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The Wide Right Film Room: West Virginia

Including a few extra clips of Breece Hall!

After an important week of growth against the Horned Frogs, Iowa State took their circus to Morgantown against a scrappy, but ultimately inferior West Virginia squad playing under first-year head coach Neal Brown. The victory was far from perfect, but two things in particular stood out from the game.

  1. The depth of the defense is really impressive. Not many units in college football could be down arguably the best individual player at each level of the defense is still continue to be effective. Not only was the Cyclone defense effective, but there wasn’t really any discernible drop in play without Greg Eisworth, O’Rien Vance, and JaQuan Bailey. This obviously isn’t any sort of knock against those three, but a significant compliment to everybody else involved.
  2. Iowa State didn’t pile up a ton of yards on the ground as a team, partly due to what appeared to be a deliberate plan to limit Brock Purdy’s runs, but true freshman Breece Hall accounted for more than 130 yards on his own, and showed a level of maturity in both his running and pass blocking that’s uncommon to freshmen.

We’re going to be touching on both, with a greater emphasis on Breece Hall since he’s new to the overall picture of the offense.

The important thing to remember about the Film Room is that this isn’t an analysis of the game as a whole, but an introspective into a few individual plays that could be indicative of larger trends in the overall scheme. This means that I will rarely dig into penalties, fumbles, and the like. Stuff like that obviously can have a huge affect on the outcome, but they’re generally fairly black and white, and vary pretty wildly from game to game, so they don’t amount to much of anything interesting to talk about in this context.

Don’t Sleep on Jamahl Johnson

Not that you were anyways, but don’t let Jamahl Johnson’s impact stay in Ray Lima’s giant shadow. Though nose tackles tend to receive exceedingly little praise in comparison to their peers, Lima has started to earn some respect after anchoring the middle of the Cyclone defensive line for the past few seasons. However, Johnson has become a very good run stopper in his own right, and might actually be the more talented pass rusher of the pair.

He doesn’t end up finishing off the play, but we get a glimpse of Johnson’s sneaky explosiveness here. No fancy stunts or anything here. Just a really nice explosion on the snap, and using pure strength to overpower the center and put immediate pressure on the quarterback. Had Zach Petersen not been held on the right side of the line, there’s a great chance this ends up in a sack, which is especially impressive given that Iowa State only rushed the three down lineman here.

Lol okay. You all knew this play was going to end up in here. I challenge you to watch this clip and not have some sort of audible reaction to what happens here. Now, I will be somewhat fair and point out the fact that the center was pulling around on this play, which gave Jamahl just a hair bit of free space to run in before the left guard is supposed to pick him up.

However, if you stop the video just once second into the play, you’ll see Johnson three yards deep in the backfield in the warm embrace of a panicking left guard that’s just trying to figure out how to explain to brown stain on his pants to the coaches after the play.

Johnson decides to be inconsiderate towards our troubled left guard friend, and actually uses the pour soul as a meat shield to tackle the running back with. If he wasn’t previously on NFL scouts’ radar, this play alone should perk some ears up.

The hilarious thing here is that not one single person on the rest of the defense had any part in the play. The other ten guys in red hats could have just stood like statues and it wouldn’t have even mattered. Having a defensive tackle that can single-handedly blow up a play in the backfield like that is an enormous asset to the defense.

Now, rewatch the clip again just for fun.

....okay maybe one more time.

Breece Hall Appreciation Day

I’ve been waiting all season for the opportunity to finally review an individual performance from a running back that looks like he’s ready to take over as a primary back in the offense. We though Johnny Lang was going to be that guy after a solid performance against TCU, but after a few unimpressive runs, Hall was subbed in and performed well above expectations for this early in his career both in running and pass blocking.

This isn’t a comprehensive game cut of Hall, but we’re going to go over a decent chunk of his film to hopefully paint an accurate overall picture of his performance last Saturday.

Pass Blocking

One thing Matt Campbell has made clear throughout his tenure is that if a running back wants to see consistent playing time across all downs, they must be able to pass block. Up to this point Iowa State has used Sheldon Croney in that role. Croney is a good pass blocker, but is a bit of a tell on offense, given that he’s easily the weakest runner out of the five running backs that have toted the ball this season. Fortunately, Breece Hall showed some pass-blocking chops on Saturday that could persuade Campbell to keep him on the field more and more.

Honestly, this is probably one of Breece’s weakest pass blocking efforts on the day. He mostly misses his assignment, but reacts quickly enough to throw a really nice chip block on the linebacker and impede his progress enough to give Brock Purdy time to throw. One challenge young running backs deal with is learning that even if you can’t throw a perfect block, even getting in the way just a little bit can be enough to push the play over the top. This probably the closest Hall came to missing a block the entire game, but it’s a great lesson that sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.

Here Breece does an excellent job of picking up the linebacker, and completely removing him from the play with a solid cut block. I’m not going to include all of Breece’s good pass blocks from this game, mostly because a lot of them looked exactly like this.

Running Game

One common theme you’re going to notice with each of these clips is that Breece Hall runs with a purpose, and finishes his runs with a physicality that allows him to fall forward for an extra yard or two.

Here, the offensive line does an okay job of creating space to run, with the exception of Bryce Meeker, who loses his man to the inside, which disrupts the pulling center and prevents him from meeting the middle linebacker. No matter, as Hall essentially runs right past him through the running lane created by Landen Akers and Chase Allen.

If La’Michael Pettway throws a more physical block on the corner, there’s a good chance the Hall’s momentum carries him past the back safety for a touchdown. However, Breece does what physical running backs are supposed to do and drags the smaller cornerback for an extra five yards before finally going to ground.

This isn’t a remarkable play by any standard, but it does show some of the maturity I alluded to before. A lot of young running backs tend get tempted by the lead blocker on the near edge (Dylan Soehner in this case), and try to follow that hole, usually to little success unless the backside linebacker isn’t doing his job. However, Hall stays patient here, and follows the designed path between the two outside receivers, and finishes the play with the ball ahead of his hips.

Breece shows off a little bit of vision and some more of that maturity on this play. Stop the play about one second in, and you can spot a tempting opportunity to bounce the run outside of the receiver a try to use some of that straight line speed to hit the second level.

Instead he stays patient, and makes an explosive cut as soon as he sees the right tackle start to seal off the defensive end to the outside. Then, he eats up some ground in a hurry before he’s doomed by an indecisive block from Charlie Kolar. Had Kolar been delivered a better block to the defender, Breece may not have been forced to make the move that ultimately slowed his momentum enough for the rest of the defense to catch up.

Regarding the spin Breece used to get those last five yards, does that remind you of anyone in particular?

This play is essentially the same call as the first clip in this section, but this time the tight end is lined up in the slot instead of the H-back spot in the backfield. Hall first makes a nice move around some initial pressure from the middle of the line, then sees the Kolar has his man sealed off to the outside and carries good speed around the corner and upfield. When he finally meets the safety about five yards downfield, he makes that same spin move we mentioned earlier to pick up an extra three yards.

If you didn’t pick up the hint the first time, that spin move at the end of a run to pick a couple extra yards is one of David Montgomery’s signature moves. Looks like the freshman has been watching some tape of his predecessor.

Here’s another run where Hall does a nice job of following lead blockers to the outside before making his cut upfield and picking up a nice chunk of yardage. He finishes the run well once again, but this time by lowering the shoulder and just blasting through the safety and falling forward for an extra four yards. It was easy to see at this point that Breece was gaining confidence, and gaining it quickly.

Here’s another mature run from Hall that resulted in a short, but significant gain. It’s a tie ball game, and Iowa State needs to take control of this game and turn this drive into a score. Hall gets the handoff and finds space to the left of a Julian Good-Jones’ seal block.

Then, instead of taking the oft-traveled path to the outside here, he makes the smart play and heads straight upfield past the first down marker after a sneaky little move to make the linebacker miss. He probably would have still picked up the first down had he tried to bounce it outside, but that’s a lot of unnecessary added risk. Hall does a great job of not taking the bait.

This probably my favorite run of his from the game. The offensive line does a great job of creating space on the back side of the play, which Breece recognizes before making an explosive cut upfield and shaking a tackle off on this way to the endzone.

The temptation to continue this run to the outside is certainly there, and may have still delivered some solid yardage, but why go all the way to other side of the field and give the defense time to catch up when you can just cut straight upfield and only have to deal with one or two defensive backs? This play is basically the equivalent of passing up a good shot for a great shot in basketball, and Hall plays this marvelously.

Our final clip shows another example of patience and vision. There’s room to run between the pulling left guard and the H-back here, but Hall does a great job finding the cut lane that allows him to maintain his momentum and turn along the most productive running path.

We’re going to nitpick the end of this run a little bit. While he finished the play well and fell forward to pick up a couple extra yards, it looks like there’s some room to the outside that he could have used to try to run past the safeties, or at least pick up a few extra yards by forcing the defender to drag him down from behind rather than use their forward momentum to limit yardage during the tackle.

Overall, Breece Hall’s performance was strong, and showed enough promise both on runs and in pass blocking to warrant a significant uptick in playing time going forward.

Live Stream

Wide Right Film Room - West Virginia

We're live with this week's episode of the Wide Right Film Room! This week, we're breaking down some big time plays from Jamahl Johnson, as well as the debut of Breece Hall. Feel free to comment if you have any questions you'd like answered!

Posted by Wide Right & Natty Lite on Wednesday, October 16, 2019