What a profoundly confusing a frustrating performance this was. First, a defense that has been absolutely elite at preventing big plays gives up THREE 50+ yard touchdowns in the first half, while the offense actually doesn’t play poorly, but the inability to finish off drives we saw in the UNI and Iowa games reared its ugly head once again. After halftime, the defense tightened up significantly, and the offense continued to play well through the third quarter.
Then the wheels fell off the bus.
A few takeaways from the game:
1) Iowa State’s special teams unit isn’t necessarily a huge negative, but its complete dearth of genuinely positive plays outside of a really nice season from Joe Rivera creates the illusion of a large negative. Punt and kick coverage are generally solid, but the lack of either return game, along with a shaky kicker situation, make things look worse than they are.
2) Breece Hall is the hottest hand on the offense right now. Every time he touches the ball, something good (or not bad, at minimum) happens. Whether it be in the running game or on underneath routes, getting the ball into the hands of Breece Hall should continue to be a priority going forward.
3) I’ll talk about this later, but I was not a fan of the second half offensive game plan. Brock Purdy attempted 62 passes in this game. Mike Leach’s teams have made a living passing the ball 50-60+ times every game, but the passing scheme is extremely diverse in the levels of the defense it attacks, so it sets up a pseudo-running game with screens and underneath routes without actually handing the ball off to the running back.
That’s not what Iowa State did or does. It’s not built to be an air raid team. In the first half, Iowa State did a nice job of attacking all three levels in the passing game and pairing it with an effective running game to move the ball well. However, as the game drug on and Brock kept completing passes, the playcalling began to compress passes into intermediate depths, and Brock stopped progressing to underneath routes.
This can partly be attributed to Oklahoma State playing an effective combo man coverage that’s given Purdy trouble in the past, but playcalling can always counter a defensive scheme.
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.
Sometimes, Brock tries to do too much (or not enough).
It’s pretty easy to see that Brock Purdy is a “gamer.” A guy that absolutely lives for playing football. The improvisation and gunslinger mentality we’ve seen for the past season are a testament to that, and they’re part of what make him great. However, we’re starting to see a shift in Purdy’s game which is intended to mitigate and eliminate risk. Things like sliding on runs and throwing the ball away when under pressure are becoming more commonplace in his game.
Obviously, both of those can significantly help reduce the risk for injury or turnovers, but they also neuter any chance for the extra yardage potential that Purdy has been so good at picking up thus far in his career. I didn’t include clips of every example of this from the game for the sake of brevity, but on multiple occasions he was more hesitant to tuck it and run for the easy yards, or slid well before contact and forfeited a few easy yards.
There’s really no way for any of us to know exactly what he’s thinking and what the coaches are telling him, but Purdy’s wildly inconsistent use as a runner and scrambler tell me that everybody involved is still trying to find the balance between taking advantage of all of Brock’s natural talent and keeping him healthy and on the field.
This play gets more frustrating to watch every time you restart the video. First, we see the offensive line create a really nice pocket and give Brock lots of time to make his reads. He eventually fades out of the camera view, but Charlie Kolar runs a deep hitch route in the middle of the field, which looks to be Brock’s primary read. Kolar is open as soon as he makes his break, but Purdy doesn’t hit him, and the linebacker closes that window by drifting to his left slightly.
Even more open is Breece Hall on the route to the flats, which is Purdy’s checkdown on this play. The Cyclones only need a few yards to gain the first down, so that route is definitely in play. Brock doesn’t hit him right away.
No worries, because Brock has plenty of green in front of him to tuck and run to try to pick up the first down. The linebacker the drifted over to cover Kolar would likely be the first one to try to meet Brock at the line of scrimmage, and would be a prime candidate for the classic Purdy Pump Fake, as he would have to leave a coverage assignment to pursue Purdy and would have that in his mind. Brock doesn’t do this either.
Instead, he escapes to his right, where a linebacker is free to leave coverage and pursue him, and a defensive lineman is there to chase him down. This shouldn’t be any problem, since Brock has made mince meat out of those linebackers plenty of times on his way to picking up first downs.
Instead he makes the (albeit interesting) read to hit Kolar coming back to the ball to the left of the linebacker that had taken a step towards helping on the scramble. However, Purdy is running the opposite way and throwing across his body, so the pass ends up as a lame duck that’s nearly intercepted. Rule #1 for scrambling quarterbacks is to never throw back across your body to the middle of the field, and Brock violated that rule on this play.
This play is an unpleasant, drawn-out microcosm of the play style conflict Purdy appears to be undergoing at the moment.
Here we are, late in the fourth quarter with the good guys down seven. Brock threw a pick-six to give the Cowboys the lead just a few plays ago, but there’s plenty of time to march down the field and tie the game up. We’re at 2nd and 2, in opponent’s territory. The entire playbook is wide open, and only a sack or a turnover is a bad play in the scenario. Iowa State is lined up with three wide to the right and La’Michael Pettway to the left while Oklahoma State plays about eight yards off the line of scrimmage in coverage.
Breece Hall is in pass protection, Charlie Kolar is running a deep hitch, Tarique Milton is on a deep corner route, and Deshaunte Jones is on a quick out route. Unfortunately, after just one second, Collin Olsen has already gotten completely torched by the nose tackle, which forces Brock out of the pocket. No matter, as Purdy has Jones wide open on the out route to pick up the first down and keep the drive moving forward.
However, Purdy once again tries to hit Kolar coming back to the ball, but this time he doesn’t see the middle linebacker playing in a rover spot, and throws an interception.
A couple things here:
- It’s 2nd and 2 in opponent’s territory when they’re expecting a pass, and you have plenty of time to score. Why not run it with your running back that has over 400 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two and a half games? The defense hadn’t been given any reason to stay honest and defend the run up to this point, which allowed them to drop that extra linebacker into coverage.
- Even with the questionable play call, Purdy still had plenty of options to make the correct decision here, but tried to do too much, and once again violated the cardinal rule of not throwing across your body to the middle of the field.
Setting Up the Intermediate Passing Game
Iowa State loves to attack the middle of the field in the passing game, especially between ten and twenty yards. However, that’s also the middle of the defense, so it’s easy to adjust alignments and coverages to counter, so it needs to complimented with a healthy dose of underneath routes and a running game to open up that part of the field.
Nothing special here. Just a fairly pedestrian wide receiver screen. First, hats off to Charlie Kolar for an absolutely outstanding effort in blocking here. He took his man completely out of the play, and inadvertently took the other nearby defender out of it as well. Deshaunte Jones does a great job of finding space, and turning the underneath route into a nice gain.
The Cyclones have some really impressive athletes and dynamic playmakers at the receiver position, and they’d do well to balance out the tight ends more by utilizing these types of plays to draw the defense forward and create the soft spots in the middle of the zone that Kolar has absolutely abused this year.
Here’s another great example of how effective wide receiver screens can be. Oklahoma State lines up ten yards off the ball to play tendency, much like they did on Brock’s interceptions late in the game, and the guys in red run a perfect counter. Tarique Milton throws another good block, and Deshaunte Jones does what he does and makes a guy miss in the open field on his way to the first down.
It’s understandable late in the game to want to try to push the ball downfield a little more and hit those tight ends in the bread and butter spots that have been so successful, but is the possibility for 12 yards in a high-risk area of the field really a better option than this screen pass that ended in a 10-yard gain? Not to mention, the screen pass gives the receiver the option to just get out of bounds and stop the clock.
Here’s a really great run play from the first quarter. This play was immediately preceded by another chunk running play, so busting this one off immediately afterward was a great way for Iowa State to establish tempo and dictate the flow of the game.
Iowa State lines up with just one tight end on a the heavy side of the field with two receivers, and lines up just Tarique Milton on the left. This initial alignment creates some imbalance that creates numbers advantages to the left side of the field.
The offensive line crashes left, and Julian Good-Jones does a great job of getting to the second level to pick up the linebacker and creating a wide open edge for Breece Hall to follow around. Unsurprisingly, Breece is patient before using his excellent burst to push the ball upfield for a big gain, which is only upended by Josh Knipfel not getting a super solid block on his linebacker, as well as the high safety. Excellent work all around.
Any guesses as to what immediately proceeded this play? You guessed it. A third run play in a row, but this one was stuffed a negative gain. When you bust off two long runs like that, the defense is going to key on a third one, so play action with the primary read being a tight end on a seam route would be a perfect counter.
Special teams needs a spark.
As mentioned before, Iowa State’s special teams isn’t a huge net negative, especially when considering Joe Rivera’s superb punting season, but the complete lack of any aggression in the return game consistently leaves a lot of yards on the field, especially give Iowa State’s playmakers at the skill positions.
Here, we actually get to see Iowa State field a kickoff and try to return it. Yay, trying stuff!
This completely worthless kick return is brought to you by Iowa State’s exclusively straight-line speedster Kene Nwangwu. I’ve pointed out in earlier Film Rooms Kene’s lack of vision and elusiveness in the open field. Well, if those earlier plays were high school art class, then this is his masterpiece.
Nwangwu fields this kick and immediately runs in a straight line upfield before being tackled harmlessly to the ground. Absolutely zero creativity, and zero hope to take some of those free yards we mentioned before. We’ve obviously seen the Kene can be a real threat in the return game, as he owns the school record for return average, but this one, much like many of his others this season, was incredibly uninspiring. If this is the best Iowa State currently has to offer at the kick returner spot, then it’s no wonder Matt Campbell doesn’t want to return any of them.
Overall, this game looked like the team before the TCU game that “wasn’t having fun.” I don’t sense a lot of joy in these players when rewatching this game. They obviously can get back to that, and they’ll have two weeks to do so.
Getting Creative on Defense
At first glance, it looks like a basic pass rush and dropped interception by the Cyclones. If you key in on the defensive line, you can see Tucker Robertson with an interesting inside stunt here that jumps two gaps over, as well as a linebacker and safety blitzing off the edge. We’ve seen over the past few seasons that Jon Heacock tends to get more creative and aggressive with his pass rush as the year go on, and this a great example of that.
Unfortunately, D.J. Miller drops the interception (which Iowa State desperately needs to stop doing), but the overall scheme here is a great way to apply pressure without rushing a great number of people and force the quarterback to try to identify some exotic blitz packages.
Here’s a quality run stop on the edge that Iowa State has had trouble stopping in the past, both in the run and receiver screen games (as we saw on two long touchdown receptions from screens).
I like the pursuit by Zach Petersen on this run play, but Braxton Lewis is the real hero here, as he punches through the middle of the primary running lane into the blocker, forcing Hubbard to slightly alter his route, allowing Petersen to catch him from behind.
This is a great example of Iowa State’s general strategy in stopping the run, which is to stuff anything in the A and B gaps and funnel it outside, where unblocked safeties can eat it up. The safety doesn’t make the tackle here, but he does most of the work in containing the edge and causing this to end in roughly no gain.
As mentioned before, Iowa State has missed out on a handful of turnover opportunities this season simply due to dropped interceptions. Just before this play, Mike Rose narrowly missed picking off a screen pass at a crucial point in the game.
However, he gets a second chance at it, as Spencer Sanders violates our cardinal rule from above, and throws across his body back towards the middle of the field, where Rose is waiting. He does an excellent job reading the quarterback’s eyes, and makes the play, unlike the larger trend we’ve seen throughout the season. This ended up being a huge momentum play, as Breece Hall punched it in the endzone just a few plays later to bring the Cyclones within one.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve occasionally been frustrated with Iowa State’s general lack of interest in testing underneath and screen routes on defense, which typically end up in a completion a decent chunk of yardage. However, in the fourth quarter when the defense needed to make a play in a tie game, we saw the corners uncharacteristically line up just a few yards off the receiver.
Datrone Young does a superb job reading the screen, and immediately cuts it off. To nobody’s shock, the young quarterback then struggles to work through his progression after his primary read falls through. He then panics, scrambles left, and eventually throws the ball away. Iowa State’s bread and butter has obviously been to stop the deep ball first and foremost and worry about the dinks and dunks later, but it was nice to see this adjustment late in the game when the defense needed to turn up the aggression and make a play.