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Film Breakdown: Evaluating the 2018 Cyclone Offense in the Less Obvious

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Step into the film room as break down what went well and what did not for the Cyclones offense in 2018

Iowa State v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Today, we’re going to look at the performance of the Cyclone offense in 2018. More specifically, we will examine games where things were clicking for the Cyclones, and games where the offense was stagnant.

Let’s dive right into it. The first game worth examining the success of the offense in is Iowa State’s 48-42 victory over Oklahoma State.

When the offense was rolling.

While basking in the afterglow of this surprising upset of a Top 25 team on the road, most Cyclone fans were rather shocked at how this game was won. For those of you who may not remember, Brock Purdy trotted out after the first series, and David Montgomery did not play.

You’ve probably all seen the big highlights, but I am going to spend time focusing on how Iowa State moved the ball on offense. In this game, it was rather simple: run to the outside, pass down the seams, and use QB rollouts along with WR clear-outs to attack the edges.

The latter of those attacks is the target of this first video clip. While this play seems rather mundane, Campbell used variations consistently, both in this game and throughout the season once Brock became entrenched as the starter. It’s a simple play – Jones and Butler clear out and screen their defenders, and Purdy makes the DE make a choice – take the quarterback or Seonbuchner. The end chose Purdy, who hits the FB for plus yardage.

This next clip features some creative edge rushing with Kene Nwangwu, a concept that will likely be a mainstay of the 2019 Cyclone offense. The keys to this play are Croney motioning into the backfield to serve as a lead blocker, Butler blocking down, and the right guard pulling. With better blocking, this play goes for 15 yards instead of 8.

This last clip is an example of attacking the seams, which they did effectively all game long with deep passes to Milton, Butler, and even Landon Akers. Notice how the run fake freezes the linebacker, allowing Purdy the window needed to deliver a strike to Eaton.

Let’s move on to Iowa State’s dramatic comeback win over Kansas State.

While this play does involve #32, this play is more about the blocking. We’re all rather familiar with the struggles of the offensive line in 2018, but they did make strides late in the season. On this play, the motion of Eaton freezes the defense, Julian Good-Jones pulls, and Seonbuchner leads the way, with each man sealing his defender. This type of play, and this level of blocking, should lead to success for whomever is in the backfield for the Cyclones in 2019.

Next, let’s examine this simple, yet effective play call on 3rd and 5. Chase Allen is lined up tight on the line of scrimmage, and he runs a simple get-to-the-stick/hitch route, crossing with Landon Akers in the process. This frees Allen up for the easy first down. We should be seeing this type of play often in 2019, especially in the red zone or short yardage situations.

This next play is a beauty, and is once again something we should see frequently in 2019. Tarique Milton is brought in motion to the right flat, and Charlie Kolar runs a post route out of the slot. The motion drags a linebacker out to the flat, and the other linebacker is forced to hover between Kolar and Montgomery out of the backfield. This leaves a gap for Eaton, and Purdy hits him deep down the seem for a 30 yard gain.

Lastly, let’s take a look at what happens when you push the ball downfield. On this play, after attacking K-State deep all night, the Cyclones recognize very soft coverage on the outside, and run a quick WR screen. Eaton makes a nice block, Tarique Milton makes a play, and the Cyclones are quickly back in the game. Both Milton and Deshaunte Jones are capable of turning these plays into big games, provided the deep threat opens up this kind of action.

To recap...

The Cyclones moved the ball well for most of the 2018 season (excluding the pre-Purdy games). They accomplished most of it through deep bombs to Butler and David Montgomery superhuman effort. However, in between those big-plays, the offense was most effective it was utilizing the short passing game and outside runs, attacking the seams, going quick-tempo, and distracting with motion.

Expect to see all of that in 2019 with the addition of more read-option plays, designed quarterback runs, and heavy personnel grouping (both 12 and 22).

The two biggest questions the offense will need to answer in 2019 are: Who is the deep-ball threat, and can the offensive line continue to improve.

When the offense was struggling.

While the offense generally performed well in 2018, there were some rough patches throughout the course of the season. While some of that was due to facing a superior defense (Texas), moving the ball was an issue at times (Baylor).

Let’s dive into it.

We’ll start with the Texas game, again, with the caveat that the Longhorns had a stellar defense in 2018.

This first play is a bit of a mess, but the main issues revolve around scheme and missed blocks. After moving down the field with inside runs and QB scrambles, the Cyclones try a WR screen to the short side of the field. Colin Olsen gets manhandled by Chris Nelson (#97), and both Akers and Butler done seal the corner, which makes Purdy hesitate. The defenders were playing up on the line, quickly closing down on the screen action. This type of action was also not set up by previous deep passes, and Texas was ready for the short passing game all night long.

In this clip, you’ll see a play that has worked all year for the Cyclones be doomed from the snap. Texas is countering the Cyclones splitting two WR out wide with another in the slot by playing straight up man coverage. Running to the short side of the field against an 8 man box is rarely ever a good idea. The interior lineman make a mess of the LOS, and the linebackers are waiting for Kene Nwangwu. Its honestly miraculous he managed to get positive yardage.

Lastly, let’s look at one of the many sacks the Cyclones surrendered in this game. The Longhorn defense used a plethora of pre-snap movement to confuse the offensive line, and 6 defenders ended up blitzing. The offensive line did not have enough cohesion as a unit to pick up pressures like this, and Kene missed the chip on the back end to boot, leading to Hager picking up the sack.

While the offense, moved the ball well against Kansas State, this play stuck out in my mind. After getting backed up to 2nd and long, the Cyclones tried what should have been a well-designed QB run. Seonbuchner goes in motion, and Knipfel pulls behind him. The entire left side of the offensive line misses their blocks, and Purdy gets taken down for a loss.

This last clip is an example of the progressions that Brock Purdy did not have the ability to make in 2018. Tarique Milton goes in motion, and rolls out to the flat. The defense is there, and Purdy can’t go to his first read. He scrambles out of the pocket, and roams around before taking the sack. Had Purdy progressed through his reads, he would have noticed Hakeem Butler open on the sideline.

As you can see from the clips above, there were several issues that caused the offense to struggle in 2018. Those issues included some that are easily correctable (drops by Butler and Akers) along with some mental issues (pre-snap penalties). There were also some issues with play-calling, which has hopefully been addressed with the return of Tom Manning. Some of the issues were also caused by defensive scheme (Texas and Todd Orlando).

The most important problem area that the Cyclones can and must fix is the offensive line. Linemen consistently missed blocks, and failed to pick up their assignment in pass protection. When the offensive line did block well, it was primarily first-level blocks. In order to improve, they must reach the second level with more consistency, which is something they actually showed in the Alamo Bowl.

Lastly, Brock Purdy must progress if the Cyclone offense is to build off the successes of 2018. Going though his first full off-season, including bowl prep, spring ball, and summer workouts, should help #15 immensely headed into fall camp. In 2018, the offensive playbook was severely reduced, and was limited to simpler plays that Purdy could manage or plays called “give David Montgomery the ball and let him figure it out”. The full playbook should be open to him in 2019.

Tom Manning and Matt Campbell can now run an offense more centered around their quarter back and his strengths, an offense tailored to utilize their speedy wide receivers and bulky, pass-catching tight ends.

When examining the 2019 offense, there are undoubtedly some questions that need answering. There is also plenty to be excited about.