Sideline view -- An Iowa take from a longtime D coach

Published: July 21 2011 | 4:17 pm - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 3:26 pm in

Up front, this is a very football-y post. Lots of X-and-O stuff. Some of the more versed football people out there probably know this like the back of their hands, but I don't think everyone does. This might help you see the game better when watching the Hawkeyes. It also might bore you to never coming back here again. I just wanted to warn you up front. It's a long post about football obervations. Huge thanks to coach Phil Burnett for the time. I'm sure he will be back in the game very soon.

Twitter is fun for a lot of reasons. One of my faves is I never know who I'm going to bump into.

So, last spring, a follow request from @Coach_Burnett popped up. I checked out and saw that Phil Burnett, the D-line coach at Ball State, wanted a follow and so I did.

I'm not even sure I even remembered at the time that Ball State was scheduled to play the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in 2010. We gabbed a bit. I wished him well against the Hawkeyes, who won 45-0. Coach Burnett said thanks. He tweets a lot less during the season as you might imagine.

After two years and one game, Stan Parrish's regime at Ball State was swept out. Coach Burnett is still job hunting.

"The job search is [bleep], Marc," he told me on the phone Wednesday. He's had a few bites, but some buddy systems have blotted him out. It's getting way late for a search and Burnett knows he faces his first season "off" in 22 years.

I asked him maybe in the spring about talking Iowa. What he, as a defensive assistant coach, learned about facing Iowa. What did the Cardinals prepare for? What did they see as the game was played? What does Iowa do?

Coach Burnett had most of his stuff, not all. He takes notes during the game (a practice also embraced by Iowa's Kirk Ferentz). And, in the words of a longtime defensive line coach, "I threw all that [bleep] away when we got fired," brushing off the firing like a pro, which you pretty much have to do as a college assistant coach.

Not a lot of secrets to share. Mostly observations. Maybe some of this stuff will help you "see" the game better. I know it will help me.

First, a little on the philosophy of Iowa's offense.

"The simplicity of what they do is part of the reason they're good," Burnett said. "If you really look at it, the teams that are really good are really simple."

Burnett got an up-close-and-personal look at what makes Iowa "Iowa" when his D-line faced up with Iowa's O-line.

"You had the [James] Ferentz kid. You had the [Julian] Vandervelde kid," Burnett said. "I think there was a [Riley] Reiff kid or something. They've always had a history of decent running backs. You throw in a kid like [Ricky] Stanzi and make it simple.

"He's a good quarterback. He keeps the offense going and he manages the game well."

Same thing with Iowa's defense.

"They coach their butts off," Burnett said.

This was a 1-2 Ball State team that had some life against the No. 18 team in the country that handed one away the week before at Arizona. The Hawkeyes had a little fire in their eyes. Ball State walked into a cement mixer. Iowa didn't have to and wasn't going to show a lot.

Burnett thought Iowa relied on two personnel groups. But first a quick terminology primer: Burnett puts a number in front of personnel groups. A 21 personnel is two running backs and one tight end. An 11 is one RB, one TE. A 22 is two RB and two TEs. You get it from there.

Burnett said Iowa is big with "21" and "12." Yes, Iowa uses a fullback and definitely uses two TEs. On the goal line, it's more of a 22. Also, Iowa uses the 21 with two TEs when it uses the second TE as an H-back. If the No. 2 TE can compete with the FB as a blocker, some teams will use the 12 to get into 21 formations with the H-back. Iowa occasionally does this, too.

The personnel group is spotted as quickly as possible, sometimes from the sideline and sometimes from up in the press box.

[REDACTED. The reason for figuring out personnel quickly is matching personnel and getting the call to your defense out faster. BTW, there is a school on Iowa's 2012 schedule that helped out the BSU with its Hawkeye scouting. Feels wrong to say which school, you can figure it out.]

What do Iowa RBs read when they run?

It's instinctual, but there is a read to it.

Burnett called Iowa's "outside zone" more of a lead zone -- with "zone" referring to the zone blocking scheme -- because Iowa runs it with two backs. "It's kind of like a long ISO play," he said.

Burnett thinks Iowa RBs are looking at the DE on the outside zone, or whomever is playing over the TE [a 3-technique]. "It might be different with Iowa, but the running back usually has just one read," Burnett said. "If they're reading the defensive end and he comes crashing down, they're going outside. If he stays up, they're going inside."

Iowa's 21 personnel might run a "lead ISO to the 1-technique." That would be a read off the DT tackle who shades the center. This would be the inside zone. "If the inside zone is going to the 1-shade, that running back is definitely reading the nosetackle," Burnett said. "And it's a quick read. If he stays upfield, he's going to cut it back. If he crosses the center's face, he's going to keep going."

Iowa runs the ISO [outside zone with a fullback lead]. The Hawkeyes run it and run it. And then, play-action.

"They run the outside zones so well that they play-action the hell out of that," Burnett said. "You see the safeties coming down because of the runs and all of the sudden, play-action. Eight guys in the box, they [Iowa coaches] sucked them down in there and now here's a guy going for a post."

What did Ball State do to try to make it difficult for Iowa? "Difficult" is relative. It was 45-0 and Iowa did rush for 256 yards.

Against a 21 personnel, BSU lined up a 3-, 5- and 9-technique. All outside shoulders to the blocker. "I think we brought down one of the safeties opposite to that. We tried to make it one-on-one blocking."

The 12 personnel against BSU, with the outside zone, Iowa pulled a center, guard or tackle. "The center always pulled, but the guard or tackle saw who lined up in front of them and that told them if they were pulling or not," Burnett said. "In 12 outside zone, you might see the tackle pull, if he can. Guard and tackle will communicate with each other on who's going to pull based on what's in front of them. But you would always see the center pull for them."

With 12 personnel, Burnett said, Iowa was 65 percent run (outside zone). When Iowa used the H-back, "That was one of their big deals. They would run the outside zone," Burnett said, "and then they would boot off that."

Yes, the boot.

"They would boot a lot," Burnett said. "They would get the running back release on the wheel route. They would fake to the RB and boot out the opposite side of the RB. The running back would just keep going in a wheel route down the sidelines. A lot of teams get you on that."

Remember, Michigan State? The Stanzi-to-Adam Robinson TD pass with future NFL linebacker Greg Jones trailing? That's what this was.

"If the Will [weakside] linebacker doesn't respect that, they'll get you," Burnett said. "You watch, is he blocking or is he releasing? Then, you see a boot and then the running back is free running down the sidelines the opposite of the boot.

"They were pretty good at that."

Iowa used some 11 personnel against BSU -- one RB, one TE and three receivers.

"They ran inside and outside zone," Burnett said. "They ran the inside zone to the open side, opposite the TE, and the outside zone to the TE."

 At the crux of it . . . why this works.

Inside zone, outside zone, times 10. You think it's coming, safeties cheat and then play-action. It's all a set up.

"They're just going to lull you to sleep," Burnett said. "You know that by watching them. It looks like they run the same plays over and over and they are running the same plays over and over.

"They're going to win the game up front, they're going to win the game with their running backs and they're quarterback is going to manage the game and not lose it. They're going to be good on special teams and tough on defense."

A little on the passing game.

How many times is Iowa in shotgun? If Iowa is 11 personnel in shotgun, that is "100 percent pass. Sometimes, they were empty backfield, but most of the time, they're 11 on third-and-long."

Burnett believes Iowa QBs fit into the "game manager" category. I disagree a little. I think that's where it might start for Iowa QB, but then they have the opportunity to grow from that. I think Stanzi did. Brad Banks clearly did. Drew Tate simply had to make plans from Day 1, so maybe he's the exception. Kyle McCann started to grow out of that role. Nathan Chandler epitomized "game manager" and he won 10 games and the Outback Bowl in his one season. Jake Christensen didn't.

We'll see on Vandenberg. I think he's natural QB, but we'll see.

"Stanzi was asked to manage the game, be a leader and don't lose it," Burnett said. "He was cool as a cucumber. He didn't rattle easily and he showed that in that game against Michigan State."

Iowa defensively?

"They don't do much, they don't do much at all," Burnett said. "They just play."

Some quick percentages.

Going into Ball State last season, Iowa's offense had run the ball 98 times and passed 100.

According to Burnett, Iowa's top personnel groups going into that game were 11 (36 percent), 12 (23 percent) and 21 (20 percent).

 
 
 
 
 

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