Hey, everyone! For the first time in the Matt Campbell era, Iowa State is 3-0 heading into conference play with a big matchup with the Baylor Bears slated for this Saturday. In the third of those three wins, the Cyclones posted a comfortable win, but one that was not without a fair share of teachable moments.
A couple things I want to mention that didn’t quite make the clips for this week.
- Colby Reeder was outstanding once again this week. It’s impressive to see how quickly he’s meshed with the defense. He tallied another interception last weekend after perfectly reading a quick slant, and can be seen adjusting his teammates that are out of alignment. He’s been a huge asset for a defense that’s making transitions from seasoned veterans to younger players at a few different positions.
- I think both Myles Purchase and TJ Tampa are progressing nicely and haven't been the weak spot some thought that position would be with Anthony Johnson moving back to safety. Both have been solid tacklers and formidable in man coverage even against taller receivers and TEs. However, Big 12 play will be the real test for the young duo.
- You’ll notice that almost all of my clips are from the first half. The starters basically didn’t play the fourth quarter and the third quarter felt like they took their foot off the gas in a blowout game, so I don’t know how much of either of those quarters is particularly indicative of what we’re going to see for the rest 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 effect 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.
Scheming the Third Receiver
On both Down the Pipe & Natty Lite and my various streams and things throughout the offseason, I pretty regularly talked about my hope that the offense would become more vertical with Hunter’s arm, but finding another receiver outside of X and (sort of) Jaylin was going to be crucial to this offense being efficient. Well, we’re still waiting for that third receiver, but so far the offense has essentially used its scheme as the third receiver. Here’s what I mean by that.
On this play we see a tight formation, with X in the left slot, Jirehl Brock out wide left, Easton Dean as a down tight end, Rus standing up right behind him, and Sean Shaw wide right. Before the play, Jirehl Brock is motioned into the backfield. This is an extremely common pre-snap motion for Iowa State as it’s used to potentially detect man or zone coverage and realign a couple of defenders to a more favorable position for the offense.
At the snap, Jirehl is in a position to take a handoff as a jet sweep, which all three linebackers are forced to respect. X is the known favorite target of the offense, so his corner draws the attention of a couple defenders. That leaves Jared Rus, whose first motion looks like he’s picking up the defensive end that’s charged with reading the option, but he instead heads to the flat, which has been vacated by the linebackers sticking with Brock on his jet action and Xavier’s corner route.
Rus doesn’t pick up a ton of yards, but Ohio actually recovered pretty well to track him down, and a faster player could gain some significant yardage on this if a defender bit just a little too hard on the jet action. This play should set up nicely for the future where Jirehl’s jet sweep, X’s corner route, a Dekkers keeper, Shaw’s backside post, and Dean’s skinny post could all be in play from the same exact look depending on what the defense does. This look can essentially be six different plays without changing formation, personnel, or pre-snap motion. As much as people like to complain about Tom Manning, this is some very intelligent play design.
This isn’t a particularly complex play design or anything, but there are a couple things worth pointing out here. First, let’s look at Hunter Dekkers and where he’s looking downfield. Right after the snap he immediately looks to his right at Shaw, making him the first read on this play. Second, Shaw is running a post, but his job is really to find the soft spot in the zone behind the DB covering the short out route and in front of the CB and safety in deep coverage. Shaw does exactly that, and Dekkers anticipates the cut to hit him wide open.
Smart routes and smart throws like these are a great way to scheme open guys that aren’t as naturally gifted route runners as Xavier Hutchinson.
Here’s another really neat play design that I think has the potential to be a big chunk play down the road for Iowa State. Jaylin starts on a pre-snap jet sweep action into a tight set by Iowa State, which scouting film will show typically as a run set. At the snap, Jaylin is essentially dead even with Rus and both immediately head to the flat on the left, which looks like two backside blockers for an inside zone run and baits the outside linebacker to the point of him stumbling trying to recover position.
Once again, a Xavier Hutchinson corner has cleared out two defenders away from the flat, leaving only a singular DB to cover both Jaylin Noel and Jared Rus. From there, the read is pretty easy for Dekkers: throw it to the guy the DB isn’t covering. On this occasion, it’s Rus, but in the future the DB could remember that play and try to jump that throw and pick it off, leaving Jaylin Noel open to turn the corner and head upfield with only two defenders to beat and X ready to block one of them.
On this look, we see Jaylin Noel motion into the backfield as part of a split backfield with Jirehl Brock. Obviously, he isn’t staying there. Before the snap Noel, swings behind Dekkers out towards the flat on the right in an “orbit” motion. In the SEMO game, and many others before that, this orbit motion ended with a quick pass out to Noel in the flat where he can use his speed to turn the corner and/or beat a defender. Ohio has been watching film, and the single high safety crashes to the flat to cover Jaylin.
This means, that there’s no help over the top down the middle of the field, which the middle linebacker is apparently unaware of, because he passes DaShawn Hanika off as if he thinks he has help over the top. Hanika finds himself wide open deep downfield, and Dekkers hits him in stride for a big gain. If not for the corner playing a deep zone, Hanika may have picked up a lot more yardage or even a touchdown.
That completion was driven by the pre-snap motion from Jaylin, which is so commonplace in Iowa State’s scheme that it forces the defense to account for it, even if it’s just a decoy route like it was here.
Upper and Lower Dekkers
As mentioned last week, we’re probably going to see at least a short section on Dekkers most weeks as we track his progress throughout the season.
Last week, I showed a couple plays where Dekkers was a little too quick to go to his checkdown option. It’s a thing that lots of young quarterbacks do, so he’ll most likely grow out of it, but we’re tracking his progress, and this is part of that path of progression.
On this play we have X lined up outside with Jaylin lined up off the right hip of the right tackle, which is a spot we typically see a TE/H-back. X and Jaylin run a route combo that’s typically called “spacing” (yes, I realize it’s a boring name), which is the outside receiver(s) running a hitch route while the slot runs a flat route.
This is designed to clear up space for the flat route to catch the ball and turn upfield for yards after the catch. This route combo isn’t typically a big-hitter, but it’s a good way to pick up a guaranteed 3-5+ yards as long as the second DB doesn’t jump the flat route and take it to the house. X’s hitch route acts as a sort of “rub route,” which basically just means he “incidentally” got in the way of the defender trying to cover Noel.
The Ohio defensive line’s twist created a little bit of extra visual chaos for the QB, and once he didn’t see X open on the hitch route, he quickly turned to dump it to Eli Sanders, but missed the throw for an incompletion. However, all he had to do was take a look at Jaylin right next to X on that side of the field and see that he probably had a free 8-10 yards with a well-delivered ball. Ideally, Hunter will get better at diagnosing pressure and developing a feel in the pocket, but it’s still something he needs to improve on right now.
We get a rare elevated camera view from behind the quarterback (which is probably the closest thing to all-22 footage this website will ever see) for this touchdown throw to DaShawn Hanika. This throw is pretty much a classic “NO NO NO NO NO OH YEAH” throw from Dekkers, who slings an absolute missile to Hanika, who found himself open on a post route after beating the linebacker at the break.
However, we can see that the ball was slightly tipped by the Ohio linebacker before it fortunately landed in the hand of Hanika. Some credit does have to be given to Dekkers for progressing through his reads to find the backside post in the first place, but in the process you’d probably be safe in assuming he either didn’t see the linebacker, or is extremely confident in his own ability to thread that needle. Either way, he got a little lucky and it worked out.
So what could he have done differently? You’ll notice that on nearly the exact same throw path, Jaylin Noel is sitting about ten yards downfield, at least five yards from the nearest defender, and has a great chance at turning to his right and scoring after the catch. I love the aggressiveness and confidence from Hunter to find Hanika on that route, but he’s not always going to get away with that throw against more athletic and talented linebackers.
I could have probably found another section to stick this play in, but I’ll leave it in Hunter’s section because the read option is entirely his. In short, this is a read option executed to absolute perfection by basically the entire offense.
Hunter’s read for this is the standing DE on the left side. If he crashes in to pick up Jirehl on a handoff, Dekkers keeps it. If he stays home on the edge, Hunter hands it off to Brock. Simple as that. The entire offensive line crashes to the right and Easton Dean pulls over to pickup a backside blocker, which helps sell the handoff. The defensive end commits to the running back, so Dekkers keeps it and runs through a pile of daylight for a very easy 12 yards. This is exactly how you get a guy like Hunter involved in the run game in a way that utilizes his athleticism to the greatest extent.
Here’s a nice display of patience and touch from Hunter. It sort of ends in another nail-biting throw, but the touch he puts on the pass to just lob it out of the linebacker’s reach to the wide receiver without leaving him out to dry like a higher pass would is a sign of maturity beyond his experience.
Up to this point in the season, the Iowa State defense doesn’t seem to have really lost a step at all, despite losing a bunch of longtime starters and All-Americans all over the defense. Having veterans like O’Rien Vance and Anthony Johnson back to help solidify the scheme on the field is critical, but Iowa State is also seeing a somewhat uncommon number of tremendous individual playmaking, which has led to an uptick in turnover generation so far.
Once again, TJ Tampa and Myles Purchase were both excellent in coverage, and once again we saw TJ Tampa show why he’s earned that starting spot. On this play, Tampa is lined up in man coverage on Ohio’s best receiver, who is running a go/fly/9/whatever you want to call it route. TJ does a nice job disrupting timing on the route by jamming the receiver a bit about ten yards downfield, but the most impressive part is his ability to then use his athleticism and technique to essentially stay with the receiver stride for stride. If that pass is anything other than absolutely perfect, it’s either an incompletion or an interception, which are essentially the exact circumstances a cornerback is supposed to create on any given pass.
Perfect offense always beats perfect defense, but perfect defense will punish anything which is imperfect, which is what TJ Tampa did here.
Congratulations are in order for Anthony Johnson, as he registered his first career interception on this play. Now, it should be noted that the prior dearth of interceptions in his career was not due to any lack of ability, but rather a lack of willingness from opposing quarterbacks to even throw in his direction.
However, it’s clear to see that Ant is enjoying himself at safety, as we’ve seen him all over the field playing much more aggressively than we’ve seen him play in the past. Here he does a nice job picking up the slot WR, which running a sort of delayed fade route. It’s impossible to know with absolute certainty, but it does appear as though he may have even baited the QB into throwing this pass. Regardless, the QB underthrew it a bit, and Ant made a spectacular play.
Not a lot to break down here, but I wanted to give some recognition to Will McDonald getting his first sack of the season in classic Will McDonald fashion: as a standup DE and by absolutely torching the right tackle around the outside and getting to the QB despite being held.
Will McGlaughlin just blasted that dude. That’s all I have to say about that.
The Back-to-Back Sacks
I got a request to specifically review the two blown plays that resulted in long sacks on back-to-back plays so let’s take a quick look.
This one is pretty cut and dry. Easton Dean and Jared Rus absolutely whiffed on their blocks. As a converted quarterback, one might give Dean some slack here, but Rus has no excuse. He just got burnt and that’s pretty much it. The play was dead as soon as Ohio’s #20 planted his left foot and cut to the right.
This one is the second of the blown plays, and is a little more interesting to take a look at. In the postgame locker room show, Trevor Downing specifically mentioned that they knew coming into this game that Ohio likes to run stunts with their defensive tackles and defensive ends to create some confusion. At times they handled it well, but they did not on this play.
Tyler Miller picks up the defensive end while Jarrod Hufford tries picking up the tackle. However, the stunt creates some confusion which causes Miller to push the end directly into Hufford, who is now parallel to the QB, a very poor position to be in when trying to stop someone from getting to said quarterback. Miller is able to pick up the stunting tackle, but by the time that happens Hufford is already trying to figure out what meal he needs to by Hunter after this game.
Overall, the offensive line performance was up and down, as it has been all season, but there are some very clear places where improvement is needed. I think we’ll get a much better idea of the state of the offensive line after a matchup with a talented Baylor front this weekend.