Nov 3, 2018; Lawrence, KS, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Tarique Milton (14) stiff arms Kansas Jayhawks linebacker Drew Harvey (33) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another step closer to bowl eligibility and maybe more.  Yes, maybe more. I do not say that because of the record or because of the remaining schedule, but because of the bland, workmanlike manner in which Kansas was defeated on Saturday.

First, a step back though. Iowa State performed at the highest level it has played in the West Virginia dismantling. Then, against a good, but “learning to win”, Texas Tech team, Iowa State played sloppily and still managed to win while looking like the better team the entire day. Kansas was a solid performance, but a number of holes and some sloppiness appeared there as well.

However, good teams go through the ups and downs of performance over a long season and find ways to win when the “A” game is in the barn. Good teams can get young players experience in games where the outcome has a low probability of being negative. Good teams stand at the goal line, strike on big plays, and play hard through adversity. Iowa State does and has done each of those things this season.

Now, the home stretch is upon us and Iowa State must put forth maximum effort, regain their precision, and play physical football in order to maintain and expand upon their growth in 2018. Each remaining team on the schedule is physical and geared to play and win close games. Each is flawed and exposed to a shutdown effort as well.

Clean up some things, play with an edge, rise to the occasion in positions where injuries are mounting, and Iowa State should be able to take care of business. Make mistakes or bring less than your best to the field and Iowa State will have a season of lost opportunities….though still pretty darn good and solidly entertaining.

Quick Hits

*** Mike Rose went nuts again. Physical, fast, aggressive, and effective. Continued progression from the super frosh.

*** Kamilo Tongomoa continued to flash in his limited time. I like his speed and aggressive style. He is a nice late-season addition to the rotation, even though it comes at the expense of a front-line injury.

*** The Datrone Young injury is big. He has been Brian Peavy in his junior season good. The valuable reps for the other young corners will come in to play in the next few weeks.

*** Brock Purdy is a playmaker. But, that can occasionally mean that you hold the ball too long and take unnecessary chances. I think we saw that against Tech and we definitely saw it against Kansas. Part of the learning curve is figuring out when throwing it away is a good play. But, in the meantime, keep surprising and making something out of nothing.

*** Iowa State used a lot of non-starters in this game after a lead was established. Very important for health, rest, and finishing strong.

*** I LOVE that David Montgomery only got 14 carries. After carrying 33 times a week before, and with the game in hand, some tread on his tires was left unworn. He may carry the ball 100 times in the next three games, so having an opportunity to lighten the workload was key.

*** The offensive line needs to find its mojo. The last two weeks have been subpar and they need to find three or four drives where they are coordinated and dominant again.

*** This was a ho-hum performance resulting in a 24 point win and a near shut-out. I suspect it went as scripted and Coach Campbell was pleased because it was an easy win with enough faults to push to get better.

Some Analysis

There is not a ton to analyze here except to point out some points of emphasis for the future weeks. Also, a couple of really nice things that were done.

I will start with three plays I really liked that I believe translate into preparation for the stretch run.

The first shown is a nice, basic roll out with levels routes flowing with the play. Kansas plays lazy coverage here which allows for an easy throw and run, but the concept is solid. It is hard to cover because the quarterback run threat can freeze the flowing coverage.

I like this play because, if the edge can be blocked, then it becomes an option play with first down yardage potential. It can be run multiple times in a game with different results and targets. The pressure to the edge in both the run and pass game opens up downfield targets. It will be essential to do so next week.

At the top of the screen, you see either Hakeem Butler or Matt Eaton. The receiver is double teamed leading me to believe it is Butler. Because of the double team, Kansas is playing three on two to the wide side with off coverage.

First, this is not a good idea defensively, especially with the power look in the backfield, but, that is part of the reason they are in the position they find themselves.  Note that the coverage drops in a deep umbrella. Kansas wants to stop the run here and prevent the big play.

Iowa State sees the double team but runs the slot on a deep crossing route that is wide open in a large hole. I love how Milton presses to the top of the hole versus cutting earlier for a shorter gain. That is a great read by Milton and Purdy delivers a nice accurate throw for an explosive gain.

The ability to punish a team for double teaming Butler is a key to the offensive development. The fact that Purdy did not try to force anything to Butler is also encouraging. Future opponents will play tighter coverage and press to the wide side, but Milton is the best player on the team at beating man or press coverage. It is also daunting to cover that much space in man if you fear Butler.

This type of play, along with the levels play, can put positive yardage on the board in the face of coverage designed to limit Butler. There is no doubt in my mind that the next three opponents will scheme to avoid being beat by Butler on a big play. The scheme adjusts and the play of Jones, Milton, Eaton, and Kolar will be important….at least until Montgomery starts his ground assault.

This play speaks for itself and is another concern for defenses. Iowa State has become increasingly creative in its red zone play calling. This is a fundamental concept with 9 players pushing right and a delayed route free to the outside.

If I am nitpicking then I want those slants run with more effort, but they are screening and matching the intensity of the Kansas defense. Eaton does a really nice job with his timing. His delay allows for inside motion to take place and gains multiple steps on the recovering defenders.

The increased use of the big, inside receivers was needed and has made Iowa State lethal in the red zone. On a drive late in the first half, Iowa State tried to power the ball in and failed. The ability to play off of that tendency has been used to score crucial touchdowns and will be needed again this season.

The two plays above illustrate a disturbing deficiency in the defense on Saturday. Iowa State has done a tremendous job playing physically on the outside and limiting the free release fly route. However, against Kansas, the replacements for Young struggled in the single coverage capacity.

This coverage flaw matters because the next two opponents will flat kill you if you allow free releases and get caught chasing.

The first clip is just a bust by the corner who fails to recognize his deep responsibility and offers no resistance. Iowa State was fortunate that the ball got “Kansased” or the game might have developed quite differently.

The second clip is just a lack of physicality that it is inexcusable at this point in the season. Anthony Johnson is in press coverage with inside leverage. He opens and allows a free release without getting his hands on the receiver to jam him and feel his motion. He is beaten on the first step.

To play press effectively, a corner has to make contact in the first two steps. First, it impedes the route and second, it lets you feel the motion as opposed to having your eyes deceived. Waiting on movement and reacting always loses a step. Pop them and even it up and this won’t happen.

Iowa State needs to clean this up or expect some big plays to be given up.

I always enjoy a good umpire collision.

The key here is the undisciplined fill by the linebacker with cut back responsibility. There is plenty of time to make the read before the give, but the angle and eye discipline are lacking.

The linebacker has to close down the cut back lane. The proper angle to progress parallels down the line of scrimmage to stay tight to grab the cut back or to recover with an angle on outside run. Instead, we see the linebacker progress up the field. As soon as crosses the line of scrimmage he is wrong whether the ball is given or pulled. In essence, he runs himself out of the play without the recognition that he has singular responsibility for a large part of the field.

This does not happen often against the Iowa State defense, but, if it happens with more frequency and the umpire is more nimble, back-breaking plays will be given up.

The defensive play has been sharp and disciplined all season. There were some chinks in that armor against Kansas. In particular, angles on the cutback and outside coverage. Big plays happen in those areas and Iowa State has often struggled in that phase of the game. When Coach Campbell states that there are things to clean up, I have to think that these are two of the primary areas that need attention.

Kansas afforded the opportunity to expose points of emphasis with little actual damage. That is an ideal situation for a team moving on to the “prove it” platform.

The Future

Baylor scared me in the summer, scared me in the pre-season, and terrifies me now. Baylor is not really good, but they are not really bad either. Baylor does just enough that if you do not bring four quarters of solid play to the table then you will be on the upset menu.

It is a Matt Rhule team. They do not employ the explosive dynamics from the past but instead are physical in the run game and the passing game. Defensively, they play multiple fronts, bring pressure, and try to create mistakes via pre-snap read and post-snap adjustment.

That said, the defense is not good. They are particularly deficient against the run. If Iowa State can block competently, then there will be an opportunity to grind Baylor down. I expect that will be the plan.

Baylor gains ground when they can run the ball. If they get a foothold then they will continue to put the pedal down. Iowa State is a tick or two above stout against the run. Do what you do and it should be fine.

The fear here is that this is the “bowl eligibility” bowl. Iowa State has bigger fish to fry, but Baylor doesn’t. With games against Tech and TCU left, this is a big opportunity for them to elevate their program and validate their season. Iowa State has to be ready mentally to play this game with great intensity. The longer Baylor hangs around, the harder it will be to win.

Ultimately, Iowa State sits on the precipice of great success. It is a new experience and the pressure is on. Do they succumb by forcing things offensively and playing undisciplined on defense? Or, do they continue to do what has led to success in the last four weeks?

This is a major test, will reveal much, and will be fun to watch.