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A Deep Dive into the Iowa State Cyclone Offense

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Let’s take a look at the Cyclone offense as the Cowboys get set to head to Ames this weekend.

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NCAA Football: Iowa State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma State Cowboys head to Ames this weekend for a Saturday morning showdown with the 6 – 3 Iowa State Cyclones. In his second year, head coach Matt Campbell has completely turned the Cyclones around from their 3 – 9 record in 2016. Despite losing their talented starting quarterback Jacob Park to “personal health issues”, the Cyclones have managed to tack on some big wins over both OU and TCU this season. ISU is coming off a tough loss in Morgantown to West Virginia, but they are still a very dangerous team and will be a tough matchup for the Cowboys.

A majority of the Cyclones success in recent weeks has been attributed to their defense, holding every single team they’ve faced in Big 12 play below their season average in points per game, while boasting a conference record of 4 – 2. But, today we are going to take a look at the other side of the football and see what’s been working (and what hasn’t) for the Cyclone offense.

Passing Game

As I mentioned above, the Cyclones have been without their first-string quarterback since the OU game. However, 6’5 redshirt senior Kyle Kempt, who coming into the season was thought to be 3rd string behind redshirt freshman Zeb Noland, has taken the helm and steered this Cyclone offense to some impressive wins. He was also named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week after Iowa State’s upset win in Norman.

The Iowa State offense has been averaging 244.6 passing yards per game, which would be good for 55th in the nation, since Kempt took over. Now let’s take a look at what’s been working through the air for Kempt, offensive coordinator Tom Manning and the rest of the Cyclone offense.

Curl Routes

In last week’s bedlam matchup, Baker Mayfield and Sooner wideout Marquise Brown, or as Gus Johnson calls him “Hollywood Brown”, hurt the Cowboy defense with curl routes and comeback routes. They primarily targeted redshirt freshman cornerback Rodarius Williams. Williams, who’s been great this season, was allowing too much separation, and Brown made him pay. You can see in the screenshot below the distance Hollywood was able to create.

This happened on multiple occasions as Brown finished with 9 receptions for 265 yards.

The Cyclones have multiple receivers they like to throw this route to. Here we see 6’4 Matthew Eaton (#23) make the catch against OU as the far wideout on the top side of the screen. Eaton doesn’t even need to create much space as he uses his big frame to shield the receiver and Kempt throws a nice ball for the completion.

Next, you see the exact same formation, but this time it’s 6’1 Marchie Murdock (#16), lined up where Eaton was on the video above. Murdock has some speed, and although he’s not as quick as OU’s Brown, he’s still able to separate himself from the Sooner defender and make the play.

In this clip, we see Murdock in the same alignment, but the formation is slightly different with a fullback lined up in the backfield with Kempt and running back David Montgomery. The wide receivers have more distance between them in this set, but you’ll see Murdock run the same route and again create separation, this time against a Red Raider defensive back.

And the last curl type route video is Eaton again. This formation is similar to the first two, but this time Kempt throws to the single split side instead of the two-receiver side. Eaton’s route is more of a quick hitch this time as the tight end releases with him to lead block.


Over the Middle

When the Cyclones throw to the middle of the field, they like to look for big man Hakeem Butler (#18). The 6’6, 220lb sophomore receiver is a handful to guard and nearly impossible to bring down single-handedly.

In this video we see Iowa State start out with two wide to each side. They send the far wideout to the top of the screen in motion (they use a lot of pre-snap motion) and snap the ball once he sets up in the backfield. Kempt makes the play fake and then sends it down the middle for Butler who makes a spectacular leaping catch and turns upfield where it takes a posse of OU defenders to finally bring him down.

Next you see the Cyclones lined up with Montgomery in the backfield and an H-back to Kempt’s right. Butler is lined up as the inside receiver and Kempt hits him on a post route. The ball is slightly underthrown, but it’s actually in a good spot for Butler to use his big body to shield away the defender and the make the grab near the goal line.


Allen Lazard

Some of you probably thought I forgot about him. Well, that’s far from true. Allen Lazard gets his own section in this offensive breakdown. The 6’5 senior (#5) is not only one of the best receivers in the Big 12, but he’s one of the best in the country. He leads the team in receiving yards and touchdown grabs on the season and he’s Kempt’s go-to guy whenever the Cyclones need to make a play. He’s a Marcell Ateman type receiver, and he leads the pack of tall Iowa State wideouts.

It doesn’t matter if there’s a man on him, Kempt will throw him the ball as he has complete confidence in his big target. Here you see Lazard make a spectacular catch on the sideline against OU.

In this next clip you’ll see exactly what I was talking about when I said he’s ISU’s go-to guy when they need a big play. Backed-up in their own end zone on 3rd and long, Kempt fires it out to Lazard who again makes the catch (with a tiny bit of a push off) and moves the chains.

He’s just so good at going up and making the grab over the defender.

And the back-shoulder throw to him in the red zone has worked time and time again this season.

When the ball is in the air, he’s going to go get it.

Before we wrap up, I did want to show a few of the shorter routes the Cyclones run. They like to get their running back Montgomery involved in the passing game, along with shifty wideout Trever Ryen (#19).

First it’s Montgomery. Kempt swings it out to him, and he gets a couple of solid blocks on the outside, turning it up field for a big play.

In this video ISU shows trips again, this time it’s a screen to Ryen. Like Montgomery, Ryen gets some great blocks and takes it up field for a nice gain.

In this one you see Ryen on the screen again with two receivers split to each side. He makes the grab and takes it all the way for the score.

So, as you can see, ISU has had success throwing the ball with Kempt. However, he’s seemed to come back down to earth a little bit in the past few weeks against TCU and WVU. In his first 3 starts he threw seven touchdown passes and only had one interception leading the Cyclones to three victories. In his last two starts, he has three touchdowns to go along with two interceptions and Iowa State has gone 1-1… only putting up a combined 23 points. Compare that to 114 points in the three games prior. Now I do realize that TCU has a solid defense, but West Virginia does not, so I don’t know if you can blame it all on that.

It seems that he’s become a little careless on his throws.

And maybe a little too confident in Lazard at times… but who can blame him.

The Cyclones have had pretty solid pass protection on the season, ranking 20th in sacks allowed per game at 1.33. But, I think Calvin Bundage and the Cowboy defensive line might have something to say about that.

All in all, the Cyclones passing attack isn’t as dangerous as teams like OU or West Virginia, but Tom Manning and Matt Campbell have watched film and know what has caused problems for this Oklahoma State secondary. My thoughts are that the Cowboys won’t let Kempt and company have anywhere near the day they did against OU, but it’s definitely a little worrisome after the damage that Mayfield and the Sooners did to the Cowboy defensive backs last Saturday.


Running Game

The Iowa State running game is led by 5’11, 220lb sophomore running back David Montgomery. He’s struggled at times this season, but he’s also put together games of 113, 127, 164 and 115 rushing yards and he’s found the end zone eight times. Campbell and Manning love to give this guy the ball as he ranks in the top 15 in the country in total attempts this season.

So, let’s take a look at how ISU likes to use their talented running back.

The Cyclones really like to utilize this “fold” blocking scheme shown in the video below. In this particular “fold”, the guard goes first and takes the down lineman. The center then pulls to lead the running back through the hole and block the first man he sees at the second level (linebacker). The center gets a great block and Montgomery does the rest, running over an OU defender on his way to a first down.

In this next clip Iowa State’s center pulls again and makes another solid block. Montgomery has the ability to make a man miss and has a solid gain for the ISU offense.

Both of these plays were run out of similar sets. In the first video, a receiver goes in motion and then lines up in the H-back spot. And, in the second video, they started out with a man in this location. Both plays had three wide and Montgomery lined up next to Kempt in the backfield.

In the red zone, if Iowa State isn’t throwing to Lazard, they are giving it to Montgomery. And let me tell you this now, OSU better be ready to tackle on Saturday, because this dude is tough to bring down.

In the last video above, you saw the fly sweep motion before the snap. The Cyclones like to use this motion before handing it off to Montgomery. In this clip you see it again.

And, like I said, the man is nearly impossible to take down

Outside of Montgomery, ISU has not gotten much production out of their other running backs. Mike Warren and Sheldon Croney Jr. have combined for 41 attempts, 129 yards and two touchdowns. That’s good for only 3.1 yards per attempt. Now it hasn’t been all their fault, as Montgomery has gotten the bulk of the attempts, but I’m sure Cyclone fans would like to see more from these guys when they get the ball. Warren rushed for over 1,000 yards two season ago as a freshman, but he just hasn’t seen the success since.

So, how do the Cyclones get a change of pace/give Montgomery a breather? Well, they bring in their utility player, Joel Lanning (#7). You’ve probably heard by now, but Lanning is a former starting quarterback turned linebacker, who know plays both ways. He hasn’t seen many attempts in recent weeks, but he made his presence felt on the offensive side of the ball against both OU and KU.

It’s a lot of QB power when he’s in the game.

But, he will throw to catch the defense off guard, and he’s got a solid arm.

And, oh yeah… Kempt can run it a little bit too.

Now, what’s been a struggle for ISU is their run blocking hasn’t been as great as their pass protection at times this year. Along with no one really establishing themselves as the Robin to Montgomery’s Batman, they haven’t had the running lanes that they’ve need to really get their guys into the second level of the defense. I think the Cowboys’ front seven will have a solid day against ISU. Montgomery is a great back, but OSU has fared pretty well against good running attacks this season, and I don’t see that changing this weekend in Ames.

My final takeaway is that I don’t see the Cyclone offense putting up huge numbers on the Pokes. Glenn Spencer and company will have something to prove after giving up a lot of yards to OU, and after putting up only 16 on a sub-par West Virginia defense, I believe the Cowboys will have a solid outing this weekend. Now, will they be able to put up points of their own against ISU’s defense? That will be a test tough for Mason, James, Justice and the gang.