Against UNI, we identified a few things on offense that really stood out against UNI, including the Purdy to Pettway connection, a utilization of the tight ends we hadn’t seen in years, and some noted improvement on the offensive line. The game against the Panthers was far from perfect from offense, but I felt it was more useful and interesting to point out those schematic points, as they would give a more meaningful look at what we can expect to see this season than some of the miscues that are more typically associated with the first game of the season.
This week against Iowa, we got a better look at what this Cyclone team can look like this season, as a lot of (though certainly not all) of the inefficiencies we saw in week one were cleaned up after the bye week.
I’m going to bounce around a little between positives and negatives, as I feel the overall performance of the team outside of a handful of broken plays showed more promise than the final score might indicate.
One thing I’m not going to get too far into is special teams. Obviously, the return units need some work. Kick returns have the simplest solutions to their woes. Just call the fair catch and take the ball at the 25. There’s no shame in that, and until we can see more consistent blocking with that unit, the fair catch is probably going to be the best option in 99% of situations.
The punt return unit is a little different story, as Iowa State tends to be very conservative here and play for the fair catch. That route eliminates a lot risk (outside of the freak play at the end of the Iowa game), so I can understand their logic, but they could be leaving some free yards on the table by not trying to return a few of those when the punt is going to leave them with a short-ish field.
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.
With all that said, let’s get into it.
Greg Eisworth is an Absolute Beast
But you knew that already. This past Saturday was yet another outing where the junior safety proved that he will arguably be the best individual player on the field for pretty much any snap he takes this season.
This play isn’t necessarily mind-blowing or anything, but it’s a play that average safeties don’t always make. However, Greg Eisworth always makes this play. It’s a simple read on the off-tackle, but he does a great job of quickly making the read and shooting out of a damn cannon to meet a physical running back at the line of scrimmage and stop him for no gain.
Plenty of safeties can make that read, but often times we see the running back push forward for an extra yard or two against the smaller safety, which would have resulted in a first down. Instead, Eisworth stands him up and forces the punt. That’s the difference between an average safety and a great one.
Here we see Eisworth stop the running back dead again, but this time from the weak side safety spot. Again, not a particularly difficult read (especially since the only wrinkle Iowa ever throws in the running game is the occasional counter), but the execution is superb. An average safety patrols behind the last line of blocking and acts as a bottle cap in case the ball-carrier sneaks through.
Not Greg Eisworth.
He anticipates the running lanes through a couple levels of blocking, then magically appears from behind Jamahl Johnson, and stops the running back dead in his tracks for a two yard gain. That play is the difference between a likely passing down in 2nd and 8, and who knows what from 2nd and 6 or better.
Blown Defensive Opportunities
Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, Greg Eisworth isn’t quite able to make every single play on defense. And while the defense was largely good throughout the game, the same occasional lapses in technique and detail that we saw early in the season in 2017 and 2018 reared their ugly heads a few times against Iowa.
Here, the Hawks use a counter to give the running back a shot at finding space if he can make a defender miss. Unfortunately for Iowa State, three different players were in a position to make the tackle, but did not take proper pursuit angles to the ball carrier. Mike Rose is the first defender in the running lane.
By simply continuing his pursuit rather than checking up and attempting to counter the more agile ball carrier (this situation is exactly why the “Oklahoma” drill exists), he could have forced the running back to make a more severe cut to the outside, slowing the back’s momentum and giving his fellow defenders a better angle to make a play. However, the fault of this play resulting in a 14 yard gain falls on Amechie Walker, who takes a terrible pursuit angle.
Walker can see that the inside cut back lane was covered by Ray Lima and Zach Petersen, so all he needs to do is play to the outside of the blocking receiver and he has a chance to wrap this play up for no gain. Instead, he plays the ball carrier and gets burnt for a big gain, where (you guessed it) Greg Eisworth is forced to play damage control. These pursuit angles will be something to keep an eye on for the next month as the defense undergoes its typical mid-season polishing.
Poor pursuit angles are once again the culprit here in this blown opportunity to record a huge loss at a critical point in the game. Anthony Johnson comes free on the blitz with wide eyes looking to make a big play, but forgets one basic fundamental of rushing the quarterback: always pursue the outside shoulder to eliminate the potential for the quarterback to escape to the outside.
If Johnson pursues Stanley’s outside shoulder, it’s highly likely that Iowa is looking at a 2nd and 25 rather than 2nd and 10. This another of those miscues that can be cleaned up pretty quickly, but the defense had similar issues against Will McElvain, so they’ll need to address those issues before conference play comes around.
I’m fairly confident I don’t need to point out to you the player that messed up on this one. Iowa State has a great opportunity here to make a stop on third down ad hold Iowa to a field goal, but Enyi Uwazurike busts his assignment by picking up the leaking running back, allowing Nate Stanley a ton of room to run for the first down.
If you look in the split second between Stanley’s decision to take off and run and Enyi turning his head to pick up the running back, you can see that the quarterback had already decided to tuck it and run, and had no intention of checking down to the running back since he could have done so anyways on this play.
Jamahl Johnson does a great job here pursuing to the back shoulder of a less mobile quarterback, and credit to Nate Stanley for stepping up in the pocket to avoid the sack, but keep an eye on Jaquan Bailey. He moves inside as part of the stunt, but makes a spin move back to the side he came from, which allows the offensive line to pull to the right side and give the quarterback a lane to escape.
To see the ripple effect of Jaquan’s spin move, keep an eye on O’Rien Vance, who doesn’t have a great view of the quarterback, but can see the the offensive line begin to shift, giving a key to start pursuing to his left. Unfortunately, Vance slipped and was unable to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage.
Purdy was mostly very good this game, continuing to be an extremely efficient passer at all three levels of the defense, but I wanted to point out a couple of impressive plays from Corn Jesus in this game.
This not a difficult read, since the play is clearly designed with the crossing route as the primary target, but Purdy throws a laser beam between two defenders directly in front of Deshaunte Jones’ right hip where only he could catch it. It’s not deep throw, or one that comes back across the field, but it requires pinpoint accuracy, which Purdy has.
This is elite pocket presence. Purdy is looking downfield, senses the pressure from A.J. Epenesa, and magically escapes the pocket to pick up a short gain. I remember audibly gasping in the stands when I first saw this play, and still have no idea how managed to avoid the sack here. This is some high level stuff.
Continued Improvement from the Offensive Line
I have some important news for everyone. Iowa State might have themselves an offensive line.
This is a simple read option that was blocked to near perfection. The offensive line essentially completely relocates the Iowa front seven before a pulling Chase Allen paves the way for Brock Purdy to pick up some nice yardage
A slight wrinkle/tweak that could be added here to add some yardage potential is a wider attack angle for Allen and Purdy. With the Iowa front seven largely out of the play, if Chase Allen and Brock Purdy go outside of Tarique Milton instead of inside, and the receivers continue to hold their blocks, then the two safeties are the only players with a chance to keep the play under 10 yards.
Look familar? This is exactly the same play as the one before and comes a few minutes later in the game. This time, the defensive end spies Purdy, giving Kene Nwangwu a lane to burst up the middle for a nice gain. These two plays are a great illustration of the potential of the read option running game when you have a quarterback that can consistently make the correct read, and and offensive line that can consistently block like this.
Oh baby. This play gets me all sorts of hot and bothered. That’s not one, not two, but three pulling lineman, all of which do a spectacular job picking up their assignments. The only thing that prevents this play from going to the house is AJ Epenesa making literally his only tackle of the entire game. Pulling lineman and tight ends were a common theme throughout the game on Iowa State’s more successful runs, so the coaching staff is clearly making a point to utilize the mobility of the offensive line to their advantage.
Opening Up the Playbook
For the record, this is still a trick play that isn’t really something that you could consider to be part of the overall scheme, but this is a great example of Tom Manning doing exactly what we all thought they would do this week. Open up the playbook and get creative.
In the end, we knew that the Cyclone offense had a lot more to show than what we saw in the UNI game, and still has a lot more to show after this game after seeing a few of the things that worked so well.
One thing to note going forward: this might have been Tarique Milton’s best game as a Cyclone, and could signal a turn of the corner is career when he starts emerging as the clear number one target for Brock Purdy in the intermediate and deep passing game. However, it’s clear the Purdy has great chemistry with the first group of targets in Milton, Jones, La’Michael Pettway, and Charlie Kolar, and he’ll continue to spread the ball around.