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Wide Right Film Room: TCU

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Let’s take a look at how Iowa State won this game.

After a long, cold offseason and a couple weeks spent avoiding rewatching the Louisiana game at all possible costs, the Wide Right Film Room makes its triumphant return this week to recap the win over TCU.

The offense this week was still far from perfect, but we did finally get a glimpse at a couple of the strengths of this team, and saw Brock Purdy, with the exception of one play in particular which will not be mentioned, return to his typically efficient self. More on that later.

There are a few things I wanted to mention that I didn’t have room to over in detail in this article:

  1. Isheem Young has been very impressive so far. Outside of a couple freshmen-type mistakes (one of which we’ll go over later), you can seem him regularly flying around the ball and delivering big hits on a somewhat frequent basis. He’ll need to learn to tame that aggression, but it’s easy to see why the coaching staff is so excited about him.
  2. We’re definitely going to talk about the offensive line, but special individual recognition should go to Darrell Simmons for stepping in and playing well in place of the injured Trevor Downing. The depth Iowa State is showing on the offensive line thus far is unlike anything we’ve seen up to this point in the Matt Campbell era. I’m guessing he’ll return to a backup role when Downing comes back, but seeing him play well was extremely encouraging.
  3. The defense finally created a couple turnovers. Turnovers can be somewhat random, but being in the right place at the right time is a skill, and for a defense that typically struggles to force any turnovers, seeing them actually force one (Bailey strip sack) and be in the right place for another (Rose interception) was encouraging. Let’s hope they can continue that going forward and start winning the turnover battle more often.
  4. Campbell sending Greg Eisworth back to receive punts tells me that they’re essentially completely removing the punt return game from the game plan. We’ve seen some really poor special teams to this point across the country due to the shortened practice schedule and teams likely pushing special teams practice to the side early on. This could be a temporary stop gap, but my money is that this is probably the solution we’ll see for most of the season.

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.

Let’s get to it.

Wide Receivers Making Plays

Against Louisiana, we saw Brock Purdy have probably the worst game of his career. Much of that falls on his own shoulders, but a decent chunk of that is also the responsibility of the receivers, who regularly struggled to get open and dropped more than a few passes. The TCU defense saw a much more effective effort from the receivers to help out the quarterback.

As mentioned, maybe the biggest issue for the receivers a couple weeks ago was simply getting open. The overall scheme this week was much better, and looked more organized in facing a TCU defense that’s very difficult to beat, but still a defense they’ve seen before (as opposed to UL’s man-to-man defense that threw the staff for a loop). However, here we can see a tangible improvement against man coverage.

This came right before the end of the half as Iowa State was beginning to seize some momentum, something the Cyclones have struggled with in the past. There’s nothing particularly fancy about this play, as Iowa State lines up in a trips left set, with Breece lined up on Purdy’s right hip, and Xavier Hutchinson to the far side of the field. TCU lines up in their signature 4-2-5, which often places their corners in pseudo-man coverage while safeties and linebackers patrol their zones and help when needed.

First, the offensive line does a really nice job setting a clean pocket for Brock to allow the time needed for this play to develop. The slot receiver, Daniel Jackson, runs a (albeit sloppy) stick route, though his route is more of a way to occupy a defender than any sort of primary read.

The tight end heads upfield on a seam route, which plays an important role in drawing the attention of the high safety. I’ll explain this in detail later, but here’s a great example of using the tight ends as decoys to open up other options.

All of this equates to Darren Wilson and Xavier Hutchinson being largely left alone on the outsides, though Hutchinson does have another high safety on his side of the field. Either way, Iowa State loves to throw to the overloaded side of the field.

To this point in his career, Wilson has largely been a non-factor, whether it be due to talent in front of him or him simply catching up to the Power 5 game. However, here he showcases why Matt Campbell brought him in. After a couple of timing steps, Wilson absolutely cooks his cornerback with a double move and catches a wide open pass in the endzone.

This play isn’t complex, but when Iowa State’s receivers can start winning individual matchups like this, the offense is significantly more dangerous.

The other major variable in the wide receiver equation is making big time grabs to create some explosion on offense, another of the many things Iowa State struggled with against Louisiana.

Here we see a pattern Iowa State likes to run quite a bit, and I’ll be sure to point it out more as we go through the season. This play has basically one real read, which is the deep man heading down the sideline on a go route. Chase Allen and Breece stay back in pass coverage to help create a durable pocket and allow time for this to develop.

The slot receiver, Daniel Jackson, slides into a bubble screen-type route and Brock Purdy pump fakes in his direction to draw the high safety down, and even occupy a linebacker’s attention as well.

After the pump fake, Brock heaves it deep to Joe Scates who has created a little bit of separation and given a place for his quarterback to put the ball. Brock underthrows it by a yard or two, but does place the ball to the inside, which forces the corner to have to turn around completely to cover the pass. He doesn’t get his head around quick enough to find the ball and close the distance to the throw, allowing Joe Scates a difficult, but largely uncontested opportunity for the catch.

We’ve seen Cyclone receivers drop this catch a thousand times before, but this time Scates makes a really impressive catch right at the end of the third quarter, which set Iowa State up to score a crucial touchdown late in the game.

This one is less of a receiver making a particularly good play, and more of a good teaching moment for you, the reader, on a common route combination that we’ll probably see more of this season. Pay attention to Landen Akers and Xavier Hutchinson lined up on the short side of the field. They’re going to run a route concept called Ohio, where the slot receiver runs a go route to grab the attention of both the high safety and the corner while the outside receivers runs an “in” route underneath the two defenders.

Fortunately for TCU, their other high safety was paying attention and came over to help, but if he had bit on Sean Shaw’s seam route, this play could have picked up a ton of yards, or possibly even gone all the way to the house.

Iowa State has a lot of good route runners on this squad, so keep an eye out for “Ohio” going forward.

Using the Tight Ends

As mentioned before, Iowa State has gotten a lot more creative with its tight ends over the past few seasons, and we saw some more of that last week after the group went almost completely silent against UL.

I didn’t catch the very beginning of this play so we could see the alignment, but Dylan Soehner was lined up in his H-back spot on the left side behind the tackle, which has been a tell for Iowa State running the ball in the past. TCU has completely bit on that run tendency, and has dedicated seven defenders to stop it.

This time, however, we see play action as Soehner squeezes between the two defenders he would ordinarily block, and leakers downfield uncovered. Brock hits him in stride and the 280 pound pass-catching goliath is free to scamper down the field for a relatively easy 15-yard gain.

It’s not always in this particular fashion, but we saw Iowa State take advantage of this concept a few times last season. To my memory, Iowa State scored at least three touchdowns doing exactly this last season alone. Soehner vs. Oklahoma, Kolar vs. Texas, and Chase Allen vs. TCU.

Another way they like to use the tight ends is as a decoy. Teams watching film can see pretty quickly how often the staff likes to scheme their tight ends into pass-catching situations, and how often Brock likes to find them. So, Iowa State uses them as points of “gravity,” much like the Warriors use Steph Curry to draw defenders away from their other offensive stars.

Here, Chase Allen is the only tight end on the field, but his seam route draws two defenders into the middle of the field, an outside linebacker and a high safety. Sean Shaw runs a similar route to the hash line to draw his corner back in to the middle of the field.

TCU picked an unfortunate time to blitz a linebacker, which left them without an extra defender to cover Landen Akers, who motioned from the left to right behind Allen, and simply leaked out into the flats, and caught the ball with about 15 yards between him and the nearest defender.

TCU’s aggressive defense leaves them vulnerable at times if they can’t get to the quarterback, and schemes like this are perfect for countering aggressive schemes. Against a team that lines their corners up in true zones, Sean Shaw could easily run a go route there instead of his seam route.

It would force the corner to either follow him deep (leaving Akers open underneath again, or force the safety to follow him deep, leaving the tight end open up the seam as he runs past the linebacker. Then, obviously if neither the corner nor safety cover him over the top, then he’s open down the sideline.

Bad Brock/Good Brock

As stated earlier, Brock had easily the worst game of his career against Louisiana. The scheme and receivers didn’t do him any favors, but many of his struggles were self-inflicted as he missed a bunch of reads and made a number of really poor decisions and throws. This week, aside from the play which will never be mentioned, Brock was actually very solid, after a couple early mistakes.

After what we saw a couple weeks ago, seeing this on one of the first drives of the game was extremely discouraging to the on-looking fan, as we appeared to be on track for a repeat performance.

Purdy was under a bit of pressure here as the nose tackle got by Darrell Simmons, but that doesn’t really excuse the very poor decisions by Brock here. If he truly was feeling the pressure, throwing it away isn’t a bad option. However, he completely misses Xavier Hutchinson, who beat his defender on the seam route and could have picked up a huge gain with a decent throw. Instead, Purdy chucks it further downfield to Landen Akers, who was open absolutely zero known standards.

He got away with it on this occasion, but Brock cannot keep throwing into double coverage if he wants to have success going forward.

Fortunately, that was the last time we really saw Brock make an objectively poor decision this game, as he seemed to finally start settling down and getting into a rhythm. Here, we have a tight end and receiver to the left and two receivers split wide right with Breece Hall on Purdy’s right hip in the backfield.

Iowa State runs a nice Mesh pattern here, with Akers and Hutchinson crossing each other about 6 yards downfield while Breece Hall leaks underneath to the flats on the left side. Brock first looks right to draw the safeties over to the wide side of the field, the sees the pressure on the right side of the line and slides left to buy himself some more time and let Akers beat his man on the crossing route. Then Brock makes a nice, accurate throw to pick up the first down on a nice gain.

If not for the pressure which forced him left, he could just as easily go the other direction to Hutchinson on his crossing route, which was wide open here.

This isn’t a particularly complex route scheme, but it does show how Brock is growing as a quarterback. We have an unbalanced set that Iowa State likes to run quite a bit, with two receivers split left and two down tight ends right with Breece Hall in the backfield.

On this play, the two tight ends and the running back are of little consequence, as they’re mainly decoys and/or safety valves in case things really start to collapse, though I would venture a guess that Brock would be more likely to pull it down and run if that were to happen unless one of those options was wide open.

It’s 3rd and 3, so Iowa State needs to get a first down. Sean Shaw is in the slot and Xavier Hutchinson is on the outside. Sean runs a skinny post to draw a defender away from the wide side of the field and Purdy’s primary read, which is Hutchinson’s in route. Again, TCU’s corner is in man coverage, so Hutch simply needs to create a little separation to make this work.

However, the most important cog in this play is the linebacker who’s sitting in a zone. If you blink you’ll miss it, but at the snap Brock immediately looks at Shaw, drawing the safety down and forcing the linebacker to hesitate in floating outside so as not to give up a throwing lane to the middle of the field.

Then, Brock quickly snaps over to Hutchinson whom is just making his cut to the inside. He then delivers a really nice ball into a tight window, allowing Hutch to make the catch and pick up the first down.

That’s the maturity and accuracy you look to see out of a seasoned veteran like Purdy.

There’s not a lot to talk about schematically here, but I just wanted to point out how nice it is to see Brock actually keeping it on read options again, something we saw him basically never do for most of the season while he was playing hurt. Him being a threat in the running game again gives Iowa State so many more options and makes them much more difficult to stop.

Errors in the Secondary

You didn’t think I’d skip this did you? The defense largely played a fairly solid game as a whole, but the secondary made some really key mental mistakes that allowed TCU to get far more chunk yardage than they should have. Fortunately, many of these can be fixed in the film room, and aren’t necessarily problems with personnel.

I didn’t catch the very beginning of the play, but I’m not sure I really need to here. When the video starts, approximately, one out of four receivers would be considered something less than “wide open.” Not only is basically nobody actually covered on this play, but TJ Tampa and Isheem Young both miss tackles on this play before the receiver is finally brought to the ground.

The entire secondary struggled at times, but Arnold Azunna had himself a particularly rough day. Here, TCU runs a simple (and unconvincing, in my opinion) play action, with two vertical routes on the short side of the field. Iowa State has to bite on these a little bit to make the run defense work in the three-down set, but Azunna, the high safety, bites hard and collapses a full three yards before realizing he done messed and and turns around in a panic as he sees a TCU receiver sprint past him.

Downing makes a nice throw and TCU gets an easy touchdown.

This is earlier in the game, but Arnold makes another mental error here. TCU is in a simple balanced set with two receivers split out to each side. On the right side, the far receiver is running a simple seam route while the slot receiver runs an underneath route that I’ve heard called a few different things, but Madden players will know it as a “zig” route.

DJ Miller comes down to help on the zig route, so Arnold Azunna is charged with helping on the vertical route. The receiver gets by the corner, which isn’t great, but Azunna is there to break it up, right? Wrong. He completely whiffs, and the receiver walks in for an easy touchdown.

I promise this is the last one. However, I did mention earlier that while Isheem Young has largely showed a lot of promise up to this point, he has made a few freshmen mistakes that have gotten him in trouble. On the play prior to this, Young made a really nice hit for a tackle and was probably pretty fired up.

Unfortunately, the secondary was a bit disorganized amid the hurry-up tempo TCU was playing, and responsibilities were not well defined, which is trouble for a young player. Isheem, in what appears to be a mental lapse sees the underneath route on right side, and immediately pursues to make a play. However, in doing so he abandoned his responsibility as the lid at the top of the defense, allowing the TCU receiver to scamper neatly upfield after Gerry Vaughn passes off his coverage responsibilities to what he thinks is a high safety.

I like Isheem’s nose for the ball and his drive to make big plays, but this is one of those times where we can see what areas he still needs to grow in.

Defensive Line Dominance

Alright, now the fun part. First off, congratulations to JaQuan Bailey on becoming Iowa State’s all time sack leader. On top of being an a milestone play in his career, it’s actually a really impressive example of the motor he plays with.

Bailey’s reemergence as an elite pass rusher has given the defensive line a huge boost, and made them arguably the single best unit on the roster up to this point. Nothing the fancy on this play. Just pure want-to. You absolutely love to see that out of your senior defensive end.

Did I mentioned JaQuan had a good game? Did I also mention that I was happy to see Iowa State forcing turnovers again? Well, you get the two-for-one special here, as JaQuan absolutely roasts the left tackle (a common theme you’ll see in all of these defensive line clips) and gets to the quarterback, strips the ball, and makes the recovery to give Iowa State an opportunity to capture some crucial momentum with another touchdown before the half.

I’ve seen a few people blame this fumble on the quarterback, but the more I watch this play, the more I’m convinced that it the quarterback didn’t really have much to do with the outcome. Should quarterbacks turn around and try to escape out the top of the pocket to their blind side? No. However, JaQuan hit him just a split second after he turned around to escape. I’m not convinced that the same thing wouldn’t have happened had he just stood tall in the pocket and taken the hit.

JaQuan was coming either way, and probably would have had an opportunity to strip the ball anyways. In my opinion, JaQuan deserves 100% of the credit here.

Not a lot of detail to break down here, but Enyi Uwazurike’s transition to more of a defensive tackle than a true defensive end has been a welcome development so far. He’s still showing a lot of the same pass rushing acumen we saw from him on the edge, but, as we can see here, he can be an extremely effective run stopper as well. Not very many guys are capable of making that arm tackle on a ball-carrier while fighting off a double team.

Will McDonald Appreciation Club

I’m not doing to break each of these clips down individually, but let’s all just take a couple minutes to appreciate the absolutely ridiculous speed with which Will McDonald gets off the line and rushes the passer. Granted, all three of these involved him absolutely abusing a left tackle that had a pretty rough day all around, but I’m not sure you could watch that and tell me many other left tackles would have fared much better.

Plays like these are why I’m convinced that Will McDonald would average two to three sacks per game if he weren’t being egregiously held on virtually every play.

NSFW Run Blocking

One thing that’s shown up consistently through the first two games is consistent push by the offensive line. Apologies for cutting off the beginning of the play, but we can see right at the beginning of the clip that the line and tight end have done a tremendous job of creating a hole to run through on the right side. Breece is a talented back, and when he gets running lanes like this, he can take it to the house.

Here the line does another excellent job getting push up front, which allows Dylan Soehner to take care of a second level defender and propel Breece past the first down marker.

On this play, instead of going off tackle and using a tight end as a lead blocker, the center, guard, tackle, and tight end do a nice job sealing off the A-gap (gap between the center and guard. Kene busts through and has only one man to beat between him and the endzone.

I’ve given Kene some flak in the past for not making people miss in the open field, especially on returns, but, to his credit, he did exactly that on this play and finally had a chance to open up his top gear, which is still very fast.

Same story, different play. Line does an excellent job creating room in the A-gap for Breece to run through, and all he has to do is stride out a long, game-sealing touchdown. If the offensive line can continue getting this kind of push throughout conference play, Iowa State might finally have a run game it can legitimately lean on without relying on the running back to make superhuman plays. What a sight that would be.