Hey, everybody! I’m pleased to reintroduce the Film Room to our weekly football season content. I wanted to do it last season, but unfortunately was unable to find the time to put it together on a consistent basis. However, we’re back and will be every single week of this football season.
I didn’t do a Film Room after SEMO for one big reason in particular: the team just isn’t going to show much schematically, and it was against such a weak opponent that’s hard to gauge stuff like the offensive and defensive lines against a significantly inferior opponent. I also wanted to give the team a second week to at least compile some more data points that we can analyze.
A couple things I want to point out that I didn’t have room for in this article, but thought was important to mention:
- O’Rien Vance at 260 pounds is a different player than he has been in the past, but I think it will benefit both his ability to stay healthy and provide a useful tool for the defense. Through the first few games, we’ve seen Vance often deployed near the line of scrimmage either as a run blocker or a stand-up pass rusher. I think these two roles are perfect for him at his current size and given the personnel at the other linebacker spots.
- Special teams was still bad. Yes, I understand that Iowa’s special teams are probably the best in college football, but Saturday’s performance was unacceptable. Not only did two punts get blocked (well, the first was a shank that hit an Iowa player’s helmet), but even the made field goal to open Iowa State’ scoring was super ugly. I’ll chalk this one up as nerves for young specialists Tyler Perkins and Jace Gilbert, but this whole thing has to improve from top to bottom.
- Colby Reeder has been as advertised up to this point. He’s been flying around the field and came up with an interception and a sack last Saturday. We were hoping he’d be essentially a plug and play for Mike Rose, and that has largely been the case so far.
- Myles Purchase has been really solid thus far in the season. On three consecutive plays he successfully defended a pass, got called for a terrible pass interference call, then proceeded to make up for that call that shouldn’t have happened by making a stop for minimal gain on an inside run play. He and his running mate, TJ Tampa (who I’ll talk about later in this article) are beginning to form a formidable duo at the CB spots.
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.
The Growth of Hunter Dekkers
To be completely honest, you can probably expect to see a section on Hunter most weeks. Not only his he a new quarterback after such a long stint with Brock Purdy at the helm, but he’s an incredibly exciting talent, and watching his growth will likely be very enjoyable.
In week one against SEMO, Hunter did about everything you could ask for, as he looked extremely comfortable (which he should, given how much time he had to throw), and made a ton of really good smart throws. However, SEMO isn’t exactly a challenging defense, so it’s hard to gauge his progress from the first game. Obviously, Iowa provided a much steeper challenge for him.
As many young quarterbacks do, Hunter has found his checkdowns frequently through his first two starts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as that’s typically the “safe” option and is most likely the lowest turnover potential of any of his receiving options. However, an over-reliance on checkdown options or a tendency to default to them too quickly can lead to some missed opportunities.
On this 3rd and 2 early in the game, we see Jirehl Brock and Jared Rus lined up in the backfield with Xavier Hutchinson on the right side and Jaylin Noel and Dimitri Stanley on the left.
Iowa is only bringing four rushers, and Iowa State’s line is giving him a good pocket to throw from. Dekkers’ two reads on this play are either X on a hitch route at the sticks, or Jirehl Brock out on the flat. Which one he takes is dependent on the linebacker, which is #3 Cooper DeJean on this play. During his three step drop, we can see him watching the LB come over to meet X on his route. Hunter sees this, turns to Jirehl Brock, plants his foot and fires. The problem is that Cooper DeJean was never covering X, but had instead pursued Brock to the flat and made the tackle to prevent the first down, leaving X wide open beyond the sticks on his hitch route.
This is something Hunter will most certainly see on film, but on that play he was just a bit too impatient and took his first safe option rather than the one he need to keep the drive alive.
Here we see a similar scenario, but this time on 2nd and Goal. Iowa rushes four, and the offensive line is doing a pretty solid job. Iowa State’s two best receiving targets, X and Jaylin Noel, are running post routes on the right side, drawing the attention no less the four Hawkeye defenders, while Easton Dean runs a drag route from the left slot. Jirehl Brock is set up on a delayed route to the flat to the left.
While Hunter did miss an easy throw here (which he’s probably made perfectly about a thousand times in practice), his biggest mistake here is not seeing Easton Dean on the drag route, who didn’t have a single defender within five yards of him. #44 was turned completely in the wrong direction, making an out of position Jack Campbell the only thing standing between Dean and the endzone.
To be clear, Jirehl Brock wasn’t not open, but he was most certainly a worse option on this play than Dean. Hunter simply felt the pressure a little too early and dumped it to someone he clearly feels extremely comfortable using as a safety valve.
Here’s another example of some inexperience Hunter is going to have to learn from. Iowa’s three linebackers are giving off some pretty significant tells early in the pre-snap sequence that they’re blitzing. Iowa’s defense already blitzes more than most teams Iowa State plays, plus they’re trying to rattle a young QB playing in his first road game as a starter
That’s a situation where he needs to see that blitz and make a pre-snap adjustment. I don’t know what sort of freedom the staff gives Hunter at this point in time in the way of changing plays or protections, but that’s a tool that would have been useful in this situation.
Now this is the Hunter Dekkers you came to see, and the one we saw some of in week one. Iowa brings five, but Jirehl Brock does a really nice job picking up the extra pass rusher to give Dekkers time to find a receiver. Since we don’t have the All-22 film available, I can’t tell exactly what Jaylin Noel and X are running on the near side, but it does appear as though Hunter’s first two reads are there.
In the frame, we can see that the Iowa secondary has them covered up pretty early, and Hunter does a really nice job going away from those and progressing to his third and fourth read.
He sees Aidan Bitter running a comeback on the sideline and delivers an absolutely perfect throw to the receiver slightly behind him and to his back shoulder. Bitter makes a magnificent catch on the sideline to reward his QB. That throw and catch was completely undefendable. That throw was from the opposite hash and about 15 yards downfield, which is a very long throw to hit with that type of accuracy.
So how do we follow up that throw to Aidan Bitter? How about by tossing another dime to your favorite target and one of the best receivers in college football?
Iowa State lines up in a tight, heavy formation, which the Iowa defense counters by stacking the box in order to stop the run, which typically does out of this type of set. However, the Cyclones have lined up Xavier Hutchinson wide to the left, and Iowa has left Riley Moss on an island alone to guard him with no help overtop.
Hunter does an excellent job recognizing this, and before Xavier is even ten yards downfield, he’s winding up. For as many interceptions as Riley Moss had last season, part of that was also due to the fact that tends to gamble a bit and can be caught out of position.
While not completely out of position, he’s positioned to the inside of Hutchinson on the go route, Dekkers fired this ball with a perfect amount of touch to X’s outside shoulder, essentially completely removing Moss from the play. Xavier does an excellent job adjusting to the ball in the air, and it goes for a long completion.
That’s a particularly impressive throw because it shows a level of wisdom to not just throw it up to your best receiver, but to throw it precisely in a place where he and only he can catch it. That’s a very impressive throw from Hunter.
This isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking read by Hunter, but it does show what sort of gravity Xavier Hutchinson has and how Iowa State is using that to its advantage. We’re on third and three and Jaylin Noel is lined up in the slot to the right with Xavier out wide to the same side. Hutchinson is running a backside post, while Jaylin is running a delayed dig-route that starts on an angle. This times his route up so the he and X are almost dead even with each other as they cross the field.
This route combo forces the linebacker to make a decision. Either step back and cover the deep post, or step forward and cover the dig route. Since X is running the post and he’s already seen a good chunk of targets in the game by this point, the LB not only shades back, but completely turns around to pick up X as he hits the break in his route. Hunter recognizes that and hits Jaylin for an easy first down.
As I said, this isn’t complicated or revolutionary stuff, but a scheme built to take advantage of your best players and to allow your QB to be successful can go a long way against even the best defenses.
Obviously, I’m going to talk about that 99-yard drive. While most of the drive was just a lot of well-orchestrated dink and dunk and a few helpful penalties, the final throw from Dekkers to X was sort of a perfect encapsulation of the themes we talked about earlier. Hunter trusts X to make literally any catch that’s put in front of him.
Hunter recognizes the blitz and recognizes that X is once again in single coverage on poor Riley Moss. Hunter fires a nice touch pass behind Xavier and to his outside shoulder once again. Fortunately, Moss, basically removes himself from the play by tripping, but I’m not sure he was ever going to be able to make a play on this pass anyways. Just a great pass and catch made by a talented QB and his talented WR.
What I really want to stress in this review of Hunter Dekkers is that while he’s definitely still learning and is doing some of the things we expect young QBs to do (like make the occasional bad read or get a little jittery), we also saw him take great strides throughout the game and go from looking rushed and timid in the first half to conducting a beautiful 99-yard, game-winning drive with the deck stacked against him. It was easy to see that Hunter became visibly more comfortable as the game went on and as he realized that he had has the talent and the receivers to really impose their will in the passing game against most defenses.
Quite literally, it only gets easier from here as far as the defenses he’ll face. The Big 12 has some really solid defenses nowadays, but none are as good as Iowa’s, and even if the final point total doesn’t show it, Hunter made some really great strides last weekend.
The Emergence of TJ Tampa
I mentioned Myles Purchase earlier, who is having a very solid start to the season himself, but I really want to spotlight TJ Tampa here, because he made a handful of fantastic plays last Saturday that came at critical junctures in the game.
As halftime approached and Iowa was in a 3rd and 8, a defensive stop was going to give the good guys a minute-and-a-half to go get some points before halftime (spoiler alert: they did not), but TJ Tampa made an excellent play here. The Iowa receiver actually gave Tampa a little push as he made his break on the dig route, but TJ made a quick recovery, and was able to get back to the receiver in time to jump up and deflect the ball directly into the hands of Colby Reeder, setting up the Cyclones to begin their 90-second drill in the redzone. Had the offense been able to capitalize here, this might have been the game-winning touchdown.
Nothing to ramble on and on about here. It’s just TJ Tampa making a great read on the bubble screen and blowing it up at the line of scrimmage to force a 3rd and 13 for the Iowa offense.
I’m convinced that after that deflection-turned-interception TJ gifted the offense at the end of the first half went to waste, he just said to the offense “No worries, I’ll get you another one.” And get them another one he did.
With Iowa threatening to open up what would have felt like an insurmountable two-score lead, TJ Tampa made the play of the day and punched the ball out of Monte Pottebaum’s arms just before the goal line, leading to an Iowa State recovery and setting up the now legendary 99-yard touchdown drive that proved to be the game winner.
Even after the Cyclones found the endzone and took their 10-7 lead, the game wasn’t done yet, and neither was TJ. On 3rd and 10, TJ was tasked with covering Sam LaPorta, a much larger person than TJ is, and Spencer Petras’ favorite thing to hurl footballs in the general direction of. TJ took on that task and absolutely smothered the talented tight end, deflecting the pass and forcing an Iowa punt. While the offense didn’t quite seal the deal and let this be the snuffing-out of Iowa’s hopes that it should have been, that’s not TJ’s fault.
All he did was make winning plays all day.
His development into an X-factor on the defensive side of the ball could be a massive boost for the Cyclone defense. His propensity for creating turnovers could be the turbo boost Heacock’s group has always needed to truly ascend to the elite level.
The Offensive Line Might Be...Good?
Analysis by Tom Manning’s Burner
On this run to Jirehl Brock in the first quarter, you see Downing and Simmons combine to open up a lane right up the middle. Iowa doesn’t play a DL over the center here in hopes of freeing up Jack Campbell to come down and take care of him but Downing does a fantastic job of driving the DL right into Campbell so he isn’t able to get to Brock and essentially blocked 2 guys at once.
Here we see another great job by Downing and Simmons. On this one they both pull left and give Brock a lane to run through on the right side with Dean and Rus combining to take care of the guys coming off the right side edge and Brock isn’t even touched here until he gets 4+ yards and a first down.
Iowa State again runs to the right side between Simmons and Downing with Iowa again not lining up a DL over the center, this allows Downing to immediately get to the 2nd level and block Campbell from coming up and making the tackle and allows Brock to get 11 yards and a first down.
This play might not result in much yardage but is one of the biggest plays of the game as it came on 3rd down during the beginning of Iowa State’s 12 minute 21 play drive to win the game. Here they run right and have Zach Ross who’s playing right tackle here collapse left which leaves a good gap for Brock to pick up 7 on 3rd and 2.
(Yes, this is the same clip from above. We’re just talking about a different part of it.)
Iowa sent heavy pressure most of the day at Dekkers, but throughout the game the OL continued to improve on picking it up. This one is also during the 99 yard drive Iowa State put together and here you see Tyler Miller at left tackle give Dekkers just enough time to step up in the pocket and deliver a strike over the middle to Noel to get the first down for Iowa State.
Overall, Iowa State’s offensive line was damn impressive vs a defensive line that is one of the best in the country. Especially during the 2nd half their ability to give Brock good holes to run through is something we haven’t yet seen in the Campbell era, especially vs. this caliber of talent on the other side.
Pass protection struggled early, but picked up over the course of the game once we started keeping running backs and tight ends in to help block. This is one good step for the offensive line, but we need to continue to see consistency down the line before being completely sold on the unit.