Difficult, the ‘Clone wars have been. For Texas, the struggle is real when ISU is involved. The last two coaching staffs suffered embarrassing losses at the hands of the Cyclones. That should never happen. It’s one thing to lose close and competitive games, but to be embarrassed by Iowa State should never happen. You hear me? NEVER!!! Also, spare me the ‘You lost to Kansas’ jokes. Thursday night, Texas will visit Jack Trice Stadium and you definitely expect Texas to handle business, 24-0, remember!? Iowa State is an improved team. That means something on paper. On the other hand, this isn’t origami, this is bloody football and Texas will have its sights on goring an upset-minded Cyclones team, in their house. They built it and here Texas comes. Am I taking this too far? It is Iowa, after all.
The ISU offense is currently ranked 13 in Points Per Play (.573), 14 in Yards Per Play (6.9), 27 in Yards Per Rush Attempt (5.1), and 26 in Yards Per Pass Attempt (8.4). Texas… 32 in Points Per Play (.471), 48 in Yards Per Play (5.7), 50 in Yards Per Rush Attempt (4.6), and 65 in Yards Per Pass Attempt (7.3). How does that feel pouring over your brain? Of course, who has ISU played? Well, they’ve played Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Akron, child please! Texas has at least managed to play Maryland, San Jose State, and USC, much better competition. Again, this is paper, the stuff that flies away with the softest of gales.
On defense, ISU’s Opponents Points Per Play rank is 60 (0.37), Yards Per Play is 57 (5.3), and 3rd Down Percentage is 124(!) (54.6%). Texas… Opponents Points Per Play is 67 (.384), Yards Per Play is 71 (5.5), and 3rd Down Percentage is 11(!) (26.83%). It’s a no-brainer, Texas played better offensive units thus far. ISU’s sole good performance came against in-state rival, Iowa. When they’re prepared, want to, and are having a good day, ISU is dangerous, to say the least. The same goes for Texas, only impressive against USC thus far (don’t @ me about Jose). What will it take for the Longhorns to handle business? How will they do it? That’s why you’re here, Brainiacs!
Breaking Strong Wind (lol)
Zone Run Game – ISU utilizes Zone, a common scheme you should be very familiar with by now. ISU likes to allow for the backs to read blocks, slow play if you will, then burst upfield, bounce, or cut back on runs. Something you’ll notice as well, the H-back will also do this! I refer to this as ‘Open Zone’. The backs have a lot of latitude to ‘make the blocks right’. This can make it difficult on opposing linebackers. They won’t always have an easy downhill target.
– Slant: Orlando likes to slant the defensive line. What I like about this is it usually places immediate post-snap pressure on the offensive line, to maintain proper blocking angles and disallow penetration. Nelson, Ford, and Omenihu OR (lol) Roach should live in the backfield and occupying double-team blocks.
– Edges: The slant idea gives the Texas 2nd level better pre-defined gaps to fill the run, inside and outside. To help, the outside linebackers will need to set hard edges to funnel runs up to the linebackers lying in wait behind the slant with the safeties working off the linebackers. You want to box in the run on most downs. Then force them into perimeter run calls where Texas’ speed should prove far superior.
Option & Screen – I like what ISU does on offense. They will use a mix of 1 tight end in mostly ’20’ personnel (H-back & RB) and ’10’ personnel (0 tight end, 1 running back). They will use formations to gain space, much like Herman-Beck (‘Heck’) do. If you have a safety high, they will screen you outside with good blocking or they can run ‘Pitch Option’ into the alley to the field side. This is also why ‘boxing in’ the run will help. Overhang players will need to be disciplined maintaining leverage outside or suffer a similar fate to the Maryland game. You hope Orlando has something special planned for it, a big hit on the quarterback tends to make the coach and player more hesitant.
DBU – The ISU receiving corps is good. You’ve likely heard Lazard’s name. I like #18 too. ISU’s pass game is similar to Texas’. Only, they attack the seam more often. They will also move Lazard around right, left, inside, and outside. Where he’s most dangerous is in the red zone. I think Texas has its hands full here. Get them off the field between the 20’s and there’ll be no problems.
– 3-Level: Sound familiar? It should, ISU runs the same 3-Level concept Texas does and you hope the secondary will be ready for it. Park is good with time and can make throws against coverage. DBU will be on alert!
– Soft Sideline: You can take risks, that’s fine from time to time. However, Texas’ Don’t Bend, Then Break defense will give you fits. Having the corners play well over threats like Lazard is a wise decision, no matter how much they want to compete. Don’t get roasted, you can tighten up in the scoring zone.
– Bracket Inside: ISU will attack the seams and the hook-curl zones with ‘seam-reads’ and Drag. They run Drag concepts really well. Texas needs tight coverage inside from the 2nd and 3rd levels when called upon. A combination of inside-out brackets outside and under-over inside will help Texas move Park off the ‘Advantage’ routes, giving more time for Texas pass rushers to effect the pocket and his throws.
Hit Park – I like Park, just not on Thursdays when ISU plays Texas. Handle standard downs well and Park will be forced to tangle with some fierce defenders rushing the passer. This game, I like Malik rushing weak side gaps, ‘exchanging’ with the end, and occasionally on the edge, send Predator, collect skulls.
C-Dub – The focal point of the offense must be Chris Warren, a bare minimum of 15 touches for starters. Chris may not be the best player on offense, but he’s the most powerful and safest bet. That’s hard to beat. The defense should not dictate to the offense, ever! If the box numbers are loaded (plus-1), sure, pass quick outside or attack deep, but on standard downs, if numbers are even when the quarterback read game is involved, RUN THE ROCK!
– Shane: The sophomore should be back in action. He too can build on the successes of the past two games. With Shane in, you run read game less, but the screen and quick game are expanded some to help. The staff can also get Warren involved there too and don’t forget the idea of motioning a receiver into the backfield for a perimeter run threat away from the swing screen. It’s time and I expect to be disappointed (lol). Look for good execution. If not, you have Sam to come in a hammer away a bit.
– 2-high: ISU’s defense appears very strict with 2-high split-safety structure. They tend to play it somewhat safe on the back end. If and when a safety drops down, it’s usually the weak or boundary safety. They’ll need to be careful doing this against Texas because of Collin Johnson (Evergreen Statement). You can attack the 2-high structure, especially to the field with bubble, tunnel, and swing screens. You can also read-run weak off screen and quick pass action strong. Overall, there will be space in the flats and the middle of the field. Some back side deep Curl or Dig routes are welcome, as well as ‘Z/H-Sail’ (deep cross).
– 3-Level: Tom’s baby is meant to take advantage of ‘quarters’ and the defense’s response to the outside screen game. Given ISU’s strict adherence to 2-high structure, this concept should see plenty of action. I’d even throw a change-up and run it with switch-verticals. Only, run a deep curl or ‘zone sit’ route in the intermediate seam instead of breaking it outside. Meanwhile, you have the ‘wheel-type’ route up the sideline, attack! Make the deep safeties work.
– Trips Into Boundary (TIB): Again, force the 2-high ISU defense to contort itself to ‘fit’ the formation. TIB forces an isolation to the field or a bracket (think CJ to the field). This bracket defender either takes away from TIB coverage or, if a linebacker, a defender away from the run game. A run-pass optioned (RPO) can be run against either defender for a deep or quick pass. To TIB, if the safety is high, you have 3 receivers working against 2 defensive backs and a linebacker underneath. You can screen, run a curl past the backer, option a vertical route off of play-action against the deep safety, or Drag underneath receiver stems (screen-like). Lastly, you can swing the back out and block-up a swing screen. The bottom line, if ISU stays 2-high no matter what, that takes 2 away from TIB, a win.
Those are some of the notes gathered over watching ISU and Texas thus far. Not much will change week to week, but you look for peculiarities. As seasons progress, teams tend to find what they’re best at and stick to it. For many teams, their best simply isn’t good enough. It’s unfortunate. For Texas, their best remains theoretical. What you’d like to see is the team build on any newfound confidence from going toe to toe with a current top-10 program. The remaining question, can they bring that attitude and grit with them every week? If they can muster that, good things will come and under-talented teams like ISU won’t stand a chance. What team will fans see in Ames? Will they see the clumsy staggering team from week one or the gritty no-quit team from week 3? On Thursday, you’ll find out.