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The Wide Right Film Room: Oklahoma

The first half defensive struggles overshadowed what may have been one of the more complete offensive games of the season.

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After a disappointing performance against Oklahoma State that featured missed opportunities, and a severe deviation from the offensive gameplan that led to a ridiculous 62 pass attempts, Iowa State badly needed a strong offensive performance against Oklahoma. This skew toward the passing game allowed the Pokes to adjust their defensive scheme and beginning jumping passing lanes. Brock Purdy missed a few reads, but the playcalling did him absolutely no favors.

The benefit of making a trip to Norman to face the Sooners provided a couple motivations to reemphasize the running and screen games in the overall attack.

  1. Kansas State and Army have both demonstrated over the past two seasons that a pointed effort to gash the OU defense on the ground not only can produce a lot of success due to their struggle to stop the run, but it also keeps the Sooner offense off the field, which might be even more valuable.
  2. Iowa State’s roster is built to run the football, from an improving offensive line, to a running back that’s quickly making the case as the best running back in the Big 12 not named Chuba Hubbard. Unless you’re in an end of game situation where you need to push the ball for a first down or more every single play, the running game will always be a great option for the Cyclones.

Unfortunately, a slow start for the defense overshadowed what was largely one of the most complete offensive performances (against a team with a pulse) all season. This would ordinarily lead you to believe that this Film Room would be centered on the defense and the adjustments that were made at halftime. However, we won’t touch that side of the ball much for a couple reasons.

  1. The first half defensive struggles were largely a result of poor fundamentals. Missed tackles, dropped interceptions, and the like plagued the defense’s ability to hold the Sooners’ offense in check. We could spend time going over that in film and talk about tackling and pursuit angles, but that’s not all that interesting to talk about, and most people can recognize a bad pursuit angle when they see one.
  2. Iowa State didn’t make any major scheme adjustments at halftime. The defense simply played with much better detail, and wrapped up the open field tackles they often missed in the first half.
  3. Oklahoma, for no discernible reason, started throwing the ball more as the game went on, despite the success of the running game up to that point. The Cyclones were happy to sit back and do exactly what the defense was built to do.

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.

Breece Hall has earned the right to be a focal point of the offense.

I’ve featured Breece’s runs in a few Film Rooms so far, because he’s shown us something new almost every week. First, he showed us his vision against West Virginia. Then he showed us his speed and ability after the catch against Texas Tech. Against Oklahoma State, we saw patience and discipline.

More importantly, his level of play is essentially forcing the play-calling to stay honest throughout the game. His impact was limited in the OSU game not due to his own performance, but because he simply wasn’t given enough opportunities.

Against OU, Iowa State went to him early and often. He continued to be successful on virtually every touch, which encouraged more touches, and more productivity. It’s a delightful feedback loop that the Cyclone offense would be wise to feature heavily in the game plan going forward.

This play isn’t particularly remarkable, but it’s an important inclusion in the offensive scheme. Defenses are starting to get more and more aggressive against the Cyclones (unless Iowa State doesn’t force them to stay honest in defending the run, like we saw against Oklahoma State), and the most obvious counter to the pressure is the screen game.

The defense doesn’t bring extra rushers here, as just the three down lineman are actually pursuing the quarterback, but two of the three linebackers are specifically assigned to cover Breece Hall and Brock Purdy out of the backfield. Not only does this play counter the pressure, but Iowa State is using this as a tendency breaker from what OU has been watching on film.

First, Iowa State starts the vast majority of its offensive plays exactly the same way: with some sort of play action or RPO action. This delays the defenders’ reads an extra second or two, rather than allowing them to jump the play based on what the quarterback does at the snap, and gives the play a chance to develop, provided the offensive line is doing their job.

For this ball fake action at the snap to be as effective as possible, it should be done as often and consistently as possible. Fortunately, Purdy is one of the best in the country at maintaining a consistent post-snap RPO read throughout an entire game.

The two extra OU linebackers then begin a delayed pursuit to their gap assignments for two reasons. First, the subtle play fake to Hall baits #23 to overpursue his edge. Second, tape has shown that Brock Purdy isn’t afraid to take off and run when his pocket closes as quickly as it did here, so they’re preventing his escape upfield.

Purdy makes the easy dump to Breece on the screen, before he effortlessly chews up 14 yards before encountering his first tackler. Hall makes the first dude miss before the linebacker catches him from behind.

This play is an easy tendency breaker that can bait the defense into being more aggressive than they wanted to, and gets the ball into #28’s hands in the open field, which is an objectively beautiful thing to see.

Oklahoma stacks the box with eight defenders here, but the offensive line uses a zone blocking scheme that we see quite a bit up in Madison and over in Iowa City to create multiple potential running lanes for Breece Hall. Dylan Soehner is your F-back on the right side, and he shoots to the off-tackle gap, which tells us what the designed running path is for this play. Here, we see what makes Breece Hall special right now, and why his ceiling is so high.

Hall actually makes the more difficult read on this play. The run is designed to follow Soehner to the edge and get him into open space. Soehner initially gets hung up on the right tackle, so Breece assumes that running lane is gone, and looks for a lane to cut upfield. Julian Good-Jones and Chase Allen have created a massive running lane in the middle of the field, but the backside defenders are still able to pursue at full speed since most of the blockers are farther downfield along the designed running path.

Breece spins around the first tackler with ease and without losing any forward momentum, then channels his inner David Montgomery by rolling with the second tackler and spinning to an extra four yards through the tackle.

The run itself shows off the tremendous ability Breece Hall already possesses, but in film sessions he’ll see that a little more patience would have allowed him to follow Soehner to the edge, where there were no defenders with any hope of preventing him from taking it to the house.

I dare you to watch this play and tell me you don’t think this is David Montgomery at one point or another.

First, the weak side defensive end shoots the gap between JGJ and Trevor Downing, which closes off Breece’s running lane. No matter, as he spins past the first tackle before cutting back across the field. He makes a step into space in front of the nickel corner, before spinning outside around two tacklers and cutting upfield. Hall completes his DM impression with the high step at the end, which causes the defender to hesitate and give up a couple extra yards.

It’s an absolutely brilliant display of natural ability that we thought we may not see for quite awhile following the departure of #32. The best part? Breece Hall has the extra gear to eventually try to take a run like this to the house if he decided to cut back to the middle of the field instead of going out of bounds.

So now we already know that Breece Hall has the wiggle to be slippery in space and make people miss. But what happens when his best running lane is straight up the field?

First, Breece makes a quick little move in the backfield to avoid the defensive tackle that had already gotten into the backfield before pushing straight upfield. He brushes off the first tackler with quick, brutal stiff arm to the face, barely notices the second tackler, then finally gets brought down by a combination of a push from the third tackler and a wrap up by the fourth.

Elusiveness both in space and in tight areas? Check. Straight line power? Check. Stiff arm that could kill a bear? Check.

So, how do we know that the offense trusts Breece Hall to be a focal point of the offense? Down 35-14 in the second half at Oklahoma, the offensive staff goes right back to him on the next play.

The offensive line once again does a marvelous job creating a running lane for Breece. By the time Hall gets to the line of scrimmage, Josh Knipfel is 5 yards downfield blocking a linebacker, and Bryce Meeker is another three yards downfield trying to steal 23’s lunch money. Then, as effortlessly as most of us shovel food into our mouths on Thanksgiving, Breece Hall moseys upfield for 15 yards, even grabbing a couple extra along the sideline before his momentum took him out of bounds.

The only thing I’m left wondering after this play is whether Breece would have tried to jet upfield past #10 had Knipfel put the linebacker on his butt, rather than simply blocking him and allowing him to at least get a hand (albeit a hopeless one) on the runner to slow him down just a little bit.

It was refreshing to see the Cyclones continue to use the running game as a primary option, even when facing a 21-point second half deficit. Running the ball kept the OU offense off the field, which helped the defense hold them to just one second half touchdown, and allowed Iowa State to fight its way back into the game. Against a Texas defense that also struggles to stop the run at times, leaning on Breece Hall should prove to once again be the a key driver in offensive success for Iowa State.

Iowa State’s tight ends and receiver screens are almost impossible to cover when properly balanced with the running game.

Much has been noted of the emergence of the tight end position in Ames, where at least one is on the field on virtually every play, and we see two and even three of them with regularity. Against Oklahoma State, we saw the passing game get overly focused on finding Charlie Kolar in the middle of the field, and the Pokes eventually turned that into a couple turnovers.

Against OU, Kolar, the Big 12’s leading receiver at tight end by a huge margin, didn’t haul in his first catch until Iowa State’s final drive. Not to worry.

Like we saw earlier on Breece’s catch out of the backfield, Iowa State is using Oklahoma’s aggression, as well as their own established tendencies to their advantage. The Sooners put seven in the box and leave the two receivers on the far side of the field in single man coverage.

The really interesting thing here is that Dylan Soehner is the other wide receiver along with Tarique Milton. It’s well know that Soehner is Iowa State’s best blocking tight end, so this could have (and probably should have) been a tip to the defense that something was happening out there. If Iowa State was running the ball, they wouldn’t line up one of their best run blockers completely out of the play.

Iowa State takes advantage of the mistake with a quick screen pass to Tarique Milton outside, where he has the opportunity to run behind Soehner, and only has one man between him and the endzone. Milton makes his man miss, Soehner basically throws his defender into a third defender, and #1 is gone.

It’s worth noting that even though Soehner’s alignment on this play was an easy indicator of a screen, Iowa State could easily use that film to then hit Soehner on a slant or some sort of crossing route after faking a screen to the receiver.

This is another beautiful play call designed to take advantage of an aggressive defense. First we see some of that trademark pre-snap motion which causes the strong safety to come up towards the line of scrimmage to cover a potential route to the flats or run by Hall. OU sends the outside linebacker, which Hall picks up with a solid chip block, as well as the corner.

The strong safety that came forward on the pre-snap motion is then tasked with covering Shaw to the outside. The free safety comes up to cover Chase Allen’s underneath route, and Soehner runs into a plethora of green space and waltzes into the endzone.

This is also another tendency breaker from the offense. Remember the “flood” concept we touched on a bunch earlier in the season? If not, you can brush up here. On this play, Chase Allen is your underneath route, which the free safety is assigned to cover, and Sean Shaw is your deep route on the sideline designed to take the top safety away from the medium route.

However, instead of Soehner planting his foot and turning outside (where that strong safety would have been able to cover him) like he would in a traditional flood, he instead runs a seam route, much to the dismay of the safeties. That’s something that will show up in film sessions, which could lead safeties to respect that seam route more, and free up the out route the tight end would normally run there. It’s also a great tendency from a personnel standpoint, as Soehner has now been established as more than just a run blocker.

Here’s a true blue RPO pass to Chase Allen that Iowa State uses to pick up a critical first down on a drive that Allen would actually score on later. Iowa State’s line starts pushing right, just like we saw on Breece Hall’s run earlier, and Brock Purdy reads the linebacker to decide on a handoff or pass. The linebacker bites on Deshaunte Jones’ pre-snap motion, and Allen is left wide open.

Also worth noting is a really neat throw by Purdy, as he uses a lower arm angle to fit that ball to the tight end’s inside hip, which he does marvelously. Speaking of Brock...

Brock Purdy

I’ve mentioned it in the Film Room a few times this season, and have probably tweeted about it on multiple occasions, but could never justify including Brock’s habit of throwing off his back foot as an actual clip. It’s worth noting that throwing off your back or while falling away from the line of scrimmage is sometimes necessary in the face of pressure. Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers have both basically made careers out of throwing off their back feet.

However, doing so accurately takes a lot of arm talent (which is why Stafford and Rodgers are really good at it and Eli Manning throws a thousand picks when he does it), so it’s not an ideal way to throw when you don’t have to.

Here, Iowa State’s on third and three, and has Deshaunte Jones on a slant route for an easy completion and conversion. However instead of planting his back foot and using his lower body to start the rotation, Purdy shifts his weight to his back foot, causing the throw to sail high and fall incomplete.

The reason I’ve had trouble including it in the Film Room is because he’ll make a throw like the one above, then turn around and do this the next play:

4th and 10 with the offense in striking distance of making it a one score game, and Brock delivers and absolute laser to Deshuante Jones off his back foot. Don’t ever let anyone tell you Brock doesn’t have a good arm.

And just when you thought the throw above was fluke, he delivers this absolute pile of ridiculousness. Rolling to his right and falling away from the line of scrimmage, he floats a ball perfectly between two defenders into the hands of Tarique Milton, who then makes a spectacular catch to complete the play. This is straight up impossible to defend.

The good news is that he’s getting better at driving off his back foot, rather than shifting his weight back when he has the opportunity to. First, give credit to Sean Shaw for absolutely toasting the safety on the post route. Then, Brock steps up in the pocket and delivers a perfect throw for the easy touchdown. This is basically about as textbook as it gets.

While you want him to keep practicing the fundamentals and working on his decision-making, sometimes you just have to let Brock be Brock, and Badass Gunslinger Brock Purdy is the best Brock Purdy.

Late in the game when his team needs big plays, he tucks it, makes a couple tacklers miss, and picks up a huge chunk play. He even smartly runs out of bounds at the end, when freshman Brock may have tried to cut back to the middle and risked fumbling or getting hurt. However, this wasn’t even his best scramble on the night.

LORDT. 3rd and long with under two minutes to go on the road against a top ten team, and your damn quarterback takes off running, jukes a defender straight into a bodybag, and picks up a gigantic first down that led to Iowa State scoring a touchdown to give themselves an opportunity to win.

Brock Purdy is a national treasure, and the NCAA should grant him lifetime eligibility, but that’s just my opinion.

Offensive Line Porn

I’ve mentioned the offensive line a few times already, but they really did a great job in Norman. This play didn’t really fit in any of the other sections, but I felt like it needed to be seen.

Look at that wall of lineman. LOOK AT IT. Oklahoma doesn’t stand a chance, and Brock Purdy scampers in for an embarrassingly easy touchdown run.

Losing the game the way they did was tough to swallow, but don’t let the first half mistakes overshadow an offense that made tremendous strides in both play-calling and execution. If the Cyclones can extend their play from the second half of the Oklahoma game through the end of the season, we could potentially be looking at tying the school wins record.