This season, we’ll be doing a weekly film breakdown of the previous game to identify areas of strength or weakness, or any particularly interesting schemes we could see in the future. With this being a new series, we definitely want your feedback on how we can make this better and more informative going forward.
In Iowa State’s first game against the UNI Panthers, the defense was every bit as good as advertised, but the offense took awhile to gain its footing. Because the defense was so good, we won’t spend a lot of time on it this week, but let’s take a look a few things on offense that piqued our interest.
Getting Skill Players into Space
For the past few seasons, the Cyclones have had some high-level athletes at the skill positions that were not able to reach their productive ceilings for few different reasons, whether it be a lack of available blockers with mobility to set blocks in space, a lack of personnel to deliver the ball to those playmakers, or other schematic advantages that took precedence.
In the above clip, we see a jet sweep with some pre-snap motion designed manipulate the defensive alignment, before countering to the opposite direction of the motion. Timing of the snap is critical here, as Purdy snaps it just as the linebackers are finishing their adjustment, and are forced to change direction at the snap, which prevents them catching up to the speed of the ball carrier.
Not only are the linebackers playing catch up to the outside edge, but Deshaunte has the running back as a lead blocker, who throws a devastating block upfield that takes the defender almost entirely out of the play.
I love this concept not just because it’s great way to find space on the edge, but it gives Matt Campbell a few options for future wrinkles to counter film. You could theoretically swap Deshaunte Jones with someone like Kene Nwangwu to add a little more speed, but the defense may identify him before the snap and not fully realign to the strong side the way UNI’s did in the clip above.
This could also easily be turned into a read option with a Purdy keeper or a handoff to the running back, or even an RPO that uses the strong side receiver (Pettway in this case) on a slant as the second level of the defense focuses on the jet sweep action. Once the RPO is on film, the linebackers will no longer be able to cheat on the sweeping receiver, which gives him some extra space. If you’re keeping track, that’s (at least) four possible options out of one formation and pre-snap motion.
Purdy to Pettway
After some rumblings that Pettway struggled a bit in camp, the grad transfer eventually earned his starting spot, and caught two touchdowns in his first game as a Cyclone, both in similar concepts that bode well going forward. Both catches come on seam routes, one from the slot and another from an outside position. The overall scheme isn’t particularly remarkable, but these are two extremely accurate throws by Purdy on timing routes through tight coverage.
Purdy and Pettway clearly have some trust and chemistry already, which likely means that Pettway will be utilized as a key third down and redzone threat with some packages designed specifically to get him in one-on-one situations where he can use his size to greater advantage.
Improved Run Blocking
The offensive line certainly wasn’t perfect on Saturday, but one of the most important developments was the obvious improvement in run blocking. This clip starts off looking like a little bit of a mess, but as it unfolds, Josh Knipfel delivers an excellent seal block to create the hole for Sheldon Croney, who gets to follow not one, not two, not three, but FOUR second-level blockers on the way to a really nice gain. This play probably could have turned into a touchdown with a slightly faster ball-carrier and Pettway properly blocking the cornerback instead of the safety.
After a couple years of David Montgomery turning a TFL into four yards through some sort of dark magic, it was strange watching the running backs not take advantage of running space that DM only dreamed of. In the end, running backs not taking advantage of all available space is a much better problem to have than the line not getting any push.
Unsurprisingly, the veteran Sheldon Croney (who Matt Campbell was perfectly happy to lean on in crunch time after not seeing much action during the meat of the game) was the best at finding space, but Johnnie Lang and Breece Hall will improve as they rack up carries. Worth noting: on his few carries before leaving with a minor shoulder injury, Kene Nwangwu did a good job of utilizing his run blocking to maximize the length of his runs.
Utilizing the Tight Ends
We’ve been hearing about an increased role for the tight ends for approximately the last 200 years, but it does seem as though they’ve finally been schemed into the offense. Here’s an excellent example of using the athleticism and skill of the tight ends on a delayed seam route.
That pass is virtually impossible to defend outside of the safety hitting the tight end right as he catches the ball to hopefully jar it loose. This play design could easily be modified to include a Brock Purdy roll out to the right and the tight end turning this seam route into a 10-12 yard out route.
Creating Pressure With Limited Numbers
The defense was so good against UNI that there’s really not a lot to discuss, but this play is worth taking a look at. The first thing you’ll notice is Will McDonald coming clean off the edge like an absolute cannonball before narrowly missing the tackle. McDonald’s clean run at the quarterback is due to the respect teams are forced to give the 3-man front, as they draw the attention of all five lineman. Unfortunately, JaQuan Bailey overpursues and loses contain, allowing the quarterback just enough room to scramble out of the pocket in the only direction that helps him escape the pass rush.
Should Will McDonald have made the tackle? Absolutely, but if Bailey doesn’t over pursue, McElvain is forced to stay in the pocket a bit longer, or attempt to escape in a direction that keeps him directly in the defensive end’s line of fire. Fortunately, Bailey’s overpursuit is easily addressed in the film room. McDonald’s issue is mainly just a matter of maturity and experience. Odds are high that he won’t make the mistake again.