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Film Room: Iowa

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The opening drive was a thing of beauty, if only we saw more of that throughout the rest of the game.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

A much better result for the Spartans this week, although far from perfect. A win is a win though, so let’s dive into the film room and see what we’ve got.

Opening Drive

I am going to do something a little different here than what I usually do. We will still break down the X’s and O’s but I wanted to look back at the entire opening drive of the game for Michigan State. It was really the only time the offense clicked for more than a few plays the entire game.

The first play out of the gate was a play action pass out of the shotgun that Lewerke hit Felton Davis over the middle for a 31 yard gain into Iowa territory.

That was followed with a Gerald Holmes run out of the I-formation on first down for a minimal gain and then a quick 3-5 step drop and throw to Davis to bring up third and short.

They went shotgun on third down, brought Stewart in motion towards the middle of the formation, then bootlegged Lewerke to the right and hit Stewart on the out route for a first down.

On first down they went shotgun play action again and Lewerke found Davis again for eight yards. Then Holmes picked up the first on the next play with a carry up the middle.

That brings us to this.

MSU is first and 10 from the Iowa 22 yard line. They are once again in the shotgun with two backs in the backfield and three wide receivers. They are going to play action fake to the back to the right of Lewerke (Holmes). The other back (Scott) is going to come out of the backfield into the right flat on a shallow route. The two receivers on the right side are going to run deep routes, clearing out the underneath.

Felton Davis is the lone receiver on the left side of the formation, and is going to run a crossing route. Everything is going right because that’s where Lewerke is going on a bootleg.

Iowa has a defender manned up with each of the MSU receivers and a single deep safety. They are in a 4-3 with the linebacker on the near side showing a possible blitz.

The play action fake draws in, or at least freezes, the Iowa linebackers (red circle). The middle and near side linebacker are focused on the back that took the fake, while the outside LB’er on the far side is following Scott as he flares out into the flat.

The deep safety starts to slide to the right as Lewerke rolls that way.

Here is where it opens up as the safety comes in to cover either Scott coming out of the backfield, or to try and take away the possibility of Lewerke running. But the linebacker (#43) is already covering Scott. Additionally, the slot defender also has his eyes towards the line of scrimmage and passes off his man to no one.

Davis, is going to fade his crossing route up field to the area vacated by the safety.

Lewerke throws on the run for Davis (yellow) into the wide open area in the middle (green circle) that has been created. The Iowa safety and slot defender (red) are caught in no-man’s-land and trying to recover, but it’s too late. Davis makes the catch and walks in for the touchdown.

The drive covers 75 yards in seven plays, five passes and two runs. They were in shotgun for four of the five passes, and used play action on three of them. They also used two bootlegs.

Davis caught four of the five passes, with Stewart getting the other on the third and short conversion.

It was a perfectly executed opening drive that had Iowa off balance expecting a heavy dose of running. Despite only running twice, and just once on first down, MSU was still able to go play action three times, all successfully.

Unfortunately, the Spartans wouldn’t find the same level of sustained success for the rest of the game.

First Sack

The defense also got off to a hot start, ending the Hawkeyes first drive with a sack on 3rd and 10 just shy of midfield.

So, bear with me here, as I am aware there is a lot going on here. What we see is MSU giving Iowa a disguised look here on third and long. The defense has just two down linemen. The near side edge rusher, as well as the three linebackers (yellow circles) are all upright, and bouncing around the line. MSU has press man coverage on the three Iowa receivers (red circles), with two safeties. The safety on the far side (green circle) has dropped down to within about four yards of the line of scrimmage.

The two down lineman and the edge rusher on the near side all rush the quarterback, as does the near side outside linebacker, who comes from the outside and rushes up the middle. The middle linebacker waits to see if the back in the backfield is coming out, when he stays in to protect, he also rushes.

The far side outside linebacker drops back into coverage, while the far side safety reads the play and picks up the tight end coming out on a pass route. Everybody still with me?

I used the same color circles to correspond to the same players as the previous picture on this one so we can follow along. So the two blitzing linebackers (double yellow) are on their way while the outside rusher (Randle) on the near side looks like he’s beating his man.

The safety that dropped down (green) has the tight end covered, and the three receivers are all fighting through the DB’s jamming them at the line. The linebacker that dropped into coverage (single yellow) and the other safety are there for support on the back end.

The QB thinks about throwing it here with the pressure coming, but as you can see, there is nowhere to go with it as the play is very well covered. He pump fakes and tries to escape but the pressure up the middle from the LB’ers leaves him with nowhere to go and Bachie and Randle bring him down.

The disguised look that the defense gives pre-snap, combined with the good coverage leads to the sack. It’s the type of play that confuses quarterbacks and can lead to a big momentum type play, as it did here.

Iowa Fake FG

There weren’t many mistakes on the defensive side of the ball this week, but this play, at the time, looked like it might be a big one.

So after coming out in a FG formation, Iowa spreads it out with the kicker up top and someone else split down low. They bring the end off the line on the near side and motion him across pre-snap. Both the holder/QB and the back in the backfield will slide to their right, as the end on the near side (who is a defensive end) goes out for a pass.

So here you see the end (Epenesa) slipping out for the pass. The defensive end on that side (Willekes) starts to rush and then kind of oles Epenesa as he realizes that he’s eligible and headed downfield.

The two defenders that should have picked him up are Bachie and Willis (red circles). However, the confusion pre-snap has carried over, and both of them are caught watching the play as the QB drifts right.

Now Bachie (red) has realized what is happening but takes a direct route to where Epenesa is, rather than where he is headed. As a result, Epenesa runs right by him into the open space and the punter/QB delivers a perfect pass.

Ball (yellow) is on its way and you see Bachie and Willekes trying to catch up. Meanwhile Willis (red) has finally realized what is happening and is trying to get over to help, but much too late.

MSU had its regular defensive personnel on the field for this, but were still clearly not ready for the play when the ball was snapped. There was confusion and pointing right up to the snap of the ball. By the time everyone figured out where they were supposed to be it was too late.

The Spartans had the right personnel on the field for this situation, but the execution was very bad, and it was obvious before the ball was snapped that there was confusion among the players. I stand by what I said at the time on twitter that they should have called timeout.

MSU go bailed out a few plays later when the ball slipped out of the hands of Iowa’s QB while he was trying to throw and was recovered by the Spartans.

That’s it for this week. Pretty big game coming up Saturday. Should be a good one.