Iowa State’s offense generated a healthy number of big plays in 2015 and was able to sustain drives in large part due to the talents of W-L-Lz. (Warren, Lanning, and Lazard...like that?) As we approach 2016, ISU will need to rely even more on the talented trio while younger playmakers find their niche and an inexperienced offensive line matures.
I expect opponents to stack the run and provide help or double coverage on Lazard should he and Lanning develop next-level chemistry early in the season. However, if all three are placed in advantageous positions, it will be far more difficult to account for them throughout a game.
I do not have a copy of the playbook, nor do I have any special information with regard to the offense being implemented in fall camp. It is presumptuous to assume the reigns of offensive coordination (pun intended), but for entertainment purposes, we will suspend reality and strap ourselves into the OC’s chair and opine nonetheless.
There are four points of emphasis from a play calling/scheme perspective:
- Play Lazard in multiple positions in order to isolate him in 1 on 1 coverage and get him the ball
- Reintroduce the tight end to the passing game and work the mid-field seams for first down yardage
- Use Lanning as a thunder stick to the lightning of Warren and Lazard
- Implement efficient goal line offense that scores touchdowns
To illustrate the implementation of these points, I have pulled clips of a number of plays that I would like to see implemented or repeated and have provided analysis of each. I use plays from Tennessee, Georgia, and Iowa State. Tennessee runs an offensive scheme similar to Toledo’s and has personnel similar to ISU. I believe they are a strong parallel for what we will see this fall. Georgia utilized a formation and play that I would very much like to see in the Cyclone playbook. And the Iowa State plays are successful plays that should be held over by the new regime.
So, without further ado...
I love this formation and am hopeful we will see it this fall. Classic two tight, I formation with one split receiver. Power football at its finest. I believe using this formation would be effective in spurts against defenses unaccustomed to defending it. But, I digress.
Tennessee is playing 9 in the box in a 4-3 alignment with the weakside corner shading TE2 and the strong safety dropping down in the box. The quarterback sees this at the line and knows that he has a safety in the deep middle and 1-on-1 coverage on the outside. This formation has dictated a match-up that we want Lazard in.
The free safety has to make a decision: play over the top to essentially double the wide out, or move towards the middle to play a TE running a vertical route. Play action and an inside vertical release by the TE1 pulls the free safety to the middle third. The wide out then runs a go route down the outside seam and the quarterback makes an accurate throw.
Lanning can make that throw, Warren can run out of that formation, and Lazard can go up and get a ball thrown in his vicinity when there is 1-on-1 coverage (note the technique used by the corner and remember it when reading my next article about the defense).
Here we have a play from the 2015 KSU game where Lazard gets single coverage in isolation on the weak side of the formation. Kansas State has sold out on a blitz, forcing single coverage on the weak side where we have lined up Lazard. The middle of the field is influenced by a vertical route by the inside slot receiver and the linebacker blitz.
The Kansas State corner is supposed to take away the inside and use the boundary as an additional defender. Lazard releases on a skinny post and Lanning has an easy throw into a large window. Lazard shows off game-changing ability to run through poor tackles and add yardage to a well-executed play by outstanding individual effort. More of that please!
Tight Ends Running Wild
JwillyISU’s excellent article, Iowa State v. the Big 12: Tight Ends, points out that ISU only completed 6 passes to the tight end last year. He also notes that Toledo utilizes the tight end and Coach Campbell intends to reintroduce the tight end to the offense. The clip above shows how I would like to see this happen.
Note the formation. Tennessee has a tight doubles look. The offset back pulls the strength of the formation to the left side, away from the tight end. This forces the defense to cover half the field, to the TE side, with fewer defenders. The formation, most importantly, is a run-first formation for a spread attack like what we will see at ISU.
As the receivers move off the ball, we see the left guard pull along with a play action fake to the sweeping RB. This “influence” action causes the linebackers to pause or step forward thus delaying their pass drop. Second, we see the wide outs are running vertical routes to stretch the safeties and pull them to each wide third of the field. Finally, we see the TE push vertically while widening outside the seam. This pulls the linebacker out a step.
As the play progresses, the linebacker has widened too far and he is out of position to run under the route. As the TE crosses the LB, he veers inside the safety to the middle seam. This creates a safe window for the QB to deliver the pass for a big play and first down.
The play is aided by a blitzer, but this play will be open even if the middle backer has dropped properly into the middle of the field. The window to throw into will be more narrow, creating the need for a touch throw, but it is a throw a college QB should be comfortable making.
I think Fernandez, Chandler, and especially Allen (the freshman) can be dangerous and reliable in the seams. It will shade the defense to the inside, creating room for Daley and Lazard to work on the outside. More of that please!
Thundercat Lanning (look it up)
Mike Warren has plenty of lightning and can break a run if given a crease. Thomas was the tough yardage back, and we will be relying on some unproven talent to provide the contrast from the RB position.
However, we have Lanning. He is 225 pounds and has plenty of thunder in his gait to provide a physical running presence. I am not talking about physical against defensive lineman and inside linebackers, but physical against the secondary.
Lanning’s read is the defensive end. The DE lazily takes himself out of the play by inexplicably sliding inside (this is how big plays happen). He has taken himself out of the play and given Lanning a “keep” read. The middle backer is scraping to the running back per his assignment and the backside linebacker is scraping to fill the cutback lane and take whoever has the ball, but he gets sealed.
Lanning explodes to the second level and makes a smart cut, showing good vision. He is wrapped up at the 5 yard line, but carries the defenders to the end zone. There are additional plays utilizing lead blockers that can put Lanning in the same position. That threat in addition to the threat of a dynamic runner like Warren can keep a defense off balance and cause confusion as it did on this play. The defensive end looked like he had never seen the play before and showed below average play recognition. ISU took advantage of the lapse and scored. More of that please!
Goal Line = Touchdown
The Big 12 conference forces teams to score touchdowns, not field goals. An SEC battle can be decided by field goals because of the presence of shut down defense and less explosive offensive schemes. Not so in the Big 12, where field goals get answered with touchdowns and defenses have difficulty stopping their opponents.
If a team penetrates inside the opponent’s 10 yard line, they have to score. In particular, a team climbing uphill like ISU has to increase its touchdown conversion rate.
Inside the 10, teams tend to call three types of plays: 1) an outside fade or flag to the corner, 2) power runs, strength on strength, and 3) misdirection with a delayed route to the backside. A large majority of plays called in this area of the field fit into these categories. The video above illustrates a variance with elements of all three.
Tennessee is trying to make a comeback, there are only 30 seconds before the end of the half. A field goal does little to help, but a touchdown puts them in striking distance. This is a must score situation.
After the motion receiver gets to his position, Tennessee has four receivers on the wide side of the field, each covered by a Georgia defender. One defender will blitz and be covered by an inside defender. Georgia’s goal line alignment is proper and stout as they are defending the goal line. We will see in the upcoming defense article that ISU needs to improve in this situation.
The outside receivers have run what I like to call FUBAR routes. They essentially run directly into their defenders, providing a shield, or pick to the outside. The inside receiver runs under the pick and is open right now because the inside defender has to cut under the car wreck at the goal line. The ball has to be delivered on time, meaning right now, because the blitzer is coming free.
Wide open, perfect pass, touchdown. This is a classic pick play that has been complained about for years in the NFL, but the Patriots keep running it. It is not used enough. How do you defend it?
If you play outside leverage with the corners, then you call a double slant at the line and your outside receivers will have a window to catch a ball at the goal line. You can zone it, but again, one of the outside receivers can break free in the back middle of the endzone for an easy score.
I want to see this play over and over again with variations as the defense adjusts after the Cyclones have used the TE, Lanning’s running, and Lazard in isolation to matriculate the ball down the field. Please, more of that!
I had to add this play. I get giddy watching it. We see Kansas State in a straight 4-3. ISU is using a tight trips formation with a TE as one of the trips. The running back is on the trips side creating an unbalanced formation. At the snap, the right guard pulls to the strong side. The right guard is the weakside linebacker’s key. The linebacker takes a step with the pulling guard, but sees the RB coming to his side on a play fake. The linebacker continues forward to fill his gap assignment. Meanwhile, the weakside WR takes off on a post route and the other receivers push vertical to spread the secondary.
The linebacker finally reads pass and begins to drop, but he has lost track of the RB. It is way too late. He had man coverage on the running back. The RB runs a wheel route and you won’t see a more wide open receiver. Lanning hits him and it is an easy score. “Influence” blocking does not always work this well, but this is a great play call that worked well against the base defense. The delay in getting the running back out cleared the secondary and the weakside LB was confused and unprepared for the play.
Provided the offensive line is not a sieve and completely incapable of run blocking, there is a strong possibility that we see positive improvement in the offense. Plays like these complement base offense and stress defenses. Talented defenders can mess up any play, regardless of scheme, but it is not easy for 11 players to execute a play flawlessly throughout a drive. W-L-Lz are talented enough to win in 1-on-1 matchups where the scheme has dictated an advantage for them.
I, for one, am excited to see what the Cyclones have in store for us.