Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports – Reese Strickland.
In one word – Frustrated. No more so than the Cyclone team and staff today, but frustrated is what I was last night and today. There was a window of opportunity that closed gradually throughout the game, not because of a lack of heart or effort, but because that heart and effort was not rewarded with a viable plan of attack.
I am no more than a writer with experience in a lot of things football. I am not and have not been a play caller. My criticism should always be taken with a grain of salt. But, last night’s game was left the gate wide open for criticism to amble in.
This will be long, as always, so I will hop right in.
*** The play shown above is an homage to a great performance by Joel Lanning. He attacks, scrapes with outside leverage, fits his tackle, and thumps the back down. That is a great fundamental play and he brought the hammer all night long. What a great development and a great football player.
*** J.D. Waggoner had a really nice game. He set the edge well and made some plays in the back field. Much improved over the first three games and the performance was very encouraging.
*** The defensive scheme was interesting. It worked pretty well. Instead of attacking the weak offensive line for Texas with pressure, ISU left them an advantage in the run game and played “drop 8” against the pass. Texas was only going to hurt ISU in the passing game, so ISU took that away and dared them to beat them running the ball. Texas was not able to sustain offense and scored only with help from ISU. I will take that defensive performance every week.
*** Offensive Scheme? See below.
What Was Wrong and Could Have Been Right
The offensive game plan was stunningly inadequate. It intimated at over thinking and predetermining the availability of certain plays. Primarily, it ignored fundamental tenets of developing offensive schemes.
As I will demonstrate in video form, there was a significant advantage in the run game for Iowa State. Texas lined up with five and six in the box which is a run key for any offense. Texas brought pressure an a majority of plays and dared Iowa State to hit plays in to the vacated zones. Neither advantage was exploited, and when it was, the fundamental plays were shelved.
Essentially, we saw Iowa State try to force the ball down the field with slow developing route trees in the face of man coverage and limited time to throw. The run game was abandoned inexplicably and available options to punish the high risk blitz scheme were not utilized. That is as succinct as I can put it.
It was surprising given that film of Texas revealed the scheme that they used. It was not difficult to predict what would be done nor to fit the established offensive identity to handle the pressure package. Yet, they played the game out of sequence and out of phase with what fundamentals dictate.
Below, I am looking at a single play from the first drive and several from the second. One need look no further than these plays to reveal the issue for the entire night. The plays also highlight the opportunity that was there if adjustments had been made.
This is the second play of the game. It is a familiar play used often in the first three games. Campos and Seonbuchner reach and seal the edge as they are adept at doing. Texas is not blitzing, but attacking aggressively. This motion cuts down the scrape angle and allows Montgomery to use his lateral skill to jump to the outside lane. Motion pulls the safety out of position and a 9 yard gain results.
This is as close to a baseline play for this offense as you can find. It has been successful, as it was here, against all their opponents and should be used multiple times a game. The team executes the play at a high level and it forces the defense to adjust to stop it.
To stop this play, the defense will have to stall their linebackers or bring another man in to the box to get edge contain. In turn, they will not be able to bring pressue and will open up space for the passing game on a complimentary play. In particular, it sets up play action very well.
Texas has six in the box which is a “go” key for running the football. Iowa State takes advantage of the numbers and hits it. I expected this to be a staple of the offense as the Texas film revealed a weakness on the edges. Unfortunately, that was not the plan.
This is the first play of the second series for Iowa State. Note first that Texas has six in the box and a run play s called for. Instead, Iowa State opts to pass. The chosen play is the swing pass to Montgomery that we saw often against Akron. It is a good choice because Montgomery receives the ball in space and the receivers blocking are excellent at doing so. A winning first down gain is made here.
Watch No. 8, DeShaunte Jones. He runs a slant in the zone where the linebacker vacated to follow Montgomery. He is wide open as the middle linebacker continues to attack in an undisciplined manner. This play action is set up for another call with Jones being the target. The defense gets to pick its poison here and both with gash them.
Iowa State only ran this play one more time and never looked to Jones on the alternate action. This play beats pressure because it is quick, predetermined, and schemes to space. Why it was not a go to play I cannot explain.
The next play in the sequence is the Montgomery edge run again. Texas has six in the box and the linebackers again move forward aggressively at the snap. Campos gets his reach block and Seonbuchner makes his block from the other side of the formation. This is a nice wrinkle in the baseline play.
Montgomery makes his lateral move and gets in to space for first down yardage with help from the wide receivers. If this play is run another five times, Texas is set up to give up an explosive gain, not to mention, they have had no answer for it early.
Iowa State gained 16 yards on 2 carries with this play in the first five plays of the game. This was the last time this play was run in the game.
Next, we have an all out blitz by Texas against a called pass for Iowa State. Again, the box only has six defenders giving a run key to Iowa State. That key is more pronounced because ISU has an F back in place giving them an additional man advantage.
Watch as both Seonbuchner and Montgomery protect. One is needed, yet two are used. The max protect scheme here leaves a gaping hole in Iowa State’s intended purpose. There is no outlet receiver.
The receivers run vertically and their routes do not develop until the 12 to 15 yard window. This type of route tree takes a three second window to develop, read, and make a throw. With a max blitz, three seconds will not materialize.
At the end of the play, look at the green acreage available in front of the secondary. Now, imagine Seonbuchner chipping his man play side and slipping to the middle for an easy dump pass. He runs 10 yards before he is threatened.
Iowa used Fant and Wadley to chip and release against the Iowa State pressure to great effect. They received the ball in space and had the advantage against the pursuit. Iowa State had the same opportunity throughout the entire game. Too often, the deep developing routes were mismatched with the quick Texas pressure and the result was similar to the result of the shown play.
The next play puts Iowa State back on the good foot. One, two, release. Texas, with six in the box, only blitzes one linebacker, but the pressure is irrelevant on the quick slant. Iowa State burns the scheme with a double slant thrown on time and accurately.
The slant is a potent weapon against a blitz package as it crowdes the vacated zone and is run in front of the support coverage. The throw is quick and the yards are significant. Against an all out blitz, the entire middle of the field is available for an easy throw and catch.
I only noted one other attempt to run and complete this route.
A familiar scenario is presented on the next play, except, this time Texas has four, arguably five in the box. Run, run, run. Texas blitzes a safety and linebacker from the wide side of the field. Note that the entire I-State logo is vacant.
This time Montgomery slips out as an easy outlet receiver. However, he is not ready or prepared to be a receiver. Instead of being a conspicuous target, he delays with his back turned before releasing too late. This is an execution issue. Park and Montgomery have to see the blitz and adjust in to the space. There was time for a dump pass and Montgomery might still be running.
If Park and Montgomery do not recognize this opportunity, then the coaches have to see it and relay the information to the players. They need to be told that they will come back to that play and Montgomery has to ready and moving in space. Maybe that was done, but there was not a time in the contest where it was exploited.
Note also that the route tree is a slow developing vertical package being run in to the teeth of the coverage. There is no first level option. You can still threaten deep and provide a short option. Something that should have been planned for given the Texas tape. An inside vertical with a outside slant cutting underneath is an easy one, two, throw read. But, it rarely appeared in the game plan.
Dating back to last year, Iowa State has rarely utilized a back or tight end as an outlet receiver. Nor do they run their route tree with crossing motion or multi-level positioning. Instead, often, not always, but often, they run vertical routes and deep crossing routes that stress the time that can be provided in the pocket.
Texas played a lot of 0 coverage (man-to-man). If you run vertical the corners will have their back to the ball. It is an ideal set up for an underneath route. In fact, Iowa State played 0 against Iowa and was routinely hit with a short route where the defenders were compromised due to their back-to-the-ball positioning. Akron employed some similar concepts as well.
Iowa State has to improve in situational recognition and fundamental adjustment. Space must be attacked and it simply wasn’t against Texas.
Below is an example of what I am talking about…from Texas.
Iowa State runs an outside blitz common to their defense. Buechele and Lil’ Jordan read the blitz and go “hot”. The receiver hitches and an easy three yard throw is made and caught. The safety has too much ground to cover to make a solid tackle and the vacated zone yields space for a solid run after catch.
Texas turned this in to a 28 yard play. That was either their longest play from scrimmage or their second longest. They were prepared for the blitz package, on the same page, and exploited the weakness left by the deployment of pressure.
The same opportunity was there for Iowa State to exploit on each of their drives. The Montgomery edge run and the swing/slant combo pass were available as demonstrated. At no time was the lead too large to abandon these concepts and there were big plays available against them.
Texas gave Iowa State an advantage in the running game. The numbers were there and an effective running game would have slowed the pressure. It was plausible that the Texas pressure would be forced to retreat which would have led to an exploitable secondary in unfavorable matchups against Park with time to throw.
In the end, Iowa State was not able to execute their game plan and that plan played in to the strength of the Texas defense. No adjustment was made and the game spiraled downward. With all of that said, they were still only down 10 points with plenty of time left. There was opportunity to change course and make the adjustments until mid way through the fourth quarter.
Where I did not feel that the Iowa game slipped away from Iowa State because they took if from them, I feel that this game slipped away. All i not lost, but the repair job is much larger than it seemed to be on Wednesday. I expect that work to get done and corrections to be made. But, this was a hard lesson to learn along the way.