Welcome back to the Film Room, everyone. After having to take last week off due to an illness, I’m back this week to talk about Iowa State’s loss to Kansas last Saturday. A loss that not only put Iowa State at 0-2 in conference play heading into a difficult three-game stretch but likely forced many Cyclone fans to completely readjust expectations for the 2022 season given how poorly both the offense and special teams played.
A couple of things I wanted to mention that didn’t make the clips:
- Jarrod Hufford had some really nice moments last weekend that I think bode well going forward. On multiple occasions he did a really nice job sealing off his blocker in the running game, leading to a few good runs (which was most of them). In contrast, Trevor Downing had easily his worst game of the season last weekend and probably one of his worst as a Cyclone. The few stunts Kansas ran gave Downing and right guard Darrell Simmons (who has been pretty poor himself to begin the season). Ohio exposed that flaw in the offensive line and both Baylor and Kansas took advantage of it.
- Special teams were extremely poor again last week. Obviously the three-missed field goals are bad, but KU also tallied up a long kick return to give themselves good field position and Beau Freyler committed a very stupid kick-catch interference penalty on a punt return. Jaylin Noel also muffed a punt, but after watching the tape, it looked like the top of the stadium was creating some difficult shadows that likely made it really difficult for Jaylin to see, so I’ll give him a pass for that one since he’s been otherwise very reliable as a punt returner.
- I have no idea what the psyche of a true freshman kicker looks like after missing three of four attempts in a game, including a game-tying field goal that put the final nail in the coffin. I don’t even know if Jace Gilbert will be the guy on Saturday. If he is, hopefully he’s ready to go. If not, then it will almost certainly be someone else going forward if it isn’t already. Either way, it’s a messy situation.
- Xavier Hutchinson is one of the best receivers in college football, but he made two critical mistakes last weekend that cost his team. First was the dropped touchdown catch, which was a difficult play to make, but one that I think virtually everyone, especially Xavier himself, thinks he should have made. That catch alone would have been enough to tie the game or take the lead. The other was a critical third down play in which he made a wide open catch on a crossing route with room to run, but instead of cutting upfield he tried to break down the defender which was unsuccessful and ended in 4th & 1. As a veteran, Xavier absolutely has to make the right play there and cut upfied and get past the marker.
- I’m not trying to pick on Gerry Vaughn too much, but he struggle again last week with pursuit angles and biting on to run fakes way too often. Right now, he’s the weakest link in the Cyclone defense, and a potential target for Kansas State to run at this coming weekend.
For the Film Room, I typically try to avoid analyzing the entire game, and I will largely do that here, but I will be bringing up a few situations that did have an impact on the game as a whole because I feel like they are necessary pieces to the overall discussion.
Also, if you aren’t already in our Discord server, I’d highly recommend joining. Every Monday night at 6 PM I host a sort of group discussion while I rewatch the game to find clips for this article. People can ask questions and point stuff out they see that I might miss. It’s a lot of fun and fosters some great discussion as we all learn together.
Jeremiah Cooper’s Progression at Safety
Let’s start off with something positive. True freshman safety Jeremiah Cooper has seen quite a spike in playing time over the last couple of games, so I wanted to show a play that highlight what I believe to be a really promising start to his career.
I didn’t clip all of his good plays, but I think this one is emblematic of what Cooper is doing really well so far early in his career. If you keep an eye on 19, you’ll see a young player that’s got his eyes in the backfield on a run play that’s able to get the running back out to the edge. Cooper comes up and makes a really nice open-field tackle that likely saved a touchdown. Jeremiah took a really nice pursuit angle here and didn’t try to be over-aggressive and shoot a gap, which can leave you exposed if you miss. Great play by the freshman.
Oh, the short crossing routes. One of what felt like a thousand just like it, this play features Xavier Hutchinson, one of the best route runners and overall receivers in college football running a one-yard drag route across the field with Deon Silas running a “Texas” (angle) route out of the backfield. The crossing action of these two routes creates conflict for the middle linebacker. The linebacker sticks to Silas, leaving X wide open in the middle of the field with nobody even in the camera frame capable of getting in his way.
However, Hunter panics and throws a pass at Silas without any semblance of touch, sending the pass to fall harmlessly to the ground and leave the Cyclones with 3rd and long. Frankly, this is a really bad missed read and throw by Hunter on this play. He needs to maintain enough composure in the pocket to at least make simple reads like this. His pocket presence has been very poor to start the season, and it needs to improve immediately.
I suppose this play is probably less of a mental miscue and more of an “absolutely gave up and nearly screwed your team over” type of mistake. We’re in the 3rd quarter and Iowa State is threatening to score and take a lead. The Cyclones line up Sean Shaw wide left and find him in single coverage on a go route. As Shaw heads downfield, Dekkers is looking at him all the way and lobs a good (but not perfect) ball to the 6’6” receiver, who only needs to win a jump ball against a much shorter corner. However, Shaw turns in the above effort.
Shaw’s “play” here is quite poor, neglecting to either make a play on the ball to catch it himself or defend the pass from being intercepted. If not for a review that luckily overturned an otherwise incredible play, Shaw’s poor effort here would have cost his team a scoring opportunity.
Some Good Offense
The game began with two consecutive WR screens. The first one, shown here, picks up a decent gain after the KU defense bites hard on the run, leaving Jaylin Noel with some space to pick up yards after the catch behind a very good block by Xavier Hutchinson. The read here to send it out to Jaylin is made during the pre-snap motion when Noel coming across the formation causes very little realignment by the defense, indicating some form of pressure. It’s a pretty simple look that Iowa State runs a lot, especially to set up running plays.
While not a perfect recreation of the same look, with Jaylin taking an “orbit” motion behind the quarterback rather than a “jet” motion in front of him, it’s a very similar pre-snap look to the screen a few plays earlier. This time, the motion causes the entire linebacker group to shift to the short side of the field to pick up Noel since Iowa State likes to throw that screen pass and did so just a few plays ago.
However, this was likely never going to be a pass unless Kansas brought heavy pressure to stop the run again, as we can see Trevor Downing pull from his center spot to the right to create an off-tackle lane for Jirehl Brock to run through, which he does successfully for a nice gain.
Here’s a legitimately very interesting play design that I think was a neat wrinkle to throw in to an otherwise monotonous and easy-to-read offensive scheme. We start with Sean Shaw lined up left in the slot and Dimitri Stanley out wide to the right with Jared Rus off-tackle on the right and Jaylin Noel in the H-back spot on the left.
Immediately after the snap, the offensive line crashes left with Shaw blocking the linebacker to create an edge, which he and Tyler Miller do quite successfully. However, on the right side, the linebackers have bit in to play the read option between Dekkers and Silas, unable to see Jaylin Noel sprinting to the flat on the right until they’re already out of position. Dekkers pulls it back and delivers a nice touch pass to Jaylin, who has at least ten yards of space in front of him, as well as Stanley doing a solid job blocking downfield. Some simple misdirection on this split-zone slip RPO created a twenty-yard gain.
HOLY COW A DEEP PASS WORKED WHO COULD HAVE GUESSED WOW THAT IS REALLY UNUSUAL THOSE HAVE DEFINITELY NOT WORKED MULTIPLE TIMES THIS SEASON I AM BOTH SHOCKED AND APPALLED
This is a classic TE seam route that Iowa State loved to run for Chase Allen. Why they’ve almost completely ignored this so far this season is beyond me.
Some Smooth-Brained Offense
I can’t tell you how much I hate this play design. First, Iowa State is lined up in 12 personnel with both receivers set very wide to the wide side of the field. That doesn’t mean this can’t be a successful formation, but it certainly takes away some option when your two pass-catchers are set so wide.
The action starts with pre-snap motion by Stanley to switch up the WR stack. This switches the corner on to X, who will have to contend with press-man coverage. After the snap (and useless run fake), X runs a sort of wheel/go hybrid route to the outside, while Dimitri Stanley appears to be running a post route, but it’s hard to tell without the all-22 footage. The only other receiving option is Eli Sanders who is heading to the flat on the wide side of the field. Neither tight end runs a route.
First, none of these routes really interact with each other at all to create space for either themselves or another receiver. You’re just asking the receivers to get open on their own against a defense that has two extra defenders that no longer have to worry about covering a tight end. That’s dumb.
Second, all three routes on this play are very long developing routes. Based on Hunter’s eyes, X is apparently the primary read, which is insane considering how long that throw is across the field. No matter which option you choose, all of which are toward the sideline on the wide of the field away from the QB, any completion will have to come at the end of a very long, very accurate throw that’s just asking to be defended or picked off. That’s dumb.
However, the final nail in this coffin is delivered by how long these routes take to develop, as the line fails to block the DT, who busts through Hufford and a chip from Tyler Miller to make the sack. That said, they would have had to block for an eternity to make this work, so this play was pretty much destined to fail from the beginning.
- I wasn’t going to clip all of them, but Iowa State ran approximately 42.7 trillion shallow crossing routes with Xavier Hutchinson and other assorted receivers throughout the game. I shouldn’t have to explain why running the exact same thing over and over again is a bad idea. However, it’s especially infuriating when some of those calls came on down and distance situations that absolutely did not call for those route combos.
Ah, yes, the pièce de résistance. A play that has caused quite the hubbub on social media the past few days. Here Iowa State is on 3rd and 12 at the opponent 48-yard line, down three points. The Cyclones desperately want to score here to at least tie the game, if not take the outright lead.
So what does Tom Manning dial up for this situation? ISU is set up in 11 personnel, with Easton Dean split left and Dimitri out wide, Xavier Hutchinson and Jaylin Noel out wide to the right. After the snap, every single Cyclone receiver makes a break within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage.
On 3rd and 12 at a critical juncture in the game, Tom Manning called a play that did not have a single built-in opportunity to pick up the first down on the catch. When I posted this clip on Twitter, the most common rebuttal I received was “it was four-down territory and they want to cut the yards to gain in half and go for it on fourth.”
I’m here to tell you that even that doesn’t excuse this play call.
First, I would argue that this play and a play that has at least one route beyond the sticks have the exact same floor, an incompletion, but only the latter has a ceiling that includes a first down, which is desperately needed. The ceiling goes up without a significant decrease in the likelihood of a completion.
However, let’s pretend for a moment that cutting the yardage in half on third down was absolutely the best option. Even in that case, using Stanley’s and Dean’s routes in tandem to create space is objectively more beneficial than Easton Dean running a five-yard hitch while Dimitri Stanley leisurely jogs a similar route on the far sideline.
How can we do this? Well, a number of different ways, but there are two immediately obvious solutions. The first option is to send Dean on a seam route straight through the middle of the Cover 4 the Jayhawks sat in for most of the second half while Dimitri Stanley runs a slant route underneath. The middle linebacker will have to choose one, so Hunter simply has to make that read. Even if you have no intention of ever hitting the seam route, that decision placed on the linebacker’s shoulders will free up extra space for the slant route more times than not.
Alternatively, you can get a similar outcome by swapping their roles. Send Stanley on a post route to the soft spot in the zone and let Easton Dean run that five-yard hitch route. If the MLB isn’t paying attention, you should have Stanley wide open in the middle of the field for a first down. If he drops back to cover Stanley, then you have Dean wide open underneath who can make the catch and turn and likely gain 8-10 yards. Even that 4th and 2ish is a much better outcome than the 4th and 7th this play would have likely peaked at.
Simply put, the play called by Tom Manning is “playing not to lose,” a philosophy that has repeatedly burned Iowa State in close game situations throughout the Matt Campbell tenure.