Football

THE SUNDAY AFTER: Baylor

Nov 10, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Officials breakup an altercation between Baylor Bears defensive end Greg Roberts (52) and Iowa State Cyclones tight end Charlie Kolar (88) and Iowa State Cyclones offensive lineman Josh Knipfel (66) during their game at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Bears 28-14. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

It is my preference to ignore all things Baylor – even games Iowa State plays against them. I will not expand upon the reasons therefore, but the implication should be telling enough.

Alas, an interesting game was played yesterday. Interesting in the extracurricular activity, the performance of the Iowa State defense and Baylor’s offense. I had expressed concern about this game as far back as the summer. Though Iowa State took care of business, the reason for my concern was proven in the play.

Getting right to it…

Quick Hits

*** I have been silent on the quarterback for a reason. There are things I see that are great, some that need work, but what is necessary is to see how he responds as teams gather more film and begin to zero in on his tendencies. He exceeded my expectations yesterday with his accuracy and fearless decisions to place the ball in to tight spots. If he continues to progress in his ability to make high level reads and execute the throws, then there is indeed an opportunity for him to be a long term solution at the quarterback position.

*** The run game was focused primarily on getting to the edge against Baylor. It is likely that their tendency to bunch their front against an unbalanced set led the staff to attack the edge. I have held that the edge should be attacked regardless, but Iowa State used some creativity in attacking and having Montgomery with room to operate is always a good thing.

*** The passing game worked the middle of the field from the outside in. Baylor was solid in coverage and scheme, but Iowa State was effective in their attack and the quarterback and receivers won when they needed to.

*** The defense gave up a lot of yards, caught some lucky breaks, feigned off momentum, and only gave up 14 points — again.

*** I was going to put this in the conclusion, but it is on my mind here: Ehlinger, Purdy, Brewer, Bowman, and Cornelius are all the same type of quarterbacks. They offer similar skill sets with varying levels of proficiency. Even Grier fits the mold, but his level is above the rest. Each runs the ball at a higher level than simple “escability,” each has above average arm talent (though Brewer and Purdy are closer to average), and each provides a moxy in deploying their skills that complements and encourages their teammates. That is over simplified, but I find it interesting in an academic context that the league as a whole is utilizing a similar skill set in their recruiting and play at that all important position.

*** Out on a limb here with an unnecessary inclusion. Charlie Kolar has the best pro potential on the roster currently. He is a Jason Witten clone. His blocking is developing, his hands are strong, his speed is adequate, but finding softness through disciplined route running is an early strength. There are at least 15 to 16 more games to watch his development, but I am seeing a player who will be playing football for a long time.

The Fight

I need not paste the footage of what every reader of this article has seen at least 10 times at this point. I will only provide my thoughts.

In the game of football, there are 150 ways to punish an opponent during a play and through the engagements when the ball is live. Some guys are better at this than others. Extra shots, pokes, prods, pushes, hand placements, and strikes are utilized and can be found on just about every play. It is accepted in the game when done during the course of play where both parties are on guard, alert, and engaged in the play.

Issues arise when a player or a team begins to take liberties. By this I mean that the conduct is administered at a moment when guards are down due to the ending of a play, being away from the play side, in a stoppage — essentially a neutral position. Aggression in the neutral equates to taking a liberty and is threatening and assaultive. Think of hitting on the break in boxing or a strike after the bell. Taking a liberty elevates emotions and moves the contest in to a volatile state.

In the game, Baylor decided to take liberties. In particular, placing David Montgomery in to a water cooler 7 yards out of bounds. Out of bounds is a neutral moment and placing someone forcefully in jeopardy in that moment is egregious. That is why it is penalized.

Expecting Iowa State not to respond during the course of play is unrealistic and would be disappointing. Why? Because when liberties are taken, the threat of an already violent game escalates and it must be addressed. It is possible for the officials or the coaches to make statements that discourage the tide, but often, it requires a person or team to stand up and put an end to it.

That is why fights in hockey exist, much to the chagrin of many. But, where you are skating at 30 m.p.h. with a stick in hand and a liberty is taken, then that must be squelched in the strongest possible terms because it is impossible for the officials to catch each instance of such.

David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler are leaders on this Iowa State team. In that role and being who they are, they are predetermined to protect and defend against liberties taken against them or others. Montgomery’s refusal to back down as the target of the liberties was necessary to end them and to show that they would not be tolerated.

Perhaps this is too noble of an explanation, but many former players voiced their support and sentiments similar to what I described. In the mix, you have to stand against it. David Montgomery is a “get behind me and follow” type of guy and he proved it. The team will be fine and stronger for it.

What disappointed me was the play in the aftermath. The defense had the game taken to them instead of the other way around. The offense struck hard, but then took a conservative approach to wind down the game. I am an advocate of neither and was disappointed by both. If someone creates or responds in that manner, then it is time to take your aggression and play to another level. Iowa State did not do that. They stood in the face of the aggression, but failed to finish out the final rounds in a manner that says “never again.”

But, that is a bit hollow because a win is a win at this point in the season and with the stakes rising each successive week.

A Little Film with a Defensive Emphasis

Iowa State gave up a lot of yards and was not as dominant as they had been in the near past. Baylor’s system was uniquely suited to take advantage of the defense and they did so for much of the afternoon. The development is a bit concerning as Texas plays in a similar manner, but with much more talent.

Offensively, it was a bit of a start and stop effort, but when it was good, it was really good. Baylor brought a lot of pressure and played solid man defense behind it on a regular basis. Iowa State countered and won some one-on-one match-ups to put together their five scoring drives.

Let’s look at some offensive items first.

The first touchdown. This is really a high level read coupled with a large helping of guts.

The first thing to note is Baylor’s alignment. They have 7 players tight in the box and two players on the edge of the box against Iowa State’s standard two back alignment. This is designed to stunt the inside zone run game and is the reason Iowa State attacked the edge in the run game.

Post-snap read is the key here and Purdy plays above his grade level in this respect. Immediately post-snap the two deep safeties press out to double team the big outside receivers. They leave Jones to be covered by 4 inside cover men, but not a deep inside cover man. Purdy knows Jones is going to the goal post and the coverage will be underneath him. He sees the safety split and the middle linebacker, who is the threat player to the ball path, slip and fall.

The middle safety has his back turned and is in no man’s land. Purdy places the ball right over the fallen linebacker and through a tight window to a receiver who is the only one capable of catching the ball. When the catch is made, there are five defenders in attack position who are incapable of making the play based on timing and a high level read.

The easy read and throw here is to Eaton at the bottom of the screen. A throw to the outside will be successful and actually a safer throw than the one that was made. However, Purdy loves that inside seam and has great confidence and accuracy in placing the ball on that plane. It is an incredibly difficult area of the field to defend and Iowa State has a battery that is adept at attacking it. High level stuff.

This is a base RPO, which was covered in one of the previous whiteboard presentations. The Baylor linebackers bite hard on the run action and Kolar times his break off of the seam perfectly.

Iowa State executed this play twice in this game for similar yardage. I would like to see it four times a game. In fact, I would like to see a significant expansion of the RPO game with Purdy at quarterback and Kolar at tight end. Mike Norvell’s system at Memphis is a primer for the options that can be created. I believe Iowa State’s personnel is well suited to it and Purdy’s mobility makes it even more deadly. We have seen a greater inclusion of those packages, but with Purdy and Mitchell as your top quarterbacks, it has great potential and is a direction I would recommend leaning.

Nothing else needs be said here. Kolar is good. Purdy is very comfortable with that throw and with the reads required. Iowa State just needs to get after it and drive it home in the RPO game.

If you read my articles or fanboy tweets during games, you have often seen my desire to see some double moves on the outside. Here you go.

This is a nice design and Eaton, who is an excellent route runner, makes a great play on the ball. The short roll by Purdy provides the needed time for the route to develop. It also feigns a standard play combo where the quarterback rolls and the receiver runs a parallel out route for an easy pitch and catch. Purdy’s throw is right on target and it has to be.

Iowa State’s use of the the intermediate digs and hitch routes along with their zone blocking stretch schemes lends itself to a double move route combination. It has rarely been seen, but it remains a very effective and dangerous option for the offense. This play was well designed and covered as well as it can be expected to be. But, it was a dagger play and one that should be developed more in the future.

There is one element that stinks to high heaven here. Watch number 25 perform a text book “ole” block on the pursuit. This is heinous and causes Purdy to take an unnecessary hit. Whoever plays running back next week should be the player who is willing to make that block. 32 blocks three at once on that play.

Now, to the defense. More importantly, to the offense of Baylor and why it was effective. Yes, Brewer, as inconsistent as he is, was having a good game. Probably his best game of the year. But, Baylor schemed Iowa State and Iowa State did not have a second half scheme adjust to deal with it.

An initial note is that the loss of Datrone Young is proving to be very costly. The emerging softness in the Iowa State secondary is largely due to consistent coverage busts on the side away from Brian Peavy. D’Andre Payne is very valuable in the safety position, but I am wondering if he should not be moved back in to his role at corner in order to shore up the outside coverage.

The second issue for Iowa State that will not be shown in the clips below was that the pressure was ineffective due to a failure to finish. On multiple occasions, the pressure reached Brewer but the pressure player was unable to secure a tackle or disrupt his escape route. That is the worst case scenario for the Iowa State defense. The failure to wrap up or create chaos with the pressure package leaves wide open spaces (Dixie Chicks, is that a faux paus?) for a mobile quarterback to exploit. Brewer was annoying — Ehlinger will be devastating.

Let’s start with a coverage bust resulting in a touchdown. Initially, note that the counter motion in the route combination (two routes in, one route out) was a common theme in the Baylor offense on Saturday.

Here, Iowa State has 4 to cover 3 at the top of the screen. The three inside players are in match-up man coverage with inside leverage. They are playing to prevent the inside move and force the routes and throw to the outside where the outside corner will be sitting to double and pick any throw to the outside.

The problem is that the outside corner plays as if he is in man up coverage instead of looking inside for an outside breaking route. In essence, he runs that familiar coverage scheme of “cover no one.” If he looks inside and splits the difference, this is a pick. Instead it is a score due to the inside leverage deployed by Eisworth.

Play recognition, proper execution, and instinct are required at that outside cover position. Iowa State has struggled at times in the last two games and it has opened up the passing options for the opponent.

This also represents a common attack against Iowa State’s zone defense. Baylor runs two short out routes to draw the underneath coverage up. This action separates the underneath coverage on the outside from the deep coverage. They then run two corner routes on top of the outs to exploit the separation of the two levels of coverage.

There is a natural hole created by the routes and the over route sits right in the natural hole in the zone. Baylor manipulates the coverage with its route combination and then strikes in a natural hole in the zone. That hole is still fairly small. It requires an accurate throw. Brewer was on point yesterday and was making these throws.

If your quarterback can time the throw and make the throw, this is an undefensible play. If the corner drops under the deep route, then the under route is wide open for a similar gain. If the deep coverage plays too far up then they are vulnerable to a touchdown throw over the top. Baylor attacked the natural holes in the Iowa State zone scheme to great effect —so will Texas.

I dubbed this the coverage conundrum. This is a fourth down play where Iowa State has the chance to create a turnover. Baylor flaunted its ability to convert and exploited the defense on fourth down. I believe they did so because they felt they could beat the zone defense with regularity.

Here, watch Marcel Spears (42). In the zone scheme he takes the man in his zone who he follows to the outside. His responsibility then is to release that player to the flat coverage defender, and to be prepared to cover a player penetrating in to his hook/curl zone. That is indeed what happens.

The depth of the dig route threatens the technique and creates a coverage issue for the linebacker. If 42 pivots facing the quarterback and runs horizontally he has a chance to disrupt this play. In that scenario, he loses no steps and presses the accuracy and ball path chosen by the quarterback.

Instead, he turns his back to the quarterback due to the depth of the route and loses two steps in coverage. The crossing action conflicted a single defender and created space due to the conundrum Spears found himself in. This is excellent play design and illustrates that route concepts can be created that conflict single defenders in a two on one scenario even against max coverage.

This is coverage conflict at its finest. Baylor is targeting the inside zone players. In particular, Spears again. They run a hitch with an over skinny post to the seam. Spears has to hang tight on the hitch or try to get under the skinny post. Once again, Baylor is attacking a single defender with two routes.

Spears jumps up on the deeper route and is caught covering air while the quick throw indicates a quality (and very easy) read. Space is created by the counter motion of the receiver to the defender and there is a nice run after catch here.

This concept, being conflicting a single defender with two routes, is very difficult to defend without outstanding discipline in zone coverage. If you counter with man coverage, then the routes become rub routes and are equally difficult to defend. It is a simple theory, but high school and collegiate level defenders have a difficult time with the discipline required to cover it.

Baylor has shucked the spread and drive deep of the abominal Briles era for an effective mid-range game that suits the talents of their current quarterback. Iowa State struggled to find an effective counter to the concepts and it cost them a lot of yards. Though, points were still hard to come by.

And, isn’t that the point? It was uncomfortable to watch Baylor grab chunk yardage and elude the pressure, but Iowa State did not break as the field compressed. It is excusable to have a poor game in one or two phases, but Iowa State continues to covers its deficiencies and make plays when they absolutely have to be made.

The most concerning thing to take from the last two games is the deficiency in coverage on the outside opposite Peavy. Moving Payne back down to corner is a necessity, in my opinion, and Eisworth, Lewis, White, and Grant should be playing the safety and star positions. If that adjust occurs, then there is a solid opportunity to succeed in Austin.

Quick Look Ahead

Texas.

Well, I will be there live and am excited to be so. Communing with other Cyclones is a highlight of every year for me.

Texas is solid. I love Sam Ehlinger’s story. I love his guts and his overall game is rounding in to form. He is a tough out and throws to some very talented players. Lil’ Jordan Humphrey (who I can’t help but like) and Collin Johnson are Hakeem Butler. Keontay Ingram is a good running back.

The question to me is the Texas defense. Iowa State has scored one touchdown in two years on the Texas defense. They have owned ISU to say the least. It has primarily been the product of pressure and poor game planning. But, that defense has experienced the sting of youth in recent weeks and is vulnerable to ISU’s attack.

If ISU utilizes Kolar and trusts its back up running backs, they will have the ability to sustain drives and pressure Texas in this game. The key for the defense is completing the initial tackle on the quarterback. Ehlinger is a beast and wrapping up is critical. Texas will make some plays in the passing game. It is critical to stuff the running game.

Texas is comfortable in close games. So is Iowa State. It is very likely that this game comes down to the kickers…

ASSALLEY  v.  DICKER

Take your pick (credit given to Chris Williams who made the initial observation and had no idea how right he really was)!

Jay Jordan

editor

A graduate of Parkersburg High School, Iowa State University, and SMU Dedman School of Law. I am a practicing attorney and business consultant in the morning and an armchair quarterback in the afternoon. I played at Iowa State under Jim Walden. Turned a football obsessed hobby in to writing beginning with a stint at Wide Right and Natty Lite during the 2015 season. I am currently the Film Room writer and contributor at landgrantguantlet.com, will be a co-host on Big 12 recruiting podcast, The OV, and am an analyst here at Cylcone Fanatic.