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Iowa State Film Review: 9-Win Defense, 3-Win Offense

Photo via: USA TODAY Sports

It’s fun putting these together while watching Saturday college football.

The Defense Might Really Be Good

San Jose State had some misconnections. USC did too. And then Iowa State did too. I’m still not entirely convinced that we won’t see some secondary meltdowns and some struggles against competent run games — especially of the 11 and 20 personnel variety — but at a certain point you have to think the defense is contributing to the offense’s mistakes. Pressure and confusion lead to hurried and off-balance throws; big hits lead to alligator arms. We’ll learn a ton about the run defense over these next two weeks, and about the pass defense in the second half of October.

Football Magnet

We’ll start with DeShon Elliott’s first interception.

Iowa State’s running a flood concept similar to stuff Tom Herman likes to run. You’d often see a designed QB rollout accompany a concept like this, but based on the protection I don’t think it was intentional this time. Texas is running a fire zone blitz. The right defensive end, Taquon Graham, spikes to the A gap, while linebacker Anthony Wheeler shoots into the B gap. The left side of Iowa State’s line is in man protection, so the stunt causes trouble for them, and Graham nearly comes free.

The defense does a great job rolling with Jacob Park. Malik Jefferson stays under the deep crosser. Naashon Hughes pushed the tight end down (twice), so the checkdown isn’t an option. This wasn’t a good throw, but it wasn’t going to be an easy completion anyway.

I had to watch Elliott’s second interception a few times to figure out what Texas was doing. No wonder Park was confused.

It looks like Cover 3 Cloud — basically rolling the safeties to the trips side — with P.J. Locke and Wheeler in man coverage. The slot is Hakeem Butler, Iowa State’s season leader in receiving yards, so it makes sense that Todd Orlando would want Locke, not Wheeler, covering him. (Orlando and Texas did a terrific job taking away both Butler and Allen Lazard.)

But this is a throw Park should make. Maybe Charles Omenihu’s pressure affected him, but it’s not like he was about to get hit, and Butler had about three steps on Locke. Whatever, we’ll take it.

Under Pressure

The pressure was definitely a factor here.

What I like about this play and camera angle is that it shows an exaggerated, prevent-style version of what Shane Buechele was looking at for much of the game — and gives an example of how you beat it … if your tackle doesn’t get whipped. Texas is rushing three, putting five defenders underneath and leaving three over the top. When it goes right, the quarterback has lots of time but no openings, and there are eight pairs of eyes focused on him, ready to make him pay for an errant pass (ahem).

Like all defenses, it has its weaknesses. An option route to the slot on the left against Jefferson might have been good, but Iowa State elected to try the same on the opposite side against Locke. I know I’m supposed to be talking defense right now, but these are roles Reggie Hemphill-Mapps and Lil’Jordan Humphrey were born for. Anyway, Breckyn Hager bull rushes the right tackle back into Park’s face, and you can see the result.

Jefferson was shot out of a cannon here.

And by the way, note that this is the fourth different coverage Texas has run in four videos. There’s one more clip — and coverage —  to come. 2-Man is nothing fancy, but just think about that for a second. This is a defense that was overwhelmed by the idea of base Cover 3 the past two seasons.

2-Man just means the five underneath defenders are in man coverage and there are two deep safeties splitting the field. Texas could rush four, but they opt instead to let Jefferson hang back and spy Park. If he sees a clear path to the QB, or if the QB breaks the pocket, that’s the starting gun. This is what we thought Jefferson would be. Holy crap.

Eliminate the Playmakers

The guys Texas had to take away were Lazard, Butler and David Montgomery. This is a good look at how you do it. Make the other guys beat you. Iowa State won this round, but they lost enough of the other rounds that it didn’t matter. And that’s the point.

The first threat is Lazard. Texas “clouds” his side, with a cornerback underneath and a safety over the top. The next threat is Butler. They run a high-low bracket on him, too, with Locke underneath and the other safety over the top. That leaves everyone else in man coverage. Jefferson blitzes, and since the back stays in to block, Wheeler can blitz too. The pass rush gets too far upfield, though, leaving Park tons of space to step up and survey the field until someone can get open.

The Offense Is Certainly Not Good

This is a 9-3 defense and a 3-9 offense. I don’t want to make too many assertions since I haven’t done the full rewatch yet, but I feel pretty confident saying Tim Beck is inflexible and not doing a good job getting the ball to playmakers. Remember when Herman said it’s “players, not plays”? Repeated handoffs to Kyle Porter and Hemphill-Mapps’ disappearing act since Maryland are the opposite of that.

It’s also for this reason that I’m finally ready to concede that Texas should probably go with Sam Ehlinger. Buechele is the better passer, but “QB run” is always going to be Beck’s plan B when things aren’t going right. Ehlinger at least gives the offense a chance to overcome its coordinator.

Run Game

Holding my tongue until I can do a full rewatch, but we’ve got to talk about the touchdown and the fumble.

Texas ran the same play twice in a row for the first touchdown. On the first play, the backside defensive end spikes into the B gap and the corner comes up in run support, but the Will linebacker is lost. It’s really not a bad job by Cade Brewer, the H-back, with the iso block on the Mike linebacker. Chris Warren keeps his legs moving for a decent gain.

The second time, the strongside defensive tackle and end stunt inside. Brewer has to adjust his path to get to the Mike. The key block, though, is right tackle Derek Kerstetter. That’s beautiful. Warren displayed nice vision, even if he’s not the most graceful back through the hole.

I don’t know that I have a huge problem with the play-call on the reverse, but I think I’d rather have Hemphill carrying it, and it probably wasn’t going to work anyway.

The play looks like outside zone read, but Iowa State’s nickelback wasn’t buying it. Armanti Foreman starts upfield before turning back for the toss (I’m not sure it was designed to be a handoff … I think a toss is easier to execute). Brewer will block the guy lined up on Foreman to keep him from running the play down. I don’t know what Tristan Nickelson’s doing, and he doesn’t either. Brewer’s got the outside backer, and the inside linebacker sure as hell isn’t going to blow up the exchange, but the damn defensive end might. Ugly.


Credit where it’s due: This was a great call.

A problem with Quarters coverage is that the Mike linebacker can get matched up one-on-one with the tailback running up the seam. Texas wasn’t expecting pressure — it was really well-disguised — but they still got the matchup they wanted. You don’t see this often, mainly because it can be hard to protect the quarterback long enough, but they got it done here.

Here’s how Iowa State neutralized Collin Johnson. (Hint: It was the same thing Texas did to Lazard.)

We have to guess a little on the routes and coverage because of the camera shot, but it’s probably 3 Verticals, and maybe against a version of Quarter-Quarter-Half. The important part is what’s happening up top, where Iowa State did a nice job concealing its intent to bracket Johnson. It’s a good question whether the coverage all night was good or Buechele wasn’t seeing the field well. I’m sure it was one or the other at various times, but this time it was probably good coverage.


This, on the other hand, is probably on the quarterback.

Texas is running a high-low concept to the boundary that is specifically designed to beat this coverage, but Buechele gives up on it very quickly. Maybe he doesn’t trust his arm, but he should be able to fit the ball into that window, especially with a 6-foot-6 receiver who is difficult to overthrow. So Buechele comes back to the other side of the field. I can’t say for sure without seeing the all-22, but it also looks as though the safety is deep enough that Foreman should be open on the dig route. To be fair, Buechele cocks his arm back — probably to throw to Foreman — when he feels the pressure and tries to escape. I don’t think he should have gotten to this point in his progression, though.

This time the read was correct, but the pressure disrupted the timing.

There’s a void in centerfield against ISU’s 2-Man coverage; all Texas needs is for Jerrod Heard to outrun his man, which he does. Unfortunately, Iowa State had already counted to two-Mississippi and could now hit Buechele. By the time he’s able to throw the ball, the window is closed, but he throws it anyway.


I haven’t gotten to study Kansas State yet, but I’m sure I know what I’ll see: a QB-heavy run game from 11 personnel that has given Texas’ linebackers — these same linebackers who are still playing — headaches in the past, and a defense that has been stingy. Their run defense is highly ranked, and I consider this game the first true test of the linebackers’ progress. The week after that, Oklahoma will put everyone to the test.

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