Oct 7, 2017; Norman, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Evrett Edwards (4) and Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Reggie Wilkerson (3) tackle Oklahoma Sooners running back Trey Sermon (4) during the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
It is more than 24 hours after the end of an epic game and I am still floating around. Matt Campbell has already put the fear back in his team and they are probably back into the grind. But, he doesn’t have that power over me, so I — and you — still get to gush a little.
As usual, I could fill a book on my thoughts about the game, its implications, the highs and lows and my general thoughts on upsets and football, but there is very little that has not been written about or said already. The Cyclone Fanatic staff has written fantastic piece after fantastic piece and have truly #RaisedTheStandard right along with the team.
A week ago, I was befuddled and at a loss. This game was the perfect opportunity to be what Iowa State has always been – beset by insurmountable setbacks, hesitant to believe in success and to fade into the background. Instead, we experienced something much different. Instead, we received a glimpse in to a team that has said “NO” to the past and decided to forge a new future.
I could go on and on, but let’s get to it.
*** Jacob Park. Regardless of the reasons, Mr. Park has taken a leave, which remain unknown to me, I am empathetic and publicly express my concern and hope for a positive resolution. Cyclone Nation is not a family that discards the unsung, the embattled, or the wayward.
*** Kyle Kempt. He won’t impress you with arm talent, but he showed us that leadership, grit, trust, and timing can make a quarterback great. Don’t change son. Stay right where you are and keep grinding.
*** David Montgomery. Well, do I really need to say anything or let you know that a year ago I said this guy was the next Tr…… Da….. Nahhhh. Let’s just say that was a fine, versatile performance and he makes every coordinator and defender nervous. We haven’t seen his ceiling yet.
*** Joel Lanning. Superman. Much love and respect.
*** Defensive Line. More on them later, but to progress to the level they have with a new cast is nothing short of remarkable. Coach Rasheed deserves a shout out, as do the players who are the engine that drives the defensive improvement we have seen.
*** Tom Manning. I said at the end of last week’s musings that I have seen no indication that the team and the staff will stop working to improve. One bad game does not make a season or should it cause a referendum on a coaches abilities. Well done on Saturday. Back to basics and no fear of adverse circumstances.
*** D’Andre Payne. Solid in coverage and some big stops on the edge. Nice game after some early stuggles.
*** I really like the defensive plan for this season. It gets me jacked up. At present, we have established an ability to “drop 8” and pressure. It allows the team to mix and match situationally and create an unpredictable pattern. Perfect. Execution still has a way to go, but the current usage of multiple fronts, pressure and coverage is the right formula for the current personnel.
*** There were a number of lucky breaks in this game that went in Iowa State’s favor. It is about $%^@ time. No apologies. More importantly, breaks have failed to be capitalized on in the recent past. Not so on Saturday. In fact, the ability to capitalize on those penalties was perhaps the largest portion of the ability to upset Oklahoma.
*** Anyone remember a drop yesterday? Not me.
After the Akron game, I wrote about the utilization of the horizontal passing game. I discussed that it had progressed and become more creative, but more than that, it utilized the greatest offensive strength of this team – the wide receivers as blockers.
The wide receiver corp is undoubtedly talented as a pass catching group. But, their strength is their ability and willingness to block. Their technique, collectively, is virtually flawless. The advantage this creates can not be understated.
Remove Texas from your memories. In each game this season, Iowa State has utilized an offensive scheme that takes advantage of their superiority in the edge blocking game. The swing pass to Montgomery, moving lineman out to add to the lead blocking scheme, and the addition of play action to create additional steps for the receiver to make forward progress.
All of those concepts were used against Oklahoma. In addition, Coach Manning stubbornly ran the ball off tackle and up the middle. Successful or not (2.5 yards per carry yesterday), a coordinator has to continue to run the ball. The simple reason is that it fixes the second and third level eyes on the back. It provides the opportunity for a step to be gained on play action, and sometimes, that is all you need to make a big play.
Only a few highlights today, but they illustrate the key to the offensive success in the game. The touchdown that tied the game. Note here that Iowa State added another wrinkle to their offense this week. Motion. They used motion all day in an attempt to move the defense and create defensive motion counter to the play call. It is an oft utilized technique in Stillwater and very effective at creating space.
Here, OU is blitzing off the play side edge. They ignore the motion due to the blitz call and get caught three on two.
Watch the blocks. Jones cut block is textbook and devastating. Butler mauls his opponent until it is too late for him to get in to the play.
It was fortuitous that the blitz was ill-timed, but an on-time and accurate pass over the blitz gave the play maker a chance to make a play. The play is huge in the game, but bigger in the construct of the Iowa State offensive identity. A free runner with devastating blockers in front of him.
Now, the go-ahead touchdown and ball game in my analysis. Iowa State does not have a blocking advantage here. Lazard is man up, but Ryen will have to account for his man.
The key is the play action. Each Oklahoma defender takes a read step and either pursues forward or waits to fly to the edge. This creates terrible angles, which the Oklahoma safety exacerbates by taking an attack angle instead of a cut-off angle.
Lazard destroys his target in the way he has done all season. His block shields the only two potential tacklers and Iowa State is now in control of the game and the clock.
These two plays are prominent examples of what we have seen all season. With Texas as an anomaly, the Cyclones have scored a minimum of 38 points in each contest. That is winning football. Taking advantage of your greatest strength is winning football. Attacking the strength from different sets, with motion, with play action, and with numbers is smart and gives Iowa State an identity.
Now, just an uneducated suggestion from the peanut gallery. But, shoulder fake the quick throw action and have Lazard feign his block then break deep on a double move. There will be no one there. It is set up and I can’t wait to see it.
The defensive line seems a bit disappointing in the inability to get pressure when rushing three and four while the balance of the defense plays coverage. We have seen quarterbacks have as many as 10 seconds to throw. Yet, we have not seen deep passes completed, or quarterbacks run wild against the sets. Why?
Pay attention to the path of the defensive lineman. The key here is their discipline within their path. What I mean is that each line position has a path to the quarterback. On the field we call it “staying in your lane.”
It is important for a defensive lineman to stay in his gap and stay in his lane. The paths are designed to create a pincer that the quarterback cannot escape. There are not visible running or throwing lanes when the defensive lineman stay within their lanes.
In addition, the gaps are filled and the offensive line is required to pay attention to the first level of defenders. This allows Lanning, Spears and their buddies the freedom to attack the holes and meet the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage instead of having to fight off a second level block before they get there.
When those plays extend and the defensive line seems to be useless, they are actually the most useful part of the play. I have been blown away by how stout the interior and ends have been in maintaining their position. They may not be coming forward, but they have cut off angles of escape and the quarterback is only able to escape naked (without an additional blocker).
We have often seen Lanning, Spears and Harvey in a spy position wherein they pressure the quarterback as he breaks contain. In almost every circumstance, they are without resistance in their path to the quarterback. They have been able to create turnovers and incompletions. That is not possible without disciplined defensive line play.
Mayfield had lots of time and scrambled a bit, but for the most part, the defensive line stayed disciplined and frustrated a strength of the Oklahoma offense.
The Drive Sequence
It was a great day and an unflinching effort by the 2017 Cyclone team. I was most impressed by the workmanlike manner in which they continued to play when the chips were down.
When Oklahoma advanced the lead to 24-10, the game was close to getting out of hand. Iowa State had done nothing to stop the Oklahoma offense, and the Iowa State offense was still looking for a rhythm.
The key game-winning sequence, occurred in the next eight possessions. Iowa State achieved their first three and out with pressure on first down, pressure that forced an errant deep throw on second down, and drop 8 that allowed only a short pass to be completed with three defenders in the area to make the tackle.
With 26 seconds left in the half, Iowa State was uncharacteristically aggressive and hit a deep seam to Butler for a 54-yard gain. That play had been set up by the running and horizontal passing game. It was the best play call of the game in my opinion. ISU gets three and confidence.
OU kneels and ISU gets the ball out of halftime. An extra possession in the sequence. The ISU drive featured a decision on a 4th and 1 that achieved a first down. The drive stalled after, but another three points for ISU. A six point swing keyed off of their first three and out.
OU then drives effortlessly to the Iowa State 5. Fumble. In many circumstances, Iowa State does not recover that fumble. Watch the highlight. You will see Lanning two yards behind two Oklahoma potential recoverees. He makes up the ground, gets an arm in, and powers the ball away from Sermon.
The fumble recovery was play of the game 1A.
Backed up and penalized on a break out run, Kyle Kempt cooly lofts a ball to Lazard for 35 yards. Play of the game 1B. The ball was delivered on time and in a place that the receiver could use his size and talent to make a play. Mason Rudolph 101. Play action created space for the throw and it was an enormous play to sustain the drive.
The drive progresses with the aid of a controversial pass interference call and the Cyclones cash in a game tying score. ISU 14 – OU 0 in the sequence.
Next, OU drives but is stopped due to outstanding defensive line play. Oklahoma misses a field goal. Three plays later, Ryen houses the horizontal pass and Iowa State is now in control with 21 unanswered points.
That drive sequence from the end of the second to the end of the third decided the contest. Gutty play by the defense, and offensive plays that had been set up throughout the game.
Coach Campbell made a number of statements about this just being one game and that the team is not done and must keep grinding for the balance of the schedule.
I could not agree more. While I revel in the magnitude of the victory, it means nothing if it is the last one of the season. Iowa State desires to be relevant on a national level. That means this is the beginning, not the end.
In order to capitalize on the win, Iowa State has to continue to grow and clean up its weak spots. Keep running the ball. Iowa State has to continue to progress in its blocking scheme and its willingness to run the ball.
1 — Attack the levels. On Saturday, every route tree had an outlet receiver or an underneath route that gave the quarterback an easy throw for positive yardage. The deep routes were still present and they became viable due to the pressure in the horizontal and underneath passing game. Developing the passing game with multiple levels available are an aid to the quarterback and the overall scheme.
2 — Safeties in coverage. The safeties have to learn the route trees and quit jumping covered routes to the exclusion of their assigned zone. They are good coming forward in run support and rallying to underneath throws, but explosive plays are often the result of a blown assignment or undisciplined play. This must improve for additional wins to be accumulated.
3 — Linebacker recognition. Even Joel Lanning has some work to do in recognizing delay routes from the backfield and the chip and release routes. The only sustained offense, which was very good, that Oklahoma found was the ability to hit the backs out of the backfield. That is a linebacker responsibility initially and the Cyclone linebackers need to improve in that recognition.
4 — Continued physicality. In the final drive Oklahoma had several players come out of the game due to being dinged up. Iowa State ramped up its physical play in the big moment and moved the ball with purpose. Something we have been waiting to see. Physical play is necessary and wins games in the Big 12. I believe Coach Campbell wants to be physically dominant and the Cyclones are progressing in that area.
5 — Continued error free play. Oklahoma turnovers = 1. Iowa State turnovers = 0. Yes.
Iowa State showed grit, talent, resilience, and spine in overcoming the No. 3 team in the country. Continued work will net additional wins in the weeks to come. I expect this win to be a sign of things to come, not a mere mirage. I have no doubt the staff and the players will continue to work to make that statement true.