JAY JORDAN: At the end of the day … ULM

“Progress through process” applies from daily nutrition decisions to each week and each game played in a season at Iowa State. From the micro to the macro, there are only building blocks to aid in reaching higher points along the path to a lofty goal.

Iowa State revealed a silver lining to the struggles of the first quarter of the season, even if there is still a little bit of dirt to knock off. Louisiana-Monroe was not completely without talent, though they left something to be desired, yet they provided sufficient resistance on which to build an optimistic view of Iowa State’s record breaking performance.

Iowa State heads into a daunting Big 12 with a few warts. So, does everyone else except Oklahoma and Baylor. But, Saturday provided a basis for believing that Iowa State will be the same tough opponent they have been for the last two years, and perhaps, a bit tougher.

Quick Hits

*** Collin Olson at center and Trevor Downing at guard brings a fresh look to the Iowa State offensive line. The line play has been solid each week and appeared to take another step forward Saturday.

*** La’Michael Pettway, DeShaute Jones, Tarique Milton, and Charlie Kolar are your producers in this offense. Five Iowa State players have at least 75 yards rushing and the team is averaging an adequate 180 yards per game. But, the diverse skill set of the primary production provides difficulty for opposing coordinators and defenders in the upcoming weeks.

*** Brock Purdy’s ability to read the coverage and defensive threats in the first three games has made true Coach Campbell’s statements regarding his ability to command the offense. At present, Purdy has full command of the offense and understands where opportunities are relative to the route tree and scheme priority. He isn’t perfect, but it appears that the game has slowed significantly and that it will be difficult to confuse the Cyclone quarterback.

*** If only Kene Nwangwu was healthy enough for 12 plus carries. I am hoping that occurs this season.

*** There are a couple of defensive liabilities, however, I expect those to be reduced as conference play intensifies. Surprising to me is the lack of pressure from the front. I do not believe that will persist, but I frankly expected a bit more pressure than what has been presented so far. Pressure from the down defenders will be an important and interesting area of development to watch.

*** Iowa State is deep. There is legitimate depth across the board. There is still a gap between the 1’s, 1a’s, and the 2’s, but it isn’t a canyon and the game provided the opportunity to see that there is talent up and down the roster. Given the injury issues at schools like Texas, that depth could be very important in the next 10 weeks.

*** Dylan Soehner’s ability to block in space and on the move is something to watch. It is entertaining and significant. Sam Seonbuchner was very good, but relied on an initial strike in gaining an advantage. Soehner appears faster and uses his size like an octopus to envelop and eliminate his targets. Add Chase Allen’s aggressive blocking on the line and in motion and Iowa State has significantly upgraded its additional blockers in the run game. This will continue to pay dividends and provides a true numbers and formational advantage for the offense.

*** Anthony Johnson takes some chances, but is good. He will be a difference maker for the defense in several games this season.

Statistical Points of Interest

I am not a statistician, nor I do I pretend to know which statistics are pure enough in their evaluation to be significant standing alone. But, there are a few that I like to look at just to check if they are in line with what I see on the field. There are multiple factors in each and one can win while failing in certain key statistical areas and one can lose while dominating certain statistical areas. But, certain issues can be identified. I present these so that the reader can draw their own conclusions.

Iowa State’s defense is allowing a 58 percent completion rate on 3rd downs. They are allowing a 63 percent completion rate in the red zone. For a point of reference, Iowa allows a 37 percent completion rate on 3rd down and 40 percent completion rate in the red zone. Baylor also allows a 3rd down completion rate of 58 percent, but only a 30 percent rate in the red zone.

Iowa State allows 3.25 yds/att on 1st down, 2.7 yds/att on 2nd down, and 4.86 yds/att on 3rd down. But, the defense is allowing 4.2 yds/att in the first half and 2.58 yds/att in the second half.

Iowa State is the only Big 12 team with a negative differential in 3rd down conversion percentage (allow 45.88 percent gain 42.86 percent). Baylor leads the nation in 3rd down conversion percentage at 61.76 percent. Big 12 teams rank 1,2,4,5, and 6 in the nation in 3rd down conversion percentage through the non-conference schedule. Kansas State is only allowing opponents to convert 16.13 percent of their 3rd down opportunities.

Iowa State ranks 19th nationally giving up 4.44 yds/play. Baylor ranks 10th at 4.05 yds/play.

Oklahoma nets +5.43 yds/play (gain 10.46 give 5.43). In a 60 play per side game, that means they will outgain their opponent by around 325 yards. Baylor is second in the conference at +3.44 yds/play. Iowa State is third at +3.27 yds/play.

I find these interesting in the context of Iowa State’s performance and in the upcoming Big 12 opener. Iowa State must improve in coverage and pressure on 3rd down and in the red zone based on the small sample size. Third down defensive efficiency explains in part the narrow margins in the first two games where Iowa State held a significant advantage in yards per play. Based on the efficiency of the conference as a whole, Iowa State will need to improve in order to take advantage of its potential to move the football more efficiently than its opponents.

Baylor presents a significant challenge as they provide a similar statistical profile. Interestingly, Baylor now runs the Iowa State defense in their own style. They take chances that are not exposed against lesser competition, but have established a mode of play that is a solid counter punch to Iowa State. Whether or not the performance level holds up against Iowa State is up for debate, but, conversely, Iowa State will have a challenge maintaining its early season proficiency against Baylor.

Film Review

The film clips below are focused on essentially a single concept — route tree development. I have noticed a shift in Iowa State’s route concepts that I believe allows for continued production. In addition, we look at a nice scheme deployed by ULM to hurt Iowa State’s run defense and some line play that I can’t help but point out.

Route tree evaluation is difficult without a full field view, but certain things can be seen that alert us to the concepts being used. In the past, Iowa State has primarily utilized a vertical route scheme which took advantage of their large receivers in one-on-one matchups, but that tended to develop slowly and leave them vulnerable to pressure packages. Though the routes shown in this article are not new, or even inventive, they are geared to the personnel in a very tangible way.

The formation above is excellent. It is a run heavy set with the strength to the boundary. There are three receivers to boundary – the running back, tight end and flanker. You then have a tight split end and slot to the weak side. The split and flanker drive deep taking outside deep coverage with them and forcing middle deep coverage to remain deep and read. Then, the slot, tight end, and running back arrange in a half field triangle with a short drag, flat, and out route. Purdy has three options and is reading one area of the field.

With the deep coverage gone, the flat defender is conflicted between the flat and the out behind him. The tight end’s out route must defended from the inside which is an advantage for the tight end. When the flat defender drives on the flat, the ball is delivered to the out. If the flat defender had dropped under the out, then the ball goes to the flat with room to run. If Purdy has time, he can choose the drag route and hope he hits the seam between the inside and outside linebacker.

The concept provides a half-field or target area read based on conflicting a read defender. An old concept given new clothes in the ISU passing game. Also, a concept heavily used in the pro game. Finally, note that at the catch, each level of the sideline zone is attacked, short with the flat, mid with the out, deep with the vertical. The zone is flooded and spaced.

Now, continuing on, let’s run a similar concept in the middle of the field. Mesh and stick. Iowa State motions to doubles with a tight end to the strong side. The tight end and the slot are running mesh with short crossing drag routes. The motion receiver drives to a spot and sticks his route just behind the linebackers who split to cover the mesh. The stick route is wide open.

Interestingly, you see the split end running a deeper dig route at the tight side of deep depth. Another field of vision option. The running back challenges and pulls the defense to the side line with a wheel route that also could have been hit early. If you consider a blitz, then one of the areas attacked by the mesh and stick will be vacated and there won’t be time to replace in coverage or get to the QB if the blitz is recognized. In addition, the wheel is a right now option flanking any pressure and the dig is a big play option if the safeties hop up on the stick or the deeper stem of the mesh.

This play is similar to the one Milton took to the house, but is slightly different. Flash fake with the inside slot ready for the wide receiver quick. The outside receiver releases vertically to pull the top off the coverage while the underneath defenders are pulled up to cover the quick. The slot then stalks outside and release to the mid-level window where the coverage has been pulled apart.

Again, you have all three levels threatened in a flooded vertical zone and coverage stretching to get there. The pass needs to be released sooner in order to avoid the hospital shot, but the concept is sound. If the defense stays back, then take the short gain given. If they hesitate on the vertical, then take the top off. If they separate, as here, then drive it to the mid-level which must be covered from the inside out.

Finally, the long TD to Jones. ULM brings seven players in pressure on 3rd and long. Iowa State chips and releases short with the tight end for an easy outlet. The receiver to the tight end side runs an out route at 12 yards and the slot runs a dig chasing the out under the safety. At the catch point, you see the shifting triangle short and middle inside and out.

The out takes to long to develop against pressure, but the chip and release and the inside dig strike at a vacated zone and are ready now for delivery. A missed tackle and the risk of bringing seven man pressure is manifested in an 84 yard house call.

Each of the concepts described above are pressure beaters. There are quick options and routes being run in to the vacated zones. Each is delivered to a player utilizing that players strength. Speed and quickness to Jones and Milton, post position and catch radius to the tight ends and Pettway. The combination proves hard to roll to or bracket without giving up a mismatch in speed/quickness or size and position. These are solid concepts that the quarterback appears to have a solid grasp of. Misreads will result in turnovers. Disguised coverage can cause hesitation. However, with quick options there is an opportunity for positive yardage even if defensive adjustments are made.

Shifting to the run game, first note the power position of the offensive line as a whole. This is a frequent view and a vast improvement over offensive lines of the past. Each lineman is controlling their fit and sweeping the defenders in to a pile.

The F back pulls on the read option play providing a lead blocker for the overhang defender. The block is superb and creates an enormous alley with pursuit cut off by the tight end. The play is now a third level run in to the red zone.

This is a nifty play design and very well executed by a physical line that is now exhibiting the positional technique to physically dominate a play.

Finally, ULM used a nice read/option play to gain approximately 40 percent of their rushing yardage. They ran the play at least four times and perhaps a fifth. Also, finally an end zone look.

The formation provides trips to strong side covering the tight end making him ineligible as a receiver. It is an unbalanced spread formation. Defenses, as Iowa State did, have a tendency not to recognize the ineligible receiver and roll coverage to that side and leave the back side undermanned.

ULM then runs a read/option to the weak side against an overhang nickel and a safety too far off the ball to get in to the play pre-read. The overhang safety checks the quarterback because there is no one outside of him. The safety checks flow instead of filling hard for the same reason. The balance of the defense is influenced by the zone blocking to the strong side. The back squeezes through the hole and there is a lot of green ahead of him.

Iowa State will adjust its alignment against a covered tight end and this play will not threaten in the future. But, ULM ran it effectively and will continue to do so. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Iowa State run a variation of their own. Mitchell might be a challenge to a defense on this look.

Baylor Looming

Baylor is ahead. They are improved. The defensive line is coming forward and the offensive line is better. Joshua Fleeks is a play maker and is emerging. Charlie Brewer remains pesky, though he holds the ball a long time.

Baylor’s competition to this point has been subpar. Rice posed a challenge with their version of the 3-3-5, but Baylor reigned it in down the stretch. SFA lost 30 players in the coaching transition and did well to score 17. UTSA is a mess at present and were properly dispatched.

Baylor plays Iowa State’s 3-3-5 but without some of the sophistication Iowa State deploys. They take chances that were rewarded against lesser competition, but won’t be against a team of Iowa State’s caliber. I still believe that they have defensive deficiencies. The question is whether the offense is improved enough to overcome the defensive lapses. It may be.

If the game remains close and Baylor raises its confidence level, then it could be a long day for Iowa State. I am very curious to see how Iowa State fares against a competent, copy-cat defense. But, if anything is to be learned from Saturday’s tilt, it is that the Iowa State offense can attack in “multiple” ways with a variety of weapons.