Cyclones Defense is also an Attention Getter for Cowboys
STILLWATER -- Ask anybody in the Big 12 over the last several seasons, when most of the experts in college football were pontificating on how there was no defense played in the Big 12 Conference, where the defense was coming from? The answer was Iowa State and their defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. Now, just about every school in the conference has copied a portion of the Iowa State playbook and the defensive theme of "rush three, drop eight" has become universal. As Oklahoma State prepares for Iowa State on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Stillwater, Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy sees some movement in the Cyclones on defense, just some.
"They're the same. They play back and they've adjusted," Gundy explained on Monday when asked about the defense most people point to as some sort of cryptonite for Big 12 offenses. "They're not playing as much four techniques, they're playing more five-techniques now to try to increase their ability to rush the quarterback on non passing downs. They look a little bit more like what Baylor was running last year with some of the coverage stuff and some of the five techniques. But just an outsider looking in their thought process is to stay back and not give up big plays. You know you have to rush the football against them. If you can't rush the football with the way their safeties and rover and all them are sitting way back there, you can be in for a long day."
Gundy is right. You had better be able to establish the run and make the Cyclones play honest. If they stop the run with the light box then you're receivers are going to think they are in rush hour traffic all afternoon. What Gundy means about the five techniques is playing a three-deep coverage and keeping more defenders close and available to break and add to the pass rush. They showed in the Oklahoma game they are willing to blitz more. Against TCU they only blitzed 11 times on 88 snaps. In the Oklahoma game they blitzed 30 times on 73 snaps. Their favorite blitz, although they mixed it up including combo blitzes, was bringing a corner. That empties a short zone.
"This year they're going to play their base, which is their rush three, five under, three deep, and then there's times they'll blitz you," Gundy added. "They'll bring in five or six people and play the same zone behind them and just leave a zone vacant and see if the quarterback can find it. Probably cause of simplicity, easier to coach, I guess. Again, I'm just an offensive guy looking in, so you're either playing soft zone or they're coming after you."
The Cyclones have elite defenders at each level as upfront Jaquan Bailey is a handful and he has 3.5 sacks and 6.0 tackles-for-loss. Sophomore defensive end Will McDonald is benefitting from the attention given to Bailey and he has 4.5 sacks. Nose tackle Eyioma Uwazurike is as hard to block as it is to promounce his name and he has 3.5 tackles-for-loss.
"They are really good upfront and our tackles will have to do a good job, which I know they will," Cowboys right guard Hunter Woodard said to Pokes Report last week. "They are good upfront but their linebackers are good and we have to get vertical push up to those linebackers for us to be successful. This will be a challenge."
At linebacker for Iowa State, Mike Rose and Jake Hummel are both averaging 7.5 tackles per game. In the secondary, Greg Eisworth is the leader at strong safety and nickel Isheem Young will miss the first half of the game as the result of a targeting penalty late in the win over Texas Tech.
So, is the rush three, drop eight really the cryptonite for spread and up tempo offenses?
"I think there's some truth to what you said. Defenses have seen what's happened in this league for the last eight years and they've rallied and done some things differently," Gundy said to another reporter inquiring on Monday's Zoom conference with the head coach. "Particularly playing coverage guys considerably deeper than they did four or five years ago. The statistics have changed because of what you're seeing in the other conferences across the country, where people have migrated to those conferences that are running what the country would call 'Big 12-style offenses' now in other conferences. Those numbers are getting run up and so that's why the defensive statistics have changed so much in the last two years."
It is why Oklahoma State must be balanced this Saturday. The run keeps the secondary honest and grabs their attention. The pass keeps the secondary and linebackers thinking explosive plays and preventing Tylan Wallace from doing what he did to them early in the game last season in Ames. When they rush three you'd better make hay with Chuba Hubbard, LD Brown, and company. When they bring more, then pass protect and find those receivers.