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The Wide Right Film Room: Baylor

Well, that wasn’t fun.

For the UL-Monroe game, we identified a few key trends within the game, as well as some that could show up in future games. We touched on the flood route concept that Iowa State had been using to great effect in the previous few games, some notable improvement by the offensive line, and the off-and-on running game.

However, this game against Baylor wasn’t pretty for the first three quarters, and was just decent in the fourth quarter, by my estimation. When rewatching the game and looking for clips to use, I found myself struggling to find consistent concepts to touch on for either side of the ball. To put it simply, Baylor’s defensive scheme frustrated Iowa State, and led to a lot inconsistency in attacking weakness in the Baylor defense.

Many of the game’s most important plays were a result of busted coverages or individual matchup wins, neither of which are particularly predictive of future game plans. “Go make a play” can be useful, but it’s not really an offensive strategy that produces yards and points consistently or efficiently. Just look at last year’s offense, when the entire offense basically revolved around Brock Purdy, Hakeem Butler, and David Montgomery making individually great plays.

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.

With all that said, let’s get into it.

Consistently Inconsistent in the Running Game

Up to this point, the Cyclone running game has been really weird. At times, it’s really efficient and a huge net positive, other times it’s a massive detriment to the offense, and there’s really no pattern as to when it swings one way or the other. Having a group running backs with such widely varying skill sets can be really helpful, but what it’s doing right now is preventing the offensive line and any of the running backs from getting into any sort of rhythm during the game.

First off, this play was made more difficult by the Colin Olsen getting absolutely blown up at the line of scrimmage, but it’s not a death sentence. Chase Allen is pulling around to catch the weak side defensive end, and Croney has a hole to his 11:00 with just one linebacker to beat. What does Croney do? Ignore the running lane and bounce it outside, where he is met by a safety that had plenty of time to make a read a close hard on the cut.

Now, to be fair, this play really wasn’t blocked all that well to begin with, but Croney should have been able to push this forward for a couple yards rather than take a loss on the play. Those few yards can be absolutely crucial when trying to keep plays alive.

The running back room still has work to do before becoming a legitimate consistent strength of this team, and carries could still fall to any one of a number of guys. However, I believe it’s fair to say that Sheldon Croney won’t shouldn’t be the guy that gets the majority of carries going forward. For all the positives he brings in his veteran pass blocking, he is an offsetting negative in the run game. There are a few more plays from this game where Croney fails to take advantage of an easy running lane, but it seemed unnecessary to point out the same thing over and over again in one article.

However, if Iowa State is going to continue to run inside zone handoffs with the running backs, despite only one or two of them having the vision and ability necessary to actually take advantage of that running style, then the offense will need to get more creative in getting the ball to playmakers in space.

We saw this same play against UNI (first clip) gain more yardage, but it’s been consistently effective for Iowa State in the handful of times they’ve run it this season. Deshaunte Jones is one of the best Cyclones at working in space, and this gives him a chance to follow a lead blocker. However, one this thing you’ll notice in the difference between this play and the play against UNI is the presnap motion. Here’s what I said about it in that week’s Film Room:

Notice in this clip vs. Baylor that there isn’t any presnap motion, so the Bears can set their defensive alignment prior to the play and react more quickly. Who makes the tackle? The middle linebacker, who the presnap motion in the UNI game basically took out of the play.

Purdy Missing Reads & Throws

For whatever reason, Brock Purdy has struggled more on read options this season than we’ve seen in the past. In the UNI game, he handed it off basically every time. Now, he’s keeping the ball far too often.

This simple read option is blocked fairly well, and Sheldon Croney actually has some running space. Purdy’s read here is the defensive end, who gets into the backfield, stops, then pursues the quarterback. However, Brock reads that the defensive end is keying on the running, pulls it back, and is tackled for a significant loss. Over the last few games, teams have been throwing more of these delayed QB reads at Brock in attempt to confuse him. So far, it’s been a mixed bag, and he’ll have to make more consistent reads.

If that linebacker is truly on in a read and react situation, a handoff to the running is generally the lesser of two evils, as they have more forward momentum at the time of the read, and apply more pressure on the defender to make the right play. When in doubt, force defenders to make a decision and make a play.

Here we see a route pattern similar to our flood concept that’s designed to give Purdy lots of options on a half rollout, and force the defenders to make decisions. Tarique Milton starts moving in presnap motion, but the ball is snapped before the defense is forced to realign, but it does force the two far linebackers to key on him and start their movement in the opposite direction of the play.

Chase Allen is headed to the flats, while Charlie Kolar is coming on a crossing route, and La’Michael Pettway is heading up the sideline on a fly route. Based on Purdy’s eyes, his first read was to Pettway before progressing down to shallower routes. Kolar was open as he first began crossing over the logo, but Purdy’s throw didn’t have enough touch on it, and the shallow linebacker was able to make a play on it.

Even if the throw had the proper touch, Kolar’s catch would have been very difficult, as the route had ventured into the territory of the high safety by the time Purdy’s progression had gotten to him.

However, watch the linebacker covering Chase Allen. As soon as Brock turns his head to find Kolar, he immediately breaks away to cover the intermediate route, leaving Chase Allen alone in the flat. This would be a pretty advanced play from Purdy to use a second read to look off a defender in order to open up his third read, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on going forward as he progresses.

This play is going to frustrate you more and more every time you watch it. A gain of seven and a first down on a quarterback scramble certainly isn’t what anyone would describe as a bad play, but the missed opportunity for extra yardage here is one of the thing that has prevented the offense from being really dangerous for most of the season, whether it be missed downfield receivers, missed running lanes, or not making easy defenders miss.

Purdy does a decent job sensing pressure here, and sees some green space in front of him, so it makes sense to tuck it and run. If Purdy keeps his eyes up, he should be able to see a wide open Dylan Soehner leaking upfield to his 10:00 away from the linebacker that has now keyed on the quarterback run and would be totally unable to cover Soehner. It’s easy to surmise that hitting Soehner on the underneath route probably could have netted an extra five yards at minimum.

Now, keep an eye on Pettway’s corner route on the far side of the field. The corner plays underneath the route. It’s hard to tell based on the camera angle, but given that Baylor’s defense plays similarly to Iowa State’s, that high safety was likely playing above Pettway far enough that he’s not going to make a play on the ball. It would have a taken a high-level throw to get it there, but it’s a throw we’ve seen Purdy make plenty of times.

Even if he doesn’t make either of those two throws, Johnnie Lang is wide open on the opposite flat. It’s a long throw that would have given the defenders a little bit of time to close, but it’s second down, and Lang’s route has more yardage potential than Purdy’s scramble.

Getting Aggressive on Third Down

Up to this point Baylor had been leading the country in third down conversion rate on offense, which matched up with one of the few weaknesses the Cyclone defense had shown on the season. It’s easy to look at a few long third down conversions and say that Iowa State struggled again in this area, but Baylor only converted on 6-of-17 (35%) third down attempts, far below Iowa State’s season average, and even farther below Baylor’s. All-in-all it was actually a fairly respectful day in that area for the defense.

Here, Jon Heacock dials up some of the pressure we talked about last week, forcing Brewer to make a long throw on an out route that ended unsuccessfully. There’s no special sauce in this formula, but it does show that the defense is evolving on third down, and that we can expect more consistent play in that area going forward.

An Inconsistent Secondary & Defensive Line

If we’re being totally honest here, the Cyclone defense has been really good so far this season, despite some of the inconsistencies and blown plays we’ve been nitpicking on so far. In game when it was extremely hot, and the offense’s failures kept the defense on the field way too long, only giving up 20 points is actually very respectable.

However, even good defensive performances can be improved upon.

Where to even begin here. First, just about about everybody but Braxton Lewis and Anthony Johnson gets absolutely punked by a fairly pedestrian play action motion, which means the outside man defenders are on their own. Not ideal, but not necessarily a disaster.

Just kidding. I didn’t include the first two, but this long catch is the third time in this game that Iowa State’s corners were beaten for a touchdown by a double move from the receiver. Outside of those three plays, the defense had really not given up a long completion all game, as most of the yardage was coming after the catch (due to reasons we’ll touch on in a second). This is a great demonstration of how the complexion of a football game is often decided on just a couple plays.

For whatever reason, the defense hasn’t been nearly as disciplined this year, and their pursuit angles and tackling have taken the largest hits. Here we have two consecutive plays featuring terrible pursuit angles.

The first is the ridiculous fumble-run by Brewer that was afforded an extra six yards by veteran linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. getting beat one on one in space by a quarterback. Brewer can be slippery, but that’s a tackle that must be made.

However, Spears’ mistake is nowhere near as unforgivable as the one made by Amechie Walker on the next play.

Largely unblocked, Amechie Walker has the opportunity to take a full head of steam into a fairly limited running area and bring down the defender short of the first down. Instead he takes what can only be described as the worst possible pursuit angle to the running back and gives up an extra ten yards. This is something Walker has struggled with in every game this season, and he MUST be better in conference play as the playmakers get more and more capable by the week.

Just like last week, we’ll be doing a live stream on Mixer tonight at 8 PM where we’ll be going over each clip with a little more detail, and you’ll be able to ask questions as we go if you have any, whether they be about a specific clip, terminology, our prospectus, etc. I never got around to it last week, but promise I will post the video of the stream here on Thursday morning.