Iowa State has had a tackling problem in their last two games. In the first half against Oklahoma State, the Cowboys had three touchdowns of at least 50 yards off of missed tackles. The following week against Oklahoma, Iowa State had a number of missed tackles that led to big plays.
Not only are you not going to win games when easy tackles are continually turned around in big games, you’re going to get flat out exposed. This Saturday, tackling will be the single most important thing on defense because of Sam Ehlinger.
Ehlinger is pretty much a better version of former Cyclone Quarterback Joel Lanning. On the season, Ehlinger is the Longhorns third leading rusher with 401 yards on 111 carries. That number only amounts to 3.6 yards per carry, which isn’t great. However, most of that can be attributed to teams stacking the box against him.
Now, Iowa State will more than likely go with their traditional three-man front with some four-man fronts scattered in the game plan. This means that the pressure will be on the linebackers to prevent Ehlinger from getting past the second level of the defense.
As we saw in last year’s 24-10 loss to Texas, Iowa State struggled with allowing Ehlinger to be able to run down hill. This play all started with the fake screen pass that took two linebackers out of the play at the beginning, followed by the defensive line and the linebackers getting no pressure. They allowed this by letting him get into the second level of the defense with no contention, so once he passed the defensive line he could run with momentum.
How does Iowa State prevent this on Saturday? Frankly, it starts with the scheme. This scheme is just not good when facing a team that does a lot of designed quarterback runs. Iowa State will have to put one more in the box than they are used to, which opens up the availability of passes in the flats and screen passes, a place that has been the Achilles heel of Iowa State this season.
Against Oklahoma State, Iowa State struggled against the screen pass. On this 50 yard touchdown, Iowa State had the box loaded for some reason on first down, and had just two defenders with the ability to make a stop within the first 15 yards of the run. Neither Datrone Young or Arnold Azunna played this play particularly well, but there wasn’t much that they could do in that situation.
This play above doesn’t exemplify the problems that Iowa State has had with poor tackling, but it would take you just three minutes of watching film until you would see an arm tackle or just a flat out missed open-field tackle.
That is my concern on Saturday, Sam Ehlinger will run all over Iowa State early, forcing Jon Heacock to put one more in the box, hence leaving Iowa State vulnerable outside of the numbers and in the flats.
Is that just my undying pessimism? Probably. Iowa State’s last two first halves have been abysmal, but at halftime of the last two games, Heacock has made some spectacular adjustments, giving up just 13 points in the last two second halves combined.
Can Iowa State play as well Saturday as they have in the last two second halves? Yes, they can. This defense is still one of the most talented in the conference with star power all over the board.
There is one player in specific that can change the course of the game on Saturday, O’Rien Vance. So far this season, Vance has been the most disruptive player on the team with 6.5 sacks, 7.0 TFL, and 47 total tackles, in just 7 1⁄2 games. He is powerful in the run game and a lethal pass rusher.
The key to Vance’s day on Saturday will be creating havoc by staying in his lane and shooting gaps. As we saw in the clip above with Ehlinger’s run from last year, there was absolutely no pressure from the linebackers. Mike Rose and Marcel Spears Jr. both got taken out with one block.
O’Rien Vance doesn’t get taken out by one blocker that often. If he can take a few blockers every play and get to Ehlinger on designed runs while also forcing pressure when back to pass, Iowa State will be able to play their game. But if Vance gets manhandled like the linebackers did last year, it will be another game where Iowa State gives up a lot of yards and points.