that caused Coach Rhoads’ hat to actually fly right off his head without any help from his hand – wink, wink) and dropped three or four additional interceptions that could have made the outcome even more dramatic.

I heard secondhand the points that Coach Rhoads made to his players before sending them out to the field. He talked about proving it – that the team that played OU and Utah wasn’t who we were at our core, that each man setting foot on the field today had to prove to the man across from him that he was the better player, every snap. If we do that, he said, if each man in the room does that for 60 minutes, we win.

Bring your lunch box, Texas; you’re going to have your hands full.

Emotion and team leadership aside, why else did we win this game? Several important reasons strike me:

1) The Texas offense is nowhere near as potent as Utah’s or OU’s.

2) ISU’s defensive line played like men on a mission, finally getting pressure against a very good Texas offensive front.

3) ISU’s offensive line played what I felt was its best game, though I heard Rhoads say Coach Bliel thought it might not have been

4) We made some key changes to our blocking schemes to which Texas never adjusted.

And since I’m generally offensive, I’m going to dig into item #4 a little deeper.

All of what I’m going to diagram ISU has run in previous weeks. However, the basis of our run game in weeks past has been the zone read, where the offensive line lets the weak side defensive end go and the quarterback reads “give or keep,” depending on whether or not the end crashes inside. We were doing this 10 years ago when I played under Pete Hoener and Steve Loney; over that 10-year period, defenses have adjusted. They have schooled the defensive ends better. When we ran this in the first series against Iowa, Clayborn played it perfectly – forcing the give, then closing down and making the tackle.

Last Saturday, Tom Herman & Co. elected to block the defensive end in all but a handful of run calls. They accomplished this adjustment by running several different plays, the most frequent being this:

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The play nomenclature is mine, taken from my days under the aforementioned coaches. No doubt Herman calls it something sexier. This formation, which I call “Y-Trips,” has the tight end set in a wing to the right with the slot and outside receivers on the right. This package allows you to throw a lot of stuff to the right side – including bubble screen, a staple of the spread. The real trick here, though, is what it does to Will Muschamp’s defense. They elected early on to play a 3-3 stack, which means there are only six men in the box. At the snap of the ball, the weak side linebacker – W – is heading downhill to defend the outside. The DE slants in because he has help outside from W and gets blocked by K.O. Collin Franklin, playing from the wing position on the right side, is in perfect shape to block back and stay on the back-side gap defender (in this case, W). The offensive line runs Zone to the right, combination blocking the two defensive stacks (NT and M) and (DE and S). A-Rob has a two way go, depending on how the blocks shape up at the point of attack. ISU ran this with great success in the first half.

Another staple of Saturday was the two tight-end set, bringing Hammerschmidt in motion. This set allows ISU to run more of a Power running game, not just Zone, because Hammerschmidt becomes a fullback.

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In this look, ISU can run both Zone and Power to the right of the formation. Above is the Zone play. Hammerschmidt slides to the left, setting up behind right guard Hayworth Hicks, then blocks back and stays on the left DE. The rest of the OL runs Zone to the right, allowing the back a two-way go depending on Hicks’ block. Also out of this same look, ISU can run Power:

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Power has a very clearly defined running lane and hits faster than Zone. Here Hammerschmidt slides in behind Hicks. Then, at the snap of the ball, he kicks out the right DE. Collin Franklin, Brayden Burris, Hicks, and Ben Lamaak block back left, pinning the defensive players left. Alex Alvarez pulls right and blocks the SAM linebacker. The Cyclones don’t run a lot of Power, but they used it as a very effective change-up in the game Saturday, mostly in the third quarter. ISU used this same formation to run weak-side option on the Robinson score after he was called down at the goal line. Muschamp & Co. overloaded the strong side; Herman & Co. went weak.

By the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, Muschamp had made a couple of adjustments, but they still had not brought the safeties up into the run game. Sometimes, the strong safety would roll up after the ball was snapped and the free safety would bail into Man-1 coverage, but the SS wasn’t in the box to start with and ISU kept running it effectively. As the contest moved into the late third quarter and fourth quarter, ISU threw a new wrinkle at Texas:

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Muschamp & Co. went away from the 3-3 stack and into more of their base 4-2 Nickel against ISU’s doubles look. That allowed the Cyclones to run what I’m terming “24 Pin Read.” This play’s lineage goes back to the old Veer option days and has been adopted to force teams to school not just the weak side DE in the read game, but also the 3-techinque (defensive tackle). ISU lets the backside 3-technique go…if he plays up the field, Austen hands it off. If he crashes inside, Arnaud keeps it and runs right through the area he vacates. On the left, K.O. seals the DE. On the right side, Burris blocks the DE man-up. Hicks pins the noseguard, and Lamaak pulls around to block Mike. A clearly defined running lane forms quickly, and A-Rob shoots downfield to the Man-1 free safety.

After the game, Mack Brown said his team played arrogantly. He might want to have a conversation with his defensive coordinator as well. Playing a 6-man box against ISU’s run game may not have been the best choice Saturday.

My hat is off to the staff for some fantastic adjustments to what we do best as a team – run the football. The list of guys who played well is long. Depending on the health of Ben Lamaak, who played GREAT football on Saturday, this may be a long week for the coaches and players. Sean Smith got the job done in expert fashion when he came in Saturday, making a key block that sprung Jeff Woody on the first down with 3 minutes to play. Alvarez slid over without missing a beat. Both will have to come up big in the coming weeks if ISU’s going to make it to a bowl game without Lamaak (should his knee sprain be anything like one I had as a junior…which, for me, was a three-game recovery).

It was a tremendous effort Saturday – one that sets ISU’s recruiting up in a major way this season. Now we have to bring the joy of Paul Rhoads’ Cyclone football to the Jayhawks.

Have fun Saturday, fellas…We’ll be cheering!


Cyclone Fanatic