THE SUNDAY AFTER: Oklahoma State

Oct 6, 2018; Stillwater, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Tarique Milton (14) reacts after a touchdown against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the second half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa State defense was able to do enough and the offense was able to pivot and attack effectively. The net result was a road win against a top 25 opponent.

That is an accomplishment no matter how you slice it and worthy of the elation the win elicited. The strange thing is that, as a fan, and I believe it was apparent with the team, there is a weight lifted regarding this season. Some mentioned that this was a “must-win” game, and I agreed. Going forward, each game becomes “must-win,” but they will be approached with confidence.

The handicap of doing Sunday articles is that the film available is only in highlight form. I am not able to show some of the seemingly mundane plays that illustrate the points I would like to make. For instance, I do not have film of the defensive alignments and the blitzes utilized to provide needed pressure. Nor am I able to show the adjustment made that slowed down and effectively stopped the threat from Justice Hill.


*** I don’t care who calls the plays on offense or defense, only that they show the preparation and planning required to move or stop the ball against the opponents. I have stated that Iowa State had at its disposal plays and schemes to attack the open areas on the field, but they had not used them in timely or logical ways thus far. That changed on Saturday and it was a welcome sight.

*** Lest all the praise be heaped upon the freshman quarterback, I would challenge the reader to review the game and note the improved play of the offensive line. There were signs against TCU that progress was being made. Against a strong pass rushing line deployed by Oklahoma State, progress continued.

*** The offensive scheme utilized the angles we have discussed in the context of TCU and others. The use of angles involves blocking down with a chip to the second level and simultaneously, or conversely, kicking out free defenders. The read-option package preferred by Iowa State utilizes this philosophy and netted several second level blocks which added yardage to run plays. It remains a work in progress, but observation indicates that the offensive line enjoyed the opportunity and attacked the defense when given the opportunity.

*** In the third year of Matt Campbell’s tenure, we have an established pattern in team development. The first four games are used to search for the team’s identity and develop young players, then, in the fifth game the team appears dialed in and new talent emerges in key positions.

Oct 6, 2018; Stillwater, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell and Oklahoma State Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy (right) meet before a game at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

*** A part of that is the result of rebuilding a roster and seeing results that dictate change. In fact, that is probably the primary reason for what we have seen. Unfortunately, the schedule was not favorable for such an approach this season, but, I have a fully vested expectation that the staff now knows what it wants to do with this roster.

*** I am slightly surprised at the talent and high level of play being demonstrated by the Iowa State linebacking corp. Mike Rose is a top line talent who is only a step better than O’Rien Vance. Jake Hummel is instinctual and extremely solid in his assignments and play making ability. Marcel Spears is as solid as they come and his impact is only dampened due to the talent around him. Willie Harvey is making money in each game he is playing. His growth since 2016 is remarkable and I expect first team All-Big 12 honors for him this year. Lastly, we saw significant time for Reggan Northrup yesterday and his speed and aggression were evident. Iowa State benefits significantly from the ability to play a full two deep defensive line and linebacking corp on a game by game basis.

*** JaQuan Bailey is “somewhat” quietly having a fabulous season. He has shown explosiveness and an ability to beat a block and become a “chaos” player in the backfield. In addition, his lane discipline has improved and made him a complete player on the edge. His progress is a testament to his athletic ability, but also to the development skills of the coaching staff. There are big days ahead for Mr. Bailey this season.

*** The next two opponents are similar in make-up and scheme to Oklahoma State. Certainly, there are different dynamics (i.e. a Heisman worthy QB), but there is an opportunity to settle in against these opponents and achieve similar results.

The Offense

Quite obviously, the primary breakout for Iowa State was on the offensive side of the football. Once Brock Purdy was inserted in the game, the play package was adjusted and reduced. Both were important.

What surprised me was how well the adjusted offense seemed to fit the personnel and how engaged the various units were in its execution. At times, when an individual play is made by a certain player, it can invigorate the balance of the team. I think we saw that on Saturday.

At a very broad level, Iowa State ran to the edges and threw to the middle. Though plays were made in the inside run and to the outside in the passing game, the majority of the yardage was gained as stated.

Purdy was allowed to attack the seams in a high/low route concept to great effect. In addition, both he and the running backs were allowed to focus the run game to the outside where inside pursuit was either influenced by the play action or sealed by the angled blocking scheme. The net result was a complete pivot in preparation for Oklahoma State and a difficult adjustment.

Iowa State stretched to the edges in the run game by utilizing the read option. No longer was it a simple give, the quarterback became a threat and attacked the edge with regularity. In addition, the running backs, particularly Kene Nwangwu, were given the opportunity to run outside with some effect. The result was that the inside run was efficient gaining four to five yards when utilized.

The outside run focus, coupled with the passes to the inside seams, slowed down the pressure scheme preferred by Oklahoma State. After the Purdy touchdown run on the triple option play, Oklahoma State was less willing to bring pressure to the inside for fear that they would be trapped inside as on that play. In addition, the “go forward” motion left them vulnerable to the vertical seam routes which Iowa State took advantage of.

Overall, the offense showed a spark and made needed adjustments aided by personnel changes. The net effect will be to provide a significant difficulty in preparation for Iowa State by future opponents. For instance, if additional personnel are deployed to the outside to contain, or outside blitzes are used, then there will be opportunities for inside runs, back shoulder throws, and rub slants. Therefore, there should be confidence that the offense can begin to compete on a Big 12 level.

The “Fake”

Brock Purdy played a fearless game and utilized his athleticism to provide a spark to the Iowa State offense. His passes were accurate and his ability to improvise and extend plays caused havoc for the OSU defense. However, there was a noticeable difference in his play that was as large as any other factor – his ability to provide real and deceptive ball fakes.

The ball fake is a lost art in today’s game, but is as crucial as it has ever been. The ball fake is the fuel of play action passes and causes delay and false steps in the running game. In today’s games, quarterbacks are often reading on an RPO or taught to give flash fakes that rarely provide any hesitation for those keyed on the backfield action. Brock Purdy was taught how to make a proper play fake and it showed.

Properly executed ball fakes extend with urgency or ride an action before extraction and redirection. One of the hallmarks of play design is to create conflict in movement by the defense. Where the ball is hidden with two options for its ultimate destination, the defenders will either hesitate or react. When well done, the reaction becomes a wrong reaction on a vertical plane which eliminates the ability of a defender to redirect in time to recover from his miscalculation.

In the film below I will point out the effect of the play fakes utilized by Purdy. Suffice it to say that he was able to create an additional half step of space that resulted in effective and efficient movement of the football.

Plays and Notes

The film this week is primarily offense. Which, given the challenges of finding positive offensive film this season is a welcome departure.

This cuts a little early, but demonstrates the point I want to make. Brock Purdy extends the play smartly and adds three seconds and run pressure in order to open a receiver up for a catch.

Purdy, a “path of least resistance” option here to run to open space in front of him as the pocket collapsed behind him. Instead, he escapes to the edge using an arched route which allows him to set his feet and make a throw. In addition his eyes refocus and he comfortably re-assesses the field.

Note that the extension of the play allows the running back to shake free underneath as well. Purdy chose to go “He-Man” on the throw for the score, but there was an easy dump for solid yardage underneath created by the ability to extend the play.

Oklahoma State scored its first touchdown based on the ability of the quarterback to extend the play past the time a defender can reasonably be expected to provide tight coverage. It is a difficult ability to control for a defense and its addition to the Iowa State passing offense is encouraging.

The play design here is very good. By using the jet sweep action from Milton, a third option is created on the play. Note the deep ride step by Purdy while reading the defensive end. The end is influenced and takes a false step from which he cannot recover. The play side linebacker loses vision but jumps tendency and runs himself out of the play. The safety is then forced to play a double threat of a toss to  Milton or a run by Purdy and he is caught in no man’s land.

Purdy delivers both a well executed ride step on the read and then a brush fake on the edge to freeze the safety with quarterback responsibility. The initial ball fake and the pitch or pass fake cause false action for each of the three defenders that responsibility to stop the play.

Earlier, I discussed angles for the offensive line in reaching the edge. You can clearly see that by leaving the end as the read player the tackle is able to block down in combination with the guard on the tackle and then chip to second level to seal and wash the pursuit. It is executed very well here and is a testament to the effectiveness of creating angles that allow second level blocks.

Again, another nice play design. Oklahoma State brings an extra man down to give them five in pass rush duties. They are manned up on the outside with a single high safety who is playing closer to the line that they ordinarily do.

Iowa State picks up the blitz well and runs short under routes with the tight end and motion receiver which pulls the linebackers and the safety up. The route combo is a variation of a half field triangle read using a spot route, but I will explain that on video this week. Landen Akers runs a straight post and gets on top of the man corner and the free safety. The route angles back to the inside seam and Purdy throws a strike.

This is important because in the recent past, this route angles outside or is a straight vertical. By angling to the seam you have the ability to separate from the defender and the quarterback has window to throw to. In addition, the safety must recover vertically while trying to locate the ball which generally results in slower action and is a more difficult athletic move to execute. That is why the seams are critical in a down field attack and getting to them from the outside in or vice-versa is an effective strategy.

We get to look at some solid offensive line play on this touchdown run. Iowa State has been largely ineffective in the 8-15 yard area of the red zone. On this play, the offensive line is the difference and a score is the result.

Stop the cut at 3 seconds: The center and guard on the play side are doubling the tackle in combination. The play side tackle is setting inside to turn or seal, depending on the path of the end, his man. The backside guard is dealing with a slanting tackle and the back side tackle is dealing with a slanting end.

Stop the cut at 4 seconds: The combo block works to perfection as the center gets established and drives, yes drives, his tackle out of the play. This allows the guard to chip up to the second level and effectively erase the fill linebacker. The offside guard smartly takes the slanting tackle where he wants to go and drives, yes drives, him past the hole. The play side tackle remains locked on his block setting the edge of the hole. Finally, the back side tackle moves his feet and gets a seal on the slanting tackle, a very difficult task and well done, to provide the final gap.

I cannot stress how important a second level block is to the running game. A second level block sprung both the Purdy touchdown run and this one by Sheldon Croney. If Iowa State continues to find success in getting to the second level with their line, then consistency in the running game may appear.

Now watch it again and watch Brock Purdy and the safety on the off side. Purdy rides the handoff and then carries out a pass fake upon handing it off. It may seem like a throw away move, but it is not. In fact, it is important. Note the off side safety reacts to the motion and comes forward. He was in a read position. If the play was executed further from the goal line, that safety would be expected to be involved in pursuit and tackle. In addition, it not only influences that safety, it sets up plays derived from the same action. Smart and excellent job on the play fake.

This play made me very happy. Not that anyone cares.

A double move variation. The jet motion creates a horizontal threat that is within tendency and preparation for the defense. DeShaunte Jones feigns a stalk block for a two count, then releases on a go route. The stalk block coupled with the jet motion to the flat is an excellent double move variant that Oklahoma State uses on occasion.

Now, once again, note the play fake by Purdy. He gives a full and decisive shoulder turn and fake to the swing pass. Watch as three defenders react. That reaction forward on the vertical plane dooms the defense and significant space is created for the vertical touchdown throw. The committed fake and deft reset of his base allows Purdy to execute the play with precision.

Finally, the outside linebacker is in no man’s land. He is in essentially a spy role and is conflicted by the swing action and the threat of the edge run by the quarterback. Oklahoma State is press forward, blitz and be damned, defense. Iowa State’s success in escaping the pressure and attacking it in the seams put OSU on their heels and outside of their comfort zone. This play was a solid way to exploit that discomfort.

The deep touchdown to Tarique Milton utilizes a high and higher route concept and outsmarts the coverage once again.

Oklahoma State is in man on the outside, has two deep safeties to cover the deep seams, and the slot cover is in match-up zone with an outside shade. You can see his hips opened up to the inside of the field and his alignment a yard outside of Milton in the slot. The slot defender cannot let Milton get to the outside because he has no help there due to the man coverage on there. He has to funnel and cover his man to the inside where he has deep safety help. This coverage scheme essentially provides and inside out, over the top, double team of the seams which Iowa State had punished heretofore.

The F back drives vertical off the snap as does Milton. By doing so, the safety is influenced to come up due to the direct attack in to his zone from the tight end. Milton sets up an outside step which threatens the primary responsibility of the slot defender and then drives hard in to the inside seam over the top of the conflicted safety. Really nice design, really nice execution.

Here is a view of Milton’s route where you can see the safety trying to recover and Miltion’s use of the coverage responsibility of the slot defender against him.

This play is a great illustration of the space that can be created by vertical conflict in the passing game. It is why the most used term in my articles is “seam.” A hesitation or false step on a vertical action cannot be recovered except by poor timing on the part of the offense or athleticism the likes of which is rarely seen in football. These type of routes can be set up in a number of ways by the running game, horizontal passes, and screens. If done, then big plays can be the result.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps next week there will be a better opportunity to provide a closer look at the defense. The Iowa State defense used a simple blitz repeatedly that OSU did not adjust to. It provided enough of a disruption to allow the offense to take root and maintain the win.

Next, West Virginia presents similar issues to the defense that Oklahoma State did. Defensively, they are better than Oklahoma State, but that margin is primarily due to the varied scheme employed by their coordinator. Iowa State has an opportunity to slow down the Mountaineers as Grier has been pedestrian at times over the last two weeks. However, it is foolish to count on that.

West Virginia is vulnerable to the offensive scheme that Iowa State revealed against OSU. I suspect the game will be more high scoring, but just as close as the 2017 contest. If Iowa State grabs an upset on Saturday, they will be well positioned to make some noise in the stretch run of the schedule.