Saturday was revealing. Much more so than the previous week. The adjustments and improvements were solid and there is little shame in falling to a foe that is championship quality.
Oklahoma is better than they were last year. In 2017, they were a participant in the in the playoffs. This year, they are more dynamic, have shown they can play multiple styles, sport a better defense, and dare I say that the dual threat quarterback is a half-step above last year’s Heisman Trophy winner.
Iowa State did not back down nor yield in any way. Inconsistency exhibited by first year players was a significant factor in the failures, yet, that is to be expected when the field is littered with such. There is much to build on from this contest, though having win under the belt would be a more ideal situation.
I intend today to provide my summary contents in the beginning with some analysis thereafter. No quick hits. My review of this game involved voluminous clips and notes, however, I have edited them to the best of my ability for readability.
Iowa State lost this game in the two touchdown drives in the second quarter. After pulling even in spectacular fashion, Iowa State yielded two touchdown drives that provided enough separation for Oklahoma to skate to a decisive, if not comfortable, margin.
The first of those two drives was attributable to poor tackling. Iowa State’s lapse in fundamental tackling allowed for a sustained drive. The second involved a necessity for championship level teams, a shut down effort by the defense after an offensive failure. That was not provided and a coverage mistake allowed Oklahoma to put the game out of reach.
Overall, the game was well called on both sides of the ball. Space was available due to youth and tackling breakdowns largely due to the mobility of the quarterback and his ability to extend plays, both running and passing.
Iowa State will need to improve in this area as Akron and TCU will threaten the defense with similar capabilities. As will Kansas, Texas, Baylor, and Kansas State.
The disadvantage in cancellation of the South Dakota State game was most obviously seen Saturday. Iowa presents a bland, close to the vest, specific type of game plan and preparation. The contrast between the schematic styles of Iowa and Oklahoma are dramatic. SDSU would have provided an extra week of preparation for Big 12 play. The lack of experience against that contrasting style of play was costly and evident on Saturday, yet, Iowa State threatened what I consider to be a true contender to the 2018 national title.
Iowa State has now faced the two best offensive lines it will see in 2018. It has faced the second fastest team it will face (only TCU is faster). Finally, it has faced the best offensive scheme it will face (Oklahoma). However, there is film now that other very difficult teams will study and that will require adjustments from Iowa State.
The prospects going forward are daunting given the improvements at TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas, and Texas Tech. The solid play of West Virginia and the unknown that is Baylor and Kansas State at this point are also disconcerting. But, there is a formula, and the talent to execute it, than can still lead to a satisfying season.
That said, I want to look at some specific plays in certain broad contexts that stood out during the game.
The Running Game
Finally, we see an adjustment in the blocking scheme in an attempt to get the running game started. Ninety-eight yards rushing (extracting the -11 for Noland due to sacks) is nothing to write home about, but it is at least a level of success that Iowa State has shown a penchant for excelling with.
Not completely gone, but almost, was the inside zone game utilizing a fold block technique that has vexed me for two years.
The fold block is where a tackle, guard or center steps around the immediately inside or outside lineman and targets a second level defender. The block requires the pin lineman to hold a one-on-one block for at least 2 clicks and the fold lineman to make agile steps in a small space, locate a moving target and engage an effective block.
Iowa State has been unable to execute this technique with its line on any consistent basis for the entirety of the Matt Campbell era. Last week, I was encouraged to see Iowa State run a zone blocked stretch play on a couple of occasions. That scheme change manifested fully against Oklahoma.
The stretch or cut play, both of which utilize a zone blocking technique with just an alternate route discipline for the running back, was prominent against Oklahoma. The zone blocking scheme was executed effectively by the offensive line and they seemed to be much more adept at fitting and holding those blocks.
This is my (completely irrelevant) preference for the talent we have on the offensive line. In addition, I have advocated a scheme where the line blocks hard down with angles while pulling lineman for a kick out block which is much easier to execute than a fold block. This change in the run blocking scheme is a signal of good things to come. An Iowa State fan should be very familiar with its successful prospects since we have watched Iowa run the scheme year after year for 40 years.
Here it is in action.
The line engages the man in front and to the inside to their right. The running back can stretch with the lineman and hit a soft spot, or cut back off of the wash as was done here.
The aggressive nature of the block, the ability to engage and move, plays to the strengths of Iowa State’s linemen. Here, Oklahoma attacks the line with its second level as their preparation indicates a tendency for attacking between the tackles. They are caught in the wash due to the angles provided by the scheme.
David Montgomery runs 12 yards before he is contacted. Not much else needs to be said.
Here, we see it again with Kene Nwangwu in the backfield (I look forward to seeing him run this play more). Again, there are positive yards gained before contact and the line actually creates a positive push. That is the recipe for an effective running game.
Replay and watch the freshman Colin Newell on this play. He creates a solid fit and push and progresses to the second level. Strong, athletic, and effective. He did not have a perfect day as he failed to recognize a delayed blitz and gave up a crucial drive ending sack later in the game, but there was a difference in the efficiency of the running game with his insertion in the lineup.
It is not only encouraging for the prospects of the running game and the balance it provides, but it also provides opportunities like below.
Passing Game Pivots
This is a pivot from the stretch play to a passing play that takes what is given.
The play action is the zone blocked stretch play. Note the defenders crashing down from the outside and getting into the box late to defend the run. The coverage is playing off leaving an easy throw and catch to an isolated receiver. That receiver is very difficult to tackle in space.
If there had been press coverage on the outside, then the receiver can take the route vertical and Noland can loft one for him to run under. Think about Iowa’s play late in the game to set up their only touchdown.
Also, I want to point out that this play is formation versatile. Iowa State ran it out of twins, trips stack, and two tights. Iowa State also passed out of the same formations. Now, the full weight of “players, formation, plays” can come to bear.
This is provided primarily for your enjoyment, and for mine.
But, the larger point is that it was discussed and shown that the seams are available against zone defenses over the linebackers and in front of the safeties. If properly schemed route trees are attacked, and the quarterback is bold enough to make the throw, then there are game-changing plays to be had in each of the four seams on the field.
Iowa State achieved traction through explosive plays on both the inside seam and to the outside seam. In particular, the outside seam yielded catches to Butler, Eaton, and YES, TIGHT END Chase Allen caught a vertical route on the inside seam.
Coupled with an effective running game and quarterback capable of making the throws, the attack down the seams provides a problem for future opponents.
In addition to the attack down the seams, Iowa State borrowed a page from Oklahoma (as seen below) when a crucial 4th down conversion was required.
The still shot above shows the scheme and the possibilities that can be derived therefrom. The concept is to run crossing routes under the linebackers to draw them up, then run a deep dig from the outside under the safeties for a nice mid-level completion. Oklahoma used this concept for the entire game against Iowa State.
Eaton makes a fantastic catch off a bold throw by Noland. Even with Oklahoma remaining deep in their second level drops, there is still space to complete the pass.
Now, look at the underneath routes and the open field to the outside. A completion to the first receiver allows them to run for a mid-level gain. A completion to the trailing receiver allows the lead drag to become a lead blocker and ensure a substantial gain. The defense can pick its poison.
Real-time it is a thing of beauty and one can see the quick strike ability of the play. It is a three step drop and fire. The pass is delivered before the defense can settle which maximizes the counter-motion of the routes.
Finally, let me illustrate a concerning failing. The still shows the first and goal play early in the fourth quarter. A touchdown here and Iowa State may not win, but the deficit is all but erased.
The Campbell staff has chosen during its two-plus years at Iowa State to attempt to power the ball into the end zone from inside the 10. There is very little creativity in the red zone offense and the effectiveness of the LanRam package skews the decision making process.
That is not to say that Iowa State has not shown some creativity. They have. However, there is generally a choice between a 50/50 ball in the corner and a power run.
Here we see another stretch run play. The OU linebackers have adjusted and are running their linebackers through the gaps to stop the play. Given that the ball is on the six-yard line, this is their given mode of attack. Iowa State lost 2 yards here and was only able to score a field goal.
There is a lost opportunity due to the option created by the OU alignment. Note that OU is playing off in the secondary. They are playing man and off the receivers. Three plays are available off of quick play action and OU would not have stopped any of them.
1 — Throw a quick hitch to the wide side slot with the outside receiver running to block the inside defender. The catch is made with space to run and one move is a walk-in score.
2 — My preference, run double slants on the wide side and drop the ball to the slot over the linebackers. Easy score and in fact, the wide receiver motion on this play revealed that the slot was indeed running a slant to wide open space.
3 — Run a slant on the boundary side and dump the ball over the linebackers. Equally effective and equally open on play action.
To play effectively and combat the talent of the teams immediately ahead on the schedule, more creativity will be required in the red zone offense than what was displayed on Saturday.
Don’t worry, I have no intention of showing disconcerting lapses in tackling technique and mental lapses. Though they were prevalent in crucial parts of the game.
Instead, I show one play to make a single point. A missed tackle in the running game is worth at least five yards.
Enyi Uwazurike and Jamahl Johnson reestablish the line and blow up the pulling lineman as they are supposed to do. Mike Rose reads run and scrapes off of the disruption with speed. He is in place to make the stop for a loss on the play.
However, Rose does not break down on balance, over pursues and a hard plant step breaks his ankles. Iowa State’s pursuit to the ball is solid, but a missed tackle turns a 2-yard loss into a 3-yard gain.
Five yards are gained when a tackle is missed because the player is guessing instead of getting in tackling position and making the initial contact. At Iowa State, there is always help on the way — break down, make the strike and the pursuit will finish the play.
As stated above, the inability to execute this basic fundamental manifested on Oklahoma’s last drive of the first half and second drive of the second half. It led to 14 points that Iowa State could not make up against a solid OU defense. There is more of that right around the corner and it must be cleaned up if Iowa State desires to notch more wins than losses this season.
Above is an example of appropriate lane discipline in the called defense. Each line defender has a lane to the quarterback. If a particular defender is moved, voluntarily or involuntarily, from his lane, then the quarterback or a running back on a delay give has a lane to the second level under a dropped secondary.
Failure to rush and maintain lane discipline has a devastating effect on a defense, especially where the offense employs a mobile quarterback.
Below, we see the result of failure to maintain the paths illustrated above.
Oklahoma calls a play to take advantage of a demonstrated tendency to jump out of the appropriate lane. The nose takes a side and leaves the read defender (MLB) naked in an “Oklahoma” drill against Oklahoma. The hole is enormous and the first down conversion advances the key drive in the game.
The nose is intended to maintain his position and collapse the pocket. When he takes a side, he opens the most direct route to positive yardage. There is no decision or stop in the motion to allow the second level to react and contain the run.
This was not a persistent issue, though there were clearly breakdowns. It is of vital importance that Iowa State personnel maintain their discipline in coming weeks to combat mobile quarterbacks. Doing so causes a challenge and positive plays.
Here, the discipline is a bit different and a nice scheme example. The boundary side end presses inside with the nose to provide additional inside pressure. The middle linebacker provides a dual role of spy and boundary side force/contain.
With lane discipline here, the defense provides a difficult challenge for the quarterback and perhaps an ill-timed pass.
The discipline provided a difficult path of escape, stopped the first choice of the quarterback, bought time for the coverage to adjust, and forced an errant throw. When executed, the defensive front aids the secondary by providing a difficult escape route and either a premature decision to throw or a difficult pass.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important this point of the play is to Iowa State’s future prospects.
Below are three big plays that lead directly to scores by Oklahoma. While all involve some degree of coverage struggles, they are all examples of outstanding scheming by Oklahoma.
Recall the fourth down play illustrated earlier. The concept was to run crossing routes short and a deep dig into the gap between the covering linebackers and the deep safeties.
Early and often, Oklahoma ran this play and concept to their great benefit.
Iowa State aggressively comes forward to destroy the crossing routes. The gap to the safeties is widened and a slick move coupled with runoff routes results in a huge catch and run that led to an initial field goal for Oklahoma.
Ruth had outside leverage and relied on a deeper drop from the middle linebacker to bracket the dig route. It was not there and Oklahoma made a big play.
Effectively combating this route tree will be a challenge, however, its ability to exploit Iowa State’s dime coverage is disturbing. Some adjustment must be made or we will see this play be successful week in and week out.
This was the most eyebrow-raising play in the game for me. Watch as the safety comes forward immediately. Then, see the linebacker, Willie Harvey, run deep immediately.
Ordinarily, the safety would have deep middle and the linebacker would drop and settle in the hook/curl zone. But, that is not indicated by their actions. Instead, it looks as if there is an inversion in the coverage, which I assume was directed at creating confusion.
As Hollywood catches the ball, Willie Harvey is running underneath the route and DeMonte Ruth is trying to get over on the post. However, Ruth is also checking a deep fly on the outside so he is not going to be able to get there. Ideally, the safety is dropping to deep middle and is able to play the ball. Harvey stands no chance.
This appears to be an example of getting caught in a defensive call aimed at cutting off a play that was tipped off. Regardless, it is a solid scheme and solid execution from Oklahoma.
Cutting down the big play was the strength of the Iowa State defense in 2017. I believe, though I am not certain, that the first two plays shown here are examples of a season of preparation by a talented play designer with the athletes to execute on a high level.
It will be up to the Iowa State staff to counter this in the very near future.
Finally, we see a nice corner route completed to set up what I believe was the decisive score in the game.
This is a coverage error. The two receivers we can see on the play side both release on inside routes. Brian Peavy is playing the underneath outside zone, however, there is an immediate vacating of that zone. In that case, he should be dropping deep to get under any corner route. In addition, he should be looking to the inside for a crossing or deep cut upon seeing that action.
Instead, Peavy hangs short and is unable to factor in the play. The safety, expectedly, has a difficult time getting over the top. If Peavy plays this properly, he is under that route in order to turn it into a contested play. As it stands, it is an easy explosion play to set up the finish of a back-breaking drive.
This game represented a beacon of things to come more than a missed opportunity for a win. Oklahoma is flat good and represents what Iowa State hopes to be. In many phases of the game, Iowa State stood toe-to-toe with a team that will overwhelm most, if not all, of its remaining opponents.
That is not to say that Iowa State does not have a significant challenge in finding its first win. Akron has found some offense to go along with its stout defense. TCU is better than last year and the fastest team on the schedule. Oklahoma State is somehow better than last year and the largest improvement is on the defensive side of the ball. West Virginia is what we expected them to be.
Iowa State must make quick corrections in some fundamental areas if it is to make a run at winning these upcoming contests. The game against Oklahoma was encouraging and the outcomes of the upcoming contests may be surprising.