Last week was the first time I can remember in the last few years that Iowa State played a game, and never really felt like it had a great chance to win, even when they had take a three point lead. Even in that moment, had Iowa State won the game, I still wouldn’t have felt like they “deserved” to win.
Had this game been earlier in the season, it would have raised a few red flags for me. The defense was undisciplined in their run fits, and was dominated at the line of scrimmage by a more physical Wildcat offensive line. The offensive game plan felt too conservative for the defense they were playing. Kansas State is statistically the second worst run defense in the Big 12, but Iowa State didn’t consistently attack the defense in the run game in a way that could match Kansas State’s physicality.
The ‘Cats are much more stout in the passing game, and the Cyclones bent to their will for the most part. The offense had made a lot of hay taking what the defense has given them this season, but Farmageddon was a lesson in what can happen when you follow that game plan to a fault. We don’t have many clips to go over this week, because the overall sum of the game can be described with just a few plays.
Fortunately, this Film Room isn’t all doom and gloom, as there was one particular shining star that will be added to one of the many reasons I’m extremely excited about the program heading into 2020.
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.
Offensive line struggles forced the offense to paddle against the current.
One of the reasons Iowa State struggled to run the ball was Kansas State’s aggression on defense. We’ve seen the Cyclones struggle to deal with blitzes this season, especially when they come from the A-gap (either side of the center). Here’s a formation Iowa State likes to run, with a split backfield out of the shotgun, with Breece Hall on one side, and a tight end (Dylan Soehner, in this case) on the other. It sets up either an off-tackle or counter run, and provides the best lead blocker on the roster for Breece Hall.
Kansas State lines up with just two down lineman, two stand up edge rushers, two traditional linebackers, and five defensive backs. It’s a “small-ball” defense that gives them a lot of flexibility in blitz packages and pass defense. The line is designed to crash left to open the running lane on the right. Julian Good-Jones is picking up the weak side edge rusher, and Chase Allen will pick up the strong edge rusher. Trevor Downing takes the down lineman directly over him, and Bryce Meeker takes the other tackle.
Collin Olsen, without an assignment on the line, takes a step to his left to either catch an extra blitzer or help on Downing’s man. Kansas State counters with a blitz from the linebacker directly through the now-vacated A-gap, which Olsen doesn’t catch in time. Breece Hall does a really nice job making that linebacker miss and pick up the few yards he did, but had the blitzing linebacker been picked up by Olsen, he would have been be able to pick up the forward momentum needed to make this play successful. However, the running lane behind Dylan Soehner isn’t completely home free, as Bryce Meeker gets beaten quickly by his defensive tackle, who is then allowed to sit in the running lane.
This example of Kansas State using leverage in their alignment to create problems at the line of scrimmage was common theme throughout this game.
This play is worth looking at for a couple reasons. The first thing that caught my eye was the alignment, where we see Sean Shaw wide and Tarique Milton in motion on the left side, Deshaunte Jones wide to the ride, Charlie Kolar on the right in a traditional tight end spot, and, most interestingly, Breece Hall lined up in an H-back spot. On third and three, this provides a ton of great pass-catchers to help pick up the first down.
The camera angle doesn’t allow us to see much of what’s going on downfield, but we can see the two most important parts of this play, Kolar and Hall. Charlie Kolar heads out on a quick out route that should at least allow Kolar to bring it to fourth and short, if not fall forward to the sticks. Breece Hall leaks out left on a delayed route out of his H-back spot.
I’m not sure exactly why Brock didn’t hit Kolar on the timing route, but I suspect he began to feel some pressure from Bryce Meeker’s rusher, who pushes 74 couple yards backwards into Purdy almost instantly. It’s also likely that he saw both the corner and linebacker closing on Kolar, and didn’t think Kolar could pick up the first down. That brief moment of hesitation forces him to scramble out of the pocket.
When he scrambles to his right the rest of the defense follows, and totally forgets about Breece Hall. as we saw against Kansas on the catch and run for a touchdown, Brock knows Breece is still over there, and could have hit him back across the field here the same way he did the previous week, and, from what I can tell, It could have ended in similar results. However, even after those two open receivers go unused, Purdy still finds and open Tarique Milton downfield (likely the second read on the play after Kolar), but he’s forced to throw off balance and into the wind, and bounces the throw short.
A wrinkle in the offense.
This was frustrating in the moment, because Purdy checked down to a drag route on 3rd and 10, which had no hope of moving the sticks. After watching this a few times, I can understand the decision by Purdy, as all of his downfield options were covered, and Iowa State didn’t want to turn the ball over and give K-State a short field when they were already up a touchdown early in the game.
Watch what happens as the play develops. Right before Purdy throws it, Dylan Soehner leaks out to the left out of his pass protection towards a wide open area of the field. If Purdy is a little more patient (and he does have the time to do so), he could hit Soehner and watch him gallop forward for the first down. However, Tarique could still be a good first down option here with a slight adjustment to his route. Charlie Kolar has cleared out three defenders (a testament to his talent) directly in front of Milton.
If Milton’s route is either a quick seam (essentially a fly/go/streak from the slot) or a slant headed up the field, he may be far enough downfield and have enough momentum to give the play a chance. Ideally, the coaching staff will also see this on film and make this small adjustment to account for Charlie Kolar’s gravity, and use it in a bowl game against opponent who hasn’t watch a ton of film on Iowa State, but will certainly know who #88 is.
Poor discipline doomed the rush defense.
The defense brings six rushers on this play to put pressure on a quarterback that struggles against the blitz. The problem is that this quarterback is a really good runner. Marcel Spears is coming off the right side as a blitzer from a coverage spot and finds himself one-on-one with a running back. Understandably, his eyes widen at the potential opportunity in front of him. However, in pursuit of glory, Spears shirks his edge discipline, and creates a wide open scrambling lane for Skylar Thompson to pick up chunk yardage on the ground.
This is on a designed run play, but once again we see linebackers not maintaining the edge of the defense. This time Mike Rose is the culprit, as he attempts to clog the inside run, which would be fine if he was the Mike linebacker. The problem is that he’s not the Mike linebacker, and his job isn’t to stuff the inside run. His job is to step outside and force the run the middle, where the defensive tackles and O’Rien Vance are there to stop the play. This mental error gives the running back a free lane to run and pick up a big chunk of yardage.
Never to worry, though, because the linebackers weren’t alone in blowing their assignment.
Kansas State is running a speed option out of the shotgun in attempt to get the ball as far outside as possible, where the defense will hopefully be playing catch up if the receivers block their assignments properly. Enyi Uwazurike is lucky enough to have gotten into the backfield completely untouched, where there’s nothing but a few yards of grass between him and the quarterback. A defensive end’s dream. The problem is that Skylar Thompson is heading to his right, and is definitely faster the Enyi Uwazurike. Enyi Uwazurike then probably says “shit shit shit shit shit shit shit” as he turns around and shows good hustle in a hopeless attempt to catch the ball-carrier.
Enyi’s overpursuit doomed the potential third down stop from the beginning, but it also made things a hundred times worse for poor Anthony Johnson, who not only had to try to stop a full-speed Thompson from a complete stop, but had to eat a garbage unnecessary roughness penalty after getting helplessly carried ten yards out of bounds. If any one play sums up the effort in run defense on Saturday, this is it.
Will McDonald can be a force in 2020.
I promised you that this wouldn’t be all doom and gloom, and here’s where I deliver. There’s nothing fancy here. No swim move, no Dwight Freeney spin, no bull rush. Will McDonald picks up this sack by flat out being more athletic than the guy across from him. It’s super impressive, and shows how lethal he can be off the edge for Iowa State next season if used efficiently.
Iowa State is going to be stupid deep at the defensive end position next year. 2019 Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year JaQuan Bailey will be coming back following his injury-based redshirt. Joining him will be Zack Petersen, Enyi Uwazurike (who, despite me calling him out earlier, is a very disruptive end at times), Will McDonald, plus a group of extremely talented underclassmen headlined by Blake Petersen and Corey Suttle.
Will McDonald’s ability to get to the quarterback with shear athleticism, whether as a down defensive end (above) or as a stand-up edge rusher (below), gives Iowa State a ton of options next year for the aggressive packages. As the year has gone on, Jon Heacock has deployed the drop-8 eight coverage less frequently in favor of extra rushers to put pressure on the quarterback. The idea of deploying Will McDonald as a stand-up edge rusher on JaQuan Bailey’s outside shoulder brings a smile to my face.
As mentioned before, here’s Will McDonald causing even greater damage on the pass rush from a stand-up edge rusher position. Once again, he flat out beats his man off the ball and makes a huge play to pop the ball out and force a turnover.
I’m anticipating that Tucker Robertson will slide inside to bolster an interior that will be seeing some significant turnover, but if Robertson, Isaiah Lee, Latrell Bankston, and anybody else that earns playing time can be at least serviceable, the defensive line has a chance to take a step forward in 2020.