Oct 27, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Jah’Shawn Johnson (7) pressures Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes life gets in the way and stacks up on you. It doesn’t always lend itself to staying on schedule.

Sometimes things don’t go the way they are supposed to. Sometimes the opposition is better than you thought. Sometimes, you just get knocked on your behind and have to re-group.

I believe that is not only applicable to the late nature of this article but to Iowa State in their game against Texas Tech.  Tech is good. As good as Iowa State and maybe better. They were ready to play and Iowa State had to remember its effort level coming off the bye week.

What we saw was, well, just a solid contest between two evenly matched squads fighting to take their position in the top tier of the Big 12. There were a ton of mistakes made by both teams. Many of those were forced, many were self-inflicted. But, the competition was high level and the resolve was sound on both sides.

This will be shorter than normal–primarily because the issues and plays were a repeat of the recent past. This game revealed more about the attitude, effort, and character of the two teams than it did about the scheme. Interestingly, coaches spend as much, or more, time working with their players on the mental aspects of the game as they do on the schematics that I tend to focus on.

Discussing the character of a team is highly subjective, but should be pointed out when it is manifest in the play on Saturdays. Iowa State showed grit — in fact, that is the word I was searching for to describe this game. Grit, meaning that when nothing is going right, when the gears are struggling to sync up, a team keeps hitting, keeps trying, keeps doing what they have been taught to do in order to remain in a winning position.

Poor kicks, blocked kicks, crucial drops, poor throws, penalties, injuries, and a scoreboard deficit were all in play. This was not the disciplined team that ISU fans have been accustomed to seeing.  Yet, there was a high level of grit, the challenge was accepted, and the game came to them.

Texas Tech showed no less grit. In fact, the true margin in the contest was the undisciplined play of Tech which resulted in key turnovers and drive-saving penalties. But, in the end, Iowa State was the better team. A good team. When you can win in spite of yourself and your mistakes, then you should know that you are good.

Character and grit. Iowa State’s 2018 squad has talent, character, and grit. They have grown into those characteristics and will continue to do so through the balance of the season. Saturday was important in the learning curve and we will see soon how much it benefited the squad.

Quick Hits

*** Injuries. They are starting to mount. Enyi Uwazurike has put together a quiet, but solid season. He is a factor in the running game and provides push against the pass. His loss is significant, though the depth behind him is outstanding. Matt Leo, Kamilo Tongomoa, and Spencer Benton picked up the slack and are developing pieces that can hold down the fort.

*** Tarique Milton had an outstanding game. He works well to the inside and to the seam as well as remaining a threat on the outside. He is Iowa State’s best receiver against man coverage and can shake loose against the press. Where the other receivers struggle to separate, Milton is well-suited to the tight coverage and Brock Purdy has a knack for finding him.

*** Ja’Quan Bailey. If you get a chance to re-watch the game, or any game from this season, spend it watching Bailey. Saturday was yet another example of his growth, discipline, and impact. He is providing pressure with the three-man rush which makes the coverage more effective. His backside discipline as an unblocked player is impressive as well.

*** Kene Nwangwu is so fast. I would really like to see him get 7 to 10 carries in a game. He is very close to taking one to the house. If he can get a chance to jump outside or pick his feet up a little more through the hole, he will show some game-breaking ability that will be important in the final push of the season.

*** The final touchdown catch by Hakeem Butler was huge. Not just in the game, but for Butler’s confidence. He had dropped his previous four targets, all of which were routine catches. He has a tendency to lose concentration when he has the opportunity to think about the catch versus making a reaction play. Grabbing that last big catch was important and keeps him engaged. He must get better at making the routine catches, but most importantly, he must remain confident so that the big plays keep coming. The offense is based on it.

*** Texas Tech and Iowa State are the two best tackling teams in the Big 12. Since the first half of the Oklahoma game, Iowa State has given up precious few yards after a defender arrives for the tackle. Tech is no different. They have shored up the tackling and made it difficult to pull away for big plays. It matters because the extra yards gained from broken tackles are often the yards that provide first downs and explosion plays that lead to scores. Sound tackling teams are tough to move the ball against and that was on full display Saturday.

*** Texas Tech has gone to school on Iowa State. If you noticed, they play the Iowa State version of the 3-5-3 about half of the time. They have their own wrinkles which generally involve additional pressure and more man coverage, but David Gibbs and Kliff Kingsbury have adopted what has worked for Iowa State and made a leap forward because of it.

*** I noted throughout the game how resolute both the offense and defense were in the face of adverse field position. The defense appeared to embrace the challenge of having their backs against the wall and a great deal of confidence in those situations. Likewise, the offense continued to grind until the playmakers were able to make their patented plays. That is a change and solid basis moving forward.

*** Finally, the broadcast team spoke throughout the game about Iowa State’s team speed. Repeatedly they mentioned the speed of the defense and of various offensive weapons. They are right. The largest difference between this Iowa State team and teams of the past is the overall speed of the team. They are not as fast as they need to be, yet, but the secondary and linebackers can really run. That dynamic is huge for overall team development and a large part of the reason that the defense continues to take strides forward.

A Little Film Work

Not much in the way of film. We have shown the offensive line liabilities in the past and there was much of that in this contest. At some point, you just have to win individual battles and Tech’s defensive line won many of the match-ups across the front.

The schemes were very similar. Tech took advantage of their size outside and the Iowa State philosophy of covering the middle and tackling the flat. Tech is comfortable grinding the ball down the field and they did so. Iowa State had to adjust defensively to combat the short passing game and to provide max coverage with less pressure. Offensively, they had to adjust to man coverage and did a much better job than earlier in the season.

The ISU adjustment is the focus of the film work.

This play illustrates how Tech frustrated Iowa State’s offensive effort.  They have six committed at the line of scrimmage which leaves an extra rusher for the quarterback to account for. On the outside, and inside, Tech is playing tight man coverage.

Tight man coverage has been difficult for Iowa State’s receivers to beat. Often, Iowa State relies on a size advantage and basketball positioning against man coverage.

On this play, Tech is bringing six and is manned up on the outside. The receiver has no separation and a good throw is defended well. There were numerous plays where there was either too much pressure to overcome or the coverage was so tight that the contested catch was not able to be made. Tech’s gamble paid off and frustrated Iowa State’s preferred scheme for beating man coverage.

Here we see the result of the pressure and man coverage, but also, the beginnings of the Iowa State adjustment that got the offense started.

The quarterback does not have actual pressure. Tech shows six and only rushes four. However, he fades from pressure and makes an inadequate arm throw. If he sets his feet and drives the ball, as we have seen him do in the past, then this is a solid first down completion. Early in the game, the quarterback struggled to adjust to the route changes and did not trust that he had time based on what was happening up front. Key incompletions were the result.

But, we see the scheme shift here as well. Iowa State began to run square ins and base out routes against the man coverage. It is likely that they were choice routes based on the inside or outside leverage of the man defender. This is a fundamental tenet of an offensive scheme. Where man coverage is utilized, you need to run away from it and cross the field either vertically or horizontally. The square in and the out route provide a step on the cut and solid acceleration out of the cut will create the separation we see here.

Iowa State made a nice early game adjustment and the execution of the play was the only variant in its success.

Tech faced a similar dilemma from the Iowa State defense. Iowa State brought traditional pressure with a delayed blitz. At times, though not all the time, Iowa State manned up on the outside or played match-up zone.

Bowman beats the defense here with an on-time throw. Mike Rose comes clean with speed and is right in Bowman’s face. He sees the man coverage and his best receiver and lets it fly.

I have no idea why Braxton Lewis broke down on the play instead of trying to make a play on the ball, but, unlike the throw from Purdy to Landen Akers above, Wesley outmans the coverage and scores a big touchdown.

Even if you have the right scheme, you will have to make a play and beat the pressure with individual play. Iowa State and Tech were faced with this prospect throughout the game. Iowa State made a couple more plays and escaped with the win.

Now the execution of the scheme adjustment for Iowa State.

Milton runs an excellent route, in spite of the slip. By the way, a lot of slips at home over the last two weeks. It is very difficult to lose your footing, re-focus, find the ball, and make the catch. This is a fantastic individual play by Milton.

Note the throw by the quarterback. The throw is well timed. It is thrown just as the cut is made and sticks right on the receiver. He steps into the throw and drives it into the window. Excellent execution.

This catch solidified the scheme adjustment and built confidence for the rest of the game. This play was huge in changing the tide of the game. Building on the statements above, it was an individual effort to win the play and showed grit and determination in the face of adversity.

First, the inclusion of the tight end in the red zone offense is an obvious boon and a welcome addition. Charlie Kolar has fabulous potential and makes a great individual play here.

I love this entire scheme. Note that Kolar and Butler are lined up in the tight slot positions. The balance of the receivers run routes low to draw up the dropping defenders. Kolar and Butler release vertical and drive a hard cut on the square in and out at the same depth.

Tech is faced with a counter motion from the low and high routes. In addition, the man defenders are challenged with the hard cuts provided by the two square routes. Purdy sees Kolar cross the face of the defender and delivers a strike that Kolar catches with his hands. Excellent execution and route design.

Iowa State had several drops on similar routes that were open. In addition, they countered the action by driving vertically on the seam to Milton and Butler. The scheme was precisely what was called for and, even though Tech defended it effectively, Iowa State was able to win individual battles and make big plays.

Speaking of big plays…the biggest play turned in by the defense provides several outstanding points of emphasis.

If you can stop the video at 1 second where Bowman gets the handle on the ball.

In the whiteboard video, I discussed Tech’s use of the half field triangle read scheme. It is in action here. With the video stopped, you see the two receivers running routes to the spot and in the flat. The outside receiver is running a hitch in the flat and the inside receiver is running a delayed drag.

The read here is first to the flat and second to the spot on the inside. The read player is Marcel Spears who is head up on the inside receiver. If Spears moves outside to the flat, then the throw is automatic to the spot. If Spears holds or moves inside with the spot, then the throw goes to the flat.

Spears responsibility here is to the inside, but after an initial move to the inside, he reads the quarterback and jumps the route. The open receiver is the inside receiver running the spot route. If Bowman waits to make the read he will have a nice completion. Instead, he predetermines his first read and allows Spears to make a game-changing play.

This play illustrates the effectiveness of the route concept and the advantage that preparation can give a defender. Just like Spears’ pick-six against Tech in 2017, his preparation presented an opportunity to make a big play and he capitalized.

Now, run it to the end and watch Rose as the lead blocker on the interception. He has the opportunity to eliminate the only threat to a score, and that threat is the quarterback. Nine and a half times out of ten, the defensive player will take the opportunity to get a free shot on the quarterback. In this case, it would have resulted in a block in the back and the nullification of a touchdown.

Instead, Rose shows excellent situational awareness, raises his hands, shields the pursuer only and allows the score to stand. That is an outstanding play and discipline in a reactive situation. Especially for a freshman.

Final Thoughts

Iowa State won in spite of significant adversity. That is the sign of a solid team with the grit to win against any and all of the remaining opponents. The question is whether they can progress and eliminate the mistakes that caused the Tech game to be closer than it otherwise might have been.

This is a confident team. A young team. A fast team. A formidable out for any of the league opponents. The mistakes show that there is growth ahead in this season and in the program as a whole, but the ability to win in spite of them is a necessary step in solidifying a program as a true contender.