Preview: Iowa State vs. Oklahoma

Chris Williams

Publisher

Photos by Steve Fry and Wallstars.TV.

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What: Iowa State (5-3, 2-3) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma (5-2, 3-1)
When: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 11 a.m.
Where: Jack Trice Stadium
TV: ABC 

Iowa State’s football series with Oklahoma is one that Cyclone fans would like to ignore. Over the last week, Paul Rhoads referred to his program’s history vs. the traditionally tough Sooners as “dismal.” So dismal in fact that the Cyclones haven’t beaten Oklahoma since the year 1990. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1960 to find an Iowa State victory over the Sooners.

Oddsmakers only have the Sooners as a 12.5-point favorite heading into this one. However when you combine this series’ lopsided history and the fact that Oklahoma is 19-0 since the year 2004 when coming off of a loss during the regular season, Iowa State will face an uphill challenge on Saturday morning. 

The Sooners will win if…

…Their defense suffocates the Cyclones.

“They will play more man-coverage than we have seen against most teams,” said Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads after Wednesday’s practice. “Overall, everybody that they put on the field plays very aggressive, plays very confident and obviously is very used to playing great Oklahoma Sooner defense.”

That's what Iowa State is anticipating from the Sooners, as wide receiver Quenton Bundrage noted that the Cyclones expect to be "pressed" heavily this weekend. 

Rhoads compared Oklahoma’s 17th ranked defense (that’s giving up only 17.43 points per game) to a Texas Tech team that the Cyclones lost to earlier in the season.

“I think they are most comparable to Texas Tech,” said Rhoads. “They are very physical up front. They are very big. They have the capability of controlling the line-of-scrimmage and have against just about everybody they have played.”

It hasn’t been flawless by any means (Notre Dame ran for 215 yards last week against the Sooners), but Oklahoma’s defense isn’t the reason why the Sooners are no longer in contention to win a National Championship.

The Sooners are averaging 40.14 points per game and rank 13th nationally in scoring offense but scored 19 and 13 points in losses to Kansas State and Notre Dame (who are two top teams by the way). In both of those losses, Oklahoma struggled running the football. In fact, the Sooners only accounted for 15 rushing yards last week against Notre Dame. Oklahoma only ran for 87 yards against Kansas State (in a game that OU probably would have won had they not turned the bal over three times).

Quotable: Paul Rhoads on Oklahoma’s senior QB Landry Jones 

“He is to Oklahoma’s offense what Jake (Knott) and A.J. (Klein) are to our defense. He’s been playing for a long time. He knows it as well as the coaching staff. He goes out there and plays that way from week-to-week. He’s got a number of good receivers who complement what he does. He takes advantage of that.”

Keep an eye on Oklahoma’s junior receiver Jalen Saunders. In a wide receiving core that has been blistered with injuries and suspensions this season, Saunders burst onto the scene last weekend by tying a school record with 15 receptions. Note that Saunders, a Fresno State transfer, only had five receptions on the season heading into that game. Many Oklahoma critics have blamed this group of wide receivers on the semi-slow start. Saunders might be the guy who helps save the day.

However if you ask Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, there’s nothing wrong with this team. Nothing at all. 

"Nothing's missing,” said Stoops at his weekly press conference. “We've lost to the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country in two really good, hard-fought football games. When you schedule Notre Dame and you know that's coming, that's just the way it's unfolded. There is nothing missing with this team." 


I tend to agree with him for what it’s worth.

Iowa State will win if…

…The Cyclones can get off to a fast start and sustain that momentum into the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma has currently on a three-game winning streak within the Big 12 Conference. The Sooners have outscored those three opponents (Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas) by a 156-48 margin. If you add up the scores of all of those games at the end of the first quarter, you’ll see a 98-15 margin. And we’re back to that word suffocate. Iowa State can’t allow that to happen and that means that the Cyclones are going to have to score some points.

I’m looking at you Steele Jantz. Iowa State’s senior quarterback got a second Jantz (punny huh?) last week and tied a school record with five touchdowns passes in a 35-21 win over Baylor. 

Jantz was fantastic. He connected with 10 different Cyclones in the win and overcame eight frustrating drops from his receivers in the first half alone. However, let’s call a spade a spade. Baylor’s defense is currently ranked dead last in America. We all know that Oklahoma’s defense will be much, much better than the one Iowa State saw a week ago. However, any team needs confidence to get better. Iowa State gained that last week.

“I sense that the offense has another level of confidence after that victory against Baylor,” said Rhoads.

Rhoads also noted that all three quarterbacks (Jantz along with Jared Barnett and Sam Richardson) saw reps during practice this week. 

All of this and I’ve yet to mention Jake Knott. For the first time in 46 games, No. 20 won’t be suiting up for Iowa State on Saturday. As you all know, Knott suffered a season-ending shoulder injury two weeks ago against Oklahoma State. He then gutted it out and won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors vs. Baylor last Saturday.

Don’t expect Rhoads and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham to try anything crazy due to Knott’s absence.

“The thing I learned a long time again when I became a coordinator especially is you can’t panic. You can’t try to move three guys to different places and figure it out from there,” said Rhoads. “In our system, the SAM and WILL linebacker are very comparable positions. It’s an easy transition for A.J. to go there. Jeremiah (George) is doing what he does and Deon (Broomfield) is doing what he does. We move on and go from there. If you try to move three or four guys around, you’re asking for trouble. I’m not a believer in that you absolutely have to get your best 11 guys out there on the field. Get the guys out there who play the positions and go out there and play team defense.”

Translation: Plan on seeing more of both Jeremiah George and Deon Broomfield than you're used to. Jevohn Miller, Matt Morton and C.J. Morgan are all going to be on call too.

Quotable: Bob Stoops on the Cyclones…

"It leaves us here at Iowa State, a team here which is coming off another win. You look at their team and they're playing really well; they beat TCU earlier in the year. They played Kansas State tough up there in Ames. They're a team who always plays excellent defense and they're doing a nice job. It'll be another big challenge but I feel strongly that our players' attitudes will be great. They want to push forward and keep working for all the tough Big 12 games in front of us."

Key Match-Up: Iowa State’s defensive line vs. Oklahoma’s offensive line

Kansas State and Notre Dame have proven how to beat this Oklahoma. Take away its running game. That’s easier said than done. After all, both of those teams rank in the nation’s top 14 in rush defense on the season. 

But with a third year starting quarterback like Landry Jones at the helm, how Iowa State’s defensive line plays on Saturday afternoon will be critical.

It's not a guarantee. After all, the Sooners were under 100 rushing yards in a 45 point win over Kansas on Oct. 20 too. But it's a good start. 

3 Keys to a Cyclone Victory

Turnover Margin – No explanation needed here. You can’t beat yourself and expect to beat the 12thranked team in America too.

Special teams – This has been a strength of Oklahoma’s all season long. The Sooners are ranked third nationally in kickoff return average and fifth for punt returns. Don’t give up the big one and make some kicks on the other end too. Both are important.

Fast start – This isn’t a team that you want to get two scores behind in the first quarter.

Magic Number

This week’s is 487.7…That is how many yards of total offense Oklahoma has averaged per game during its three-game Big 12 winning streak.

Notebook

*** There are a few things to keep an eye on from an injury front from both teams in this one. For Iowa State, there’s senior wide receiver Josh Lenz, who has missed the last two games with a quad injury. His status is unknown for Saturday.

*** For Oklahoma, left guard Lane Johnson and running back Damien Williams both exited the Notre Dame game early due to ankle injuries. As expected, Stoops has been mum on the progress of each all week long. So stay tuned.

*** This will mark the 77th meeting between Iowa State and Oklahoma. The Sooners are 69-5-2 vs. the Cyclones.

*** Oklahoma is 35-for-37 when it comes to scoring in the Red Zone this season.

Prediction

Oklahoma’s defense scares me folks. I think that Iowa State’s offense will be better than what we saw against the likes of Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Don’t get me wrong. But there’s something about this Sooner defense, specifically the secondary, that scares me from an Iowa State perspective. 

I’ll put it this way. In my opinion, Iowa State will need an A-game from Steele Jantz to overcome all of the odds that you’ve read about in this piece to walk out of Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday afternoon with a victory in hand. 

Even without Knott, I think that Iowa State's defense can hang here. The Cyclones just have to be able to score. It's the same story as entering last week really, only we now know who the quarterback will be. Can Jantz parlay that Baylor win into something more this Saturday? That's the question. 

I say close, but no cigar. As always when I pick against the Clones, I hope I'm wrong. 

The Pick

Oklahoma 27, Iowa State 17 

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