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Iowa State Football: Learning to Hunt

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We've heard all about ‘The Process,’ but what does that entail?

Iowa State v TCU Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

My favorite animal is a lion. The booming roar, the power, the King of the Jungle. I even like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. Young lions have to learn to hunt. They observe their mothers and learn the ways of survival in the world’s harshest environment.

A successful hunt starts with stalking the prey. Stalking (game prep) leads to identifying the weakest and meatiest members of the gnu herd. It is tedious and sets the stage for success. At the right moment, the lioness lurches from the tall grass and explodes with deathly vigor, attacking the target and with raw power destroys its victim.

Then, there is the beastly male lion who wanders around finding food others have killed. He punks them all and takes what he wants. "Come and get me"... he says to his foe. No one can take what he lays claim to.

Now, imagine a young lion that doesn’t stalk long enough, runs eagerly to the herd of prey with unbridled vigor, picks a target too large, and whiffs on the kill attempt. Then gets head butted by the big male gnu.

That is 2016 Iowa State football, so far.

There is supposed to a "Process," and I am sure every young lion looks like what I described, but she either adjusts or dies. She adapts to the "Process" and must get incrementally better in order to survive.

THE PROCESS

I do not feel good writing this article. I do not feel good about Iowa State football. Call me fickle since I have been a die hard supporter, but don’t misunderstand my negativity. I remain passionate and loyal and write what I see with emotion and as a fan. But, I was far more disappointed by the game against TCU than I was by the game in Iowa City the week before (not the one there on Saturday).

What is this "Process" we keep hearing about? That is a completely different article, but suffice it to say that it is the accumulated results of a programmatic approach to football that involves physical improvement, fundamentals, technique, attitude, leadership, execution, and scheme advantages. It is more than the accumulation of talent. It is the development of talent in a focused, targeted system of preparation to win football games. Allegedly, if you follow the "Process" wins will take care of themselves. It requires a 100% buy in, and it requires a track record of success to command adherence to its tenets.

The Campbell regime preaches the "Process" and dedication to it. It’s parroted by the players in their tweets and interviews. It’s also derided by decommitting recruits. Perhaps it’s too early to see any results. I will grant you that. Any improvement could be viewed as a result of "The Process." However, I do not see any results from "The Process," and it was on full display against TCU.

TCU provided opportunities for the young lion to make a kill. They provided opportunities for the lion to get a nibble off of the big lion’s pilfered booty. Gary Patterson was displeased with his team’s effort and emotion. They were the weak gnu and Iowa State failed to take advantage of the opportunities presented. I did not see a team prepared to win or capable of winning. I did not see a team engaged in "The Process."

WHAT I DID SEE

Poor tackling (fundamentals, attitude, technique), bad hands (attitude, execution, fundamentals), coverage problems (technique, execution), missed holes (execution, scheme), lack of recognition of game flow (fundamentals, leadership, execution), and a lack of football intelligence (the "Process").

I saw a team that looks like they have forgotten how to play football. I mean, they know where to run, most of the time, and they know what they are supposed to do, kinda, but they have forgotten how to play the game. I am talking about making instinctual plays, turning it up (focus) in a big moment, knowing what a big moment is, making an aggressive adjustment, putting forth extra effort for an extra yard, a big catch or a "get off the field" tackle. The plays where individual effort is required, or needed, to execute within the bounds of the "Process" are completely absent at this point in the season.

Let’s look at some gifs. Understand that I only get to share a limited amount of plays to make larger points. I do not represent that this captures the entirety of the game. I wish we could go through every play, and by the end of this you may feel like we have, but I have picked out plays that make points and ignored others that may be counterpoints to my observations.

This is THE counterpoint to everything in this article. Number 7 makes an individual effort play. In fact, he was the red zone offense. He recognized the moment — a chance to cut the lead and get in the game — a must score situation. He makes a winning effort, inside the bounds of the play call and gets the job done.

BRA - $%&#@ - VO.

Now, watch it again. A point made in the replay. Watch #88. He is the lead blocker. What? A TE as a lead blocker? Yep. He blocks no one. He passes three defenders he could block. A winning effort chips on the first, cleans up the DB, and leaves #7 untouched in to the end zone. Instead, #7 and, with great recognition, #22, clean up his mistake and overcome it. Unfortunately, ISU can’t overcome most of these mistakes.

Join the game, big fella.

Here we have #13 drops 1 and 2. The ISU defense held TCU to a field goal after some awful tackling and a bad drop in the end zone. ISU has mounted a drive on the back of #2 and the new left O-line battery of #62 and #68. It’s 3rd and 7, just outside of field goal range.

This is a big moment. Time for a play to be made. There is an opportunity to lead or tie the game. Pounce on them and answer TCU’s uninspired play on their first two drives. Number 7 throws an accurate pass and #13 makes no competent effort to catch it. If he does, then ISU is in field goal range and approaches the red zone.

The second play is 4th and 7. An even bigger moment. I applaud the aggressiveness here. The O-line is a little leaky, but #7 escapes clean. He has a moving target and delivers a pass that is off line, but is close enough to be caught. It is close enough to be caught by a receiver who elevates his play in a big moment. If the catch is made and balance is kept, this is a touchdown. Number 7 makes the best throw he is capable of, given that he was moving and throwing to a moving target. Number 13 has a chance for redemption, a chance to make the kill, yet we see a second poor effort in as many plays.

This is another giant opportunity for Iowa State. Iowa State has scored and the margin is three. TCU has self destructed with a penalty and negative run. They are now outside of field goal range. A hold here puts Iowa State in a great position to continue the momentum they had gained.

We see a defense I advocated on last week's podcast. Two rushers, 8 in coverage, and a spy. The spy is #75. He is occupied, but forces the run initially to the middle. #10 breaks down in coverage, he follows a crossing receiver that should have been passed off to #19, leaving #10 in position to support #75. On 3rd and 15, the QB is allowed to run for 14 yards. A coverage breakdown leads to a huge gain, 4th down conversion, ISU penalty, and a touchdown to re-establish a 10 point lead. ISU loses itself in the moment, is unsure of what to do in space.

Instead of playing football and being ready to make a play, they are exposed and fail in another momentum-grabbing juncture.

Iowa State needs to answer the score. This is an opportunity to move the ball down the field and create a downfield threat in the passing game. Well, if you read my article last week, this doesn’t need much explanation. It leads to a three-and-out in an opportunity situation.

This is where the game gets away. After a huge 3rd and long conversion, the lion of this game goes for the throat. First, understand this is a great pass and great catch. Individual effort to make a play. The TCU duo plays within the bounds of the play and show great aggressiveness and winning effort. The kind we haven’t seen from Iowa State, regardless of the Process.

This is a technique problem and an effort problem. The play is there for the taking. First, watch #12. He backs away from the receiver at the high point. He should have turned his head and looked back as soon as he started running vertically. That would allow him to play the ball in the air. Secondly, he should run through the receiver with his arm extended to rake and separate the ball.

Second, watch #3. He turns and runs near the receiver, but apparently with no intention to make a play. Again, locate the ball and make a play on it. Contest the catch. He is close enough to either contest the catch, or run straight through the receiver and separate him from the ball with a hit. Number 3 and #12 seem to shy away from contact when a player who realizes the opportunity to make a play on a jump ball is in front of them aggressively attacks either the ball or the receiver.

The closing seconds of the first half present an opportunity to close the gap and challenge in the second half. ISU has blown at least 5 chances to change the game at this point, yet TCU offers up another opportunity to let them hang around.

First, I can’t stress enough how good a pass this is. Far hash to sideline 20 yards down the field on a line and deadly accurate. The pass hits the receiver in the hands and it is dropped. If the receiver comes down with the ball, the CB has overplayed him and it is likely he pulls away and scores a touchdown. At the very least, ISU gets three and goes into the half down 2 scores. Number 10 makes a play. Number 16 isn’t ready for the stage and lets it slip through his fingers.

I would like to show you the play before and after this to drive this point home, but I will spare you. It is 3rd and 9 on the first drive of the second half. Yet another opportunity to get a stop and get back in the game. On the surface, this seems like a positive play. But, look again.

Iowa State misses two tackles that would have made all the difference. The blitzer takes a wide and out of control angle (there is an art and patience to blitzing) and misses a drive changing opportunity for a sack. Second, #19 is in position to attack the runner and make the tackle for no gain. These players make the effort to get in position, but they do not possess the desire or football intelligence to make a winning effort to shut down the play. They did not recognize the importance of the play in the flow of the game and settled for being in position without making the football play.

From here, TCU converted 4th and 4 and scored on a scheme play. The previous play featured a missed tackle and the 4th down play featured a coverage error where the player did not recognize or play to the import of the play. This ended the game. Everything else was garbage time.

WAS THERE ANYTHING GOOD?

Yes there was. The offensive line looked competent early in the game. They were able to string together some well blocked plays that will hopefully manifest in the future. Even though we only averaged 2.9 yards per carry, there were a few good plays. Pay attention to #61 on this play. Great, winning effort. This is also an example of what was available against an unmotivated TCU team early in this game.

Do you want to see how you are supposed to cover the go route on the sideline? Watch #17 on this coverage. His positioning is perfect and he forces an errant throw.

Number 1 competes with championship effort and makes football plays. He is weaker in the run game, but I believe he is our best pass defender. Unfortunately, he has been the victim of three high profile plays where the throw and catch were spectacular. Two against Iowa and the play shown below. He does nothing wrong here. He competes all the way through the play and runs through the receiver to separate him from the ball. It was just a great, winning play that beat him.

I also want complement #8. He had a fine game against Iowa and continued his solid play this week. I believe he is a bright spot.

I want to make one final point. Iowa State had 22 3rd downs in this game. Eleven of them were 3rd and 7 or longer. On those downs they were 2 for 11. TCU was actually worse at 1 for 9.

On the 3rd downs with less than 7 yards to go, ISU was 6 for 11.

Draw your own conclusion, but the key to sustaining drives is 1st and 2nd down, not 3rd. I believe the coaching staff is too conservative on 1st and 2nd down and they shoot themselves in the foot on many drives. This may be because of a lack of trust in the players we have. However, it seems that the "Process" should account for placing the young lions in the proper part of the plain.

THE WRAP

I still believe our lions want to hunt and kill their prey. They just don’t know how to do it. I expect the "Process" to teach them, but they can’t forget how to be a lion in the meantime. Iowa State needs to tackle, block, run, throw, and catch, and be free to just play aggressive football. It looks to me like there’s a glitch somewhere that is suppressing this skill.

Next week, maybe.