This offseason I discovered something likely to be consumed by my summer boredom like thawed out Fletcher dogs in the OU coaches' meetings...Big 12 game replays. On the league website you can now watch every game that 2011's round robin schedule gave us.
Consequently, I'm going to review some of the interesting games that took place in 2011 and relay some conference storylines to BC readers who are similarly interested in history, strategic trends, or avoiding the MLB.
Today we're going to review some mysterious crop circles in Ames, Iowa that (rather obviously) foretold of a BCS screwjob and also the potential rise of a cornfed program. The Iowa State 37-31 upset over BSC bound Oklahoma State. More after the jump...
The typical story out of Stillwater is that the pokes' precipitous fall was a result of the programs' great shock over the tragedy that claimed the lives of 2 women's basketball coaches. I was fairly skeptical of this reasoning and whether this would really have that much impact on collegiate football players competing for a championship but it's nearly impossible to measure the impact from the cheap seats and I didn't even see the game live.
I was extremely curious to see how Rhoads accomplished his most recent and greatest victory with the Cyclone program, apart from a supposed Oklahoma State choke job, and the tape told the story of an explosive and athletic squad being bested by a tougher, more disciplined football team.
A quick review of the squads:
OSU: We're all pretty familiar with the MO of the Weeden-era Pokes. They spread you out with 4 receivers and then pound the edges with screens, the interior with Inside Zone and the diamond formation, and then Blackmon downfield.
Their defense is based on athleticism deployed with a mixture of 2-deep zones and Fire Zones out of multiple fronts.
ISU: They are mostly defined by a tenacious defense with 3 of the better players in the league and then a cast of hard-working dues who are always in position and take form tackling very seriously. They rarely blitz and their DL don't leave their lanes.
Steele Jantz's improvisation band left to tour Japan after "Sex Farm" exploded on the charts there. Freshman Barnett took over and he's a classic Big 12 North spread QB. Quick both in decision making and with his feet, undersized, and with sneaky arm strength. They also pound the edges with flare screens and work the middle with inside zone and Power with a difference in that they're willing to add the popular read elements to those plays that transform them into the Zone-read and Power-read.
Both of these teams have discovered that if you have big outside receivers who are willing to block, than the flare screen is like a running play guaranteed to yield 5 yards with home-run potential if the inside receiver is explosive enough. See "screen vs. Cover-3" in my linebacker play article to see the stress that this play creates on a defense.
Both teams traded shots with this play in the 1st half and Jake Knott, while he was able to save touchdowns, wasn't able to reach the slot receivers before they picked up 5-9 yards everytime OSU dialed this play up while ISU's own drives were stalling out as a result of dropped passes and execution errors in the face of the pressuring OSU defense.
After Blackmon made an incredibly difficult catch on a go route against tight coverage by Leonard Johnson and started celebrating and taunting Cyclones in the end zone it looked like another "name the score" route by OSU as the lead quickly blew up to 24-7.
However, one of the scores was on a fairly fluky pick-6 by Shaun Lewis in which he was late to his assignment and as a result of his scramble to reach his receiver and his recognition that it was a screen pass, he was able to jump the route and house it.
Another disturbing early trend for the Pokes was the result of any of their attempts to run the ball with their zone plays. Despite the pressure placed on Klein and Knott (the ISU backers) to widen out against the screen or drop back against the pass they still kept stuffing most of OSU's runs. Because of the consistent tackling by the ISU back 7, the OSU drives inevitablely faced 3rd and short and their diamond formation was completely unavailing against the ISU fronts with the Cyclones making repeated stops in short-yardage. Even the occasional draw plays were swallowed by the disciplined ISU DL who maintained gap integrity.
Finally ISU scored again on a big play before the half, a Power-Read in which the OSU force player was blocked and the rest of the defense was out of position to stop the 32 yard run by one of ISU's fleeter tailbacks.
It was now 24-14 in front of an energtic night crowd and then the differences in toughness and discipline started to kick in. Iowa State eventually decided to play more Cover-3 (rather than Cover-2) in order to position Knott and the Strong Safety to chase down the screens more quickly. What's interesting in ISU's Cover-3 was the following 3 assignments:
Jake Knott: Defend the weakside B gap against the run, defend the weakside seam inside-out against the pass, close quickly and tackle on screens.
AJ Klein: Defend an interior A gap against the run, defend the strongside seam inside-out against the pass, close quickly and tackle on everything.
Leonard Johnson: Play Justin Blackmon 1-on-1 with no help over the top down the sideline.
That last assignment is particularly difficult because Blackmon isn't a one-trick pony. If you play over the top on him he'll catch underneath routes and run through your secondary, so Johnson had to play him pretty tight. Apart from the above mentioned deep throw, Johnson played him really well and enabled Iowa St. to play their SS against the quick game.
Additionally, Klein and Knott made deep drops in the zone, kept everything in front of them, and racked up 14 and 13 tackles each. You would be hard pressed to find 2 linebackers who can handle the various challenges of the spread better than these 2 and the Iowa State defense is underrated as a result.
Another result of this strategy, along with a few well-timed blitzes, was the occurence of 5 OSU turnovers which allowed Barnett and co. to calm down and control TOP with their screens and runs. ISU picked Weeden 3 times as a result of some of those blitzes and their deep zone drops. They also knocked 2 fumbles loose with their gang-tackling.
24-14 became 24-17 before the half and 31-all before regulation ended.
Slowly the air went out of the OSU squad and the 2nd OT was effectively concluded with Knott picking up Blackmon in a pattern-match coverage and tipping the ball the pass into the hands of a safety to finish off the already defeated Cowboys.
Did the tragedy result in the Pokes losing focus and turning the ball over 5 times? Or was it simply the superior toughness and execution of the Cyclone defense? Impossible to say, but consider the following stats:
Iowa State 568 yards, OSU 536. Iowa State 192 rushing yards, OSU 60. Iowa St. 3 turnovers, OSU 5.
OSU piled up yards in the passing game at 8.2 yards per attempt, but Paul Rhoads' scholars won the classical way. Stop the run, prevent big plays, get turnovers.
They present an interesting team in 2012 as their schemes require great fundamentals and only a few particularly athletic pieces, a few of which are already on the roster.
Let me know if there are other games or storylines from 2011 you'd like to hear more about. We may journey back to Bedlam next.