By coincidence, my college and pro football teams pulled off the biggest two upsets of the year. First, “The” Iowa State University knocked of Oklahoma State on a Friday night. Second, the Kansas City Chiefs took out the previously unbeaten Packers. While it’s a lot of fun to win an upset, it also speaks to the general mediocrity that ISU and the Chiefs tend to field year-to-year. In general, these teams have eerie parallels that I am going to expand on as well as the blueprint for beating high-flying passing attacks.
Side note paragraph: college/pro colors. As most people are aware, Iowa does not have an NFL team. What ends up happening is that people from Iowa tend to follow one of the somewhat close teams geographically (Vikings, Packers, and Chiefs) or a nationally branded team (Cowboys, Giants, etc.). However, I think in these difficult economic times, fans should have an easy choice. Obviously, you don’t want to waste money buying new colors all the time. So, Cyclones should pull for the Chiefs (red, gold) and Hawkeyes should pull for the Steelers (black, gold), especially if they get a Medical degree and then end up at University of Pittsburgh for a residency (hey TFisch). Easy enough, right? Also, the only more natural progression is for Illinois fans. Buy some blue and orange in college and you are all set for Da’ Bears.
First off, let’s look at some of the eerie parallels between ISU and the Chiefs. As mentioned before, the team colors are the same. ISU started the season with 3 wins, 4 losses, and then 3 wins. The Chiefs started the season with 3 losses, 4 wins, and 3 losses. The defenses have pretty much the same strengths and weaknesses and the offenses work on a particular set of principles (albeit in different schemes). Additionally, some of the sparks and ups and downs in the season are similar. So, now, let’s get to how to upset a dominant passing team with a defense predicated on getting turnovers (sounds a lot like OSU and the Packers, doesn’t it?) In fact, OSU and the Packers are eerily similar, too. For instance, their QBs are about the same age.
Keep in mind that these factors are not all in the control of the teams. Some teams will not have the necessary personnel or setups to make this happen. There are very important particulars to this situation that just aren’t present on most of the football teams in BCS leagues or the NFL. Ok, now let’s get to creating an upset against a high-level diversified passing team:
1. Man-to-Man Press Coverage: Unfortunately, most teams cannot do this. Brandon Flowers (not The Killers lead singer, he has been a little under the radar but completely outplayed Asumougha this year) is easily one of the top 5 cornerbacks in the NFL while Brandon Carr is somewhere in the 10 to 15 range. Kendrick Lewis is an emerging free safety. Iowa State has Reeves and Leonard Johnson (both underrated because, let’s face it it’s ISU) who Desmond Howard described as “shut-down corners” on GameDay before the Texas game. Ter’ran Benton is a very good free safety. Pass happy teams that rely on diversified attacks rarely deal with coverage units as good as what these teams have, and it showed during the games. OSU and the Packers looked completely out of sorts in these games as the press coverage made the timing off and the receivers could not play as fast as they usually do. After the Chiefs employed this strategy, Jermichael Finley even commented that it was the most out-of-rhythm he’s felt in a game and that he thinks the Chiefs came up with the blueprint for how teams will defend him going forward.
2. Put a Lot on Two Awesome Linebackers: Iowa State has the #2 and #3 tacklers in the Big 12 in A. J. Klein and Jake Knott while the Chiefs have Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. In both cases, great games were had by these players who are some of the best at their positions. Hali is a little different, because he mostly is a pass rusher (vs. Justin Houston who could end up being the A. J. Klein of the Chiefs, Jake Knott and Derrick Johnson have very similar games).
3. Rely on the Opposing Team to not Utilize the Run Nearly Enough: I’m pretty sure the Packers and OSU went back to the tape and realized they could have run all day. ISU and the Chiefs both have hard-working, very average defensive lines. Pass oriented teams tend to forget this bit of strategy because “It’s not what they do.”
4. Don’t Win the Time of Possession, Dominate It: ISU – 34:47, OSU 25:13. OSU couldn’t stop ISU in the fourth quarter. They were completely gassed. Chiefs – 36:11, Packers 23:49. Everyone knew the Packers would put up some points in the second half, so having their defense worn out to make a counter punch was key. The Chiefs were able to counter the Packers’ scores. Both ISU and the Chiefs put together long drives taking what the defense gave while avoiding mistakes. These are those rare games when you would rather have an interception by your team not be a pick six early in the game. It’s better if you can put together a 5 or 6 minute scoring drive and get the other team on the road to fatigue instead of putting points on the board right away, because the blowout is not happening.
5. Play on the Home Turf: Both wins were at home. This helps in obvious ways.
6. Have Some Kind of Unusual Off-the-Field Situation: OSU was dealing with a terrible tragedy and it’s hard to get a handle how that can affect a team. The Chiefs seemed to respond to the firing of Todd Haley earlier in the week.
7. Get an Improbable Spark from a QB Change: Jared Barnett did an amazing job for ISU coming in as a redshirt freshman after being fourth string in spring practice. Hollywood wouldn’t write this story because it’s too implausible. Kyle Malorton (a reference to a Chicago beverage that’s basically as sour as his early-career stats in Chicago) came in for the Chiefs after what amounted to a week of practice. He looked like he had total control of the offense and a decent idea of what each receiver could do. Wow.
8. Don’t Turn the Ball Over: ISU turned it over, but won the battle. The Chiefs didn’t even come close to turning the ball over. Keep Weeden and Rodgers off the field if you want to win.
9. The Thing that Usually Happens, but Only One Team Did It: Risky trick plays are usually needed to pull the upset. ISU pulled a couple dandies. The Chiefs didn’t even try (although getting inside the Packers 10 yard line 4 times and only having 13 points to show for those drives is pretty tricky, in a bad way).
10. Have the Better Special Teams: ISU was great in the special teams against OSU. There were some big returns and OSU didn’t get a whole lot going in that area. OSU missed a crucial field goal, too. In fact, this is exactly what happened with the Chiefs. The Chiefs special teams were nearly flawless while the Packers missed a crucial field goal and didn’t get any real returns because the Chiefs put the ball through the end zone on kickoffs.
So there you have it. The blueprint for beating a great passing team if you have a team with a very good back seven and the ability to put together extended drives. Now the `72 Dolphins and the SEC can thank us.