Oklahoma football: Failure not an option as Sooners get set for Iowa State

Nov 9, 2019; Norman, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones tight end Chase Allen (11) catches a touchdown pass past Oklahoma Sooners cornerback Parnell Motley (11) during the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 9, 2019; Norman, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones tight end Chase Allen (11) catches a touchdown pass past Oklahoma Sooners cornerback Parnell Motley (11) during the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The sky may not be falling yet on the 2021 Oklahoma football season, but the storm clouds that have been forming and brewing the past 11 weeks are now directly overhead.

Head coach Lincoln Riley assured us several weeks ago after the debacle at Kansas that “we’re closer than you guys (the media) think…the sky is not falling.” That, of course, was before the train wreck we witnessed last weekend against now-No. 11 Baylor.

O.K., it was just one loss. That’s what’s nice about winning your first nine games, Riley said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

Last weekend Baylor ruined the Sooners’ quest for a perfect season. What they must avoid over the remaining two games of the regular season is allowing that first loss turn into two or three losses.

815. Sooners -3.5. 11 AM CT. 6-4. 837. FOX. Saturday, Nov. 20. 9-1

That may sound simple enough considering its six-time defending champion Oklahoma we’re talking about. But the problem is, OU’s final two games are against teams that are arguably even better than Baylor. Certainly, defensively that is the case.

Iowa State (6-4, 4-3) comes to Norman this weekend. A look at the Cyclones’ record would leave the impression that this is a very average team, but that would be a patently false assumption. This is virtually the same team that beat OU during the regular season a year ago and  took the Sooners to the wire in last season’s Big 12 championship game before falling 27-21.

All four of the Cyclones’ losses this season have been by 10 or fewer points and two of them by just a field goal. Like the Sooners, Iowa State will be coming into Saturday’s game with a chip on its shoulder after losing by three points to Texas Tech last week on a 62-yard field goal as time expired.

Oklahoma has reached a critical crossroad in its season. A week ago, sitting at 9-0 and 6-0 in the Big 12, the Sooners had some margin for error because of a one-game lead in the conference standings. After losing at Baylor, however, they have little to no margin for error going forward.

Win the next two games — easy for me to say — and the Sooners will have guaranteed their spot in the Dec. 4 Big 12 Championship without requiring any help. Lose either of the next two games and the path to the conference championship, while not totally blocked off, gets much messier.

So that bring us to the immediate task at hand: taking on Iowa State in what will be Oklahoma’s final home game of the season. The Sooners are a perfect 5-0 at home this season and are 28-2 at home with Riley as head coach.

Oklahoma is 77-7-2 all-time against Iowa and 16-2 in the series since the Big 12 was formed in 1996. Don’t let that fool you, however. The Sooners are just 3-2 against ISU in the last four seasons, including the OU win in the 2020 Big 12 title game.

The Sooners’ .907 winning percentage against Iowa State is the best by any Power Five team against another opponent (minimum of 50 games played).

This will be the second straight weekend the Oklahoma game has been featured on FOX’s “Big Noon Kickoff” and also the second straight weekend the Sooners will play at 11 a.m. The pregame “Big Noon Kickoff” program, which includes former OU head coach Bob Stoops as part of the panel, will also originate from Norman on Saturday.

For the third time this season, the No. 1 FOX announcing crew of Gus Johnson (play by -lay), Joel Klatt (analysis) and Jenny Taft (sideline reporter) will do an Oklahoma game

What to watch for from Iowa State

The strength of the Iowa State team is its defense. The Cyclones rank second in the Big 12 and 10th in the country in total defense. Perhaps the key matchup in the game will be the 10th-ranked Cyclone defense against the OU offense, ranked 17th in the country. Look for Iowa State to try to bottle up Kennedy Brooks and the Sooner running game and force Caleb Williams to beat the Cyclones with his arm.

Iowa State is especially strong at the back end of the defense and ranks 21st in the country defending the pass.

The Iowa State offense features veteran quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall and wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, all second-ranked in the Big 12 in their respective categories. Purdy has the second-best completion percentage in the Big 12 (74.3 percent) and has thrown for 2,441 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. Hall is the main ball carrier in the Cyclones running game, averaging 5.4 yards per rush with 16 touchdowns.

Purdy is more of a passing quarterback and not really a dual-threat, but he can also beat you with his legs if you afford him that opportunity.

The Cyclones two main receiving targets, the 6-foot, 3-inch Hutchinson and 6-foot, 6-inch Charlie Kolar (from Norman, Oklahoma) have combined for 109 receptions and nine touchdowns this season. The OU linebackers and secondary are going to have to know where these two are at all times because they are game-breakers if they are allowed to run free.

OU takeaways in this game may be at a premium. Since their third game of the season, Iowa State has turned the ball over just six times, which ties for seventh fewest in the nation over that time.

If the kicking game comes into play in this contest, Iowa State has a strong placekicker in Andrew Mevis, who has been successful on 16 of his 18 field-goal tries second in the Big 12 to OU’s Gabe Brkic, with a long of 54 yards

What to watch for from Oklahoma

Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams and the Sooner offensive line are the two biggest keys if Oklahoma is to rebound from last week’s loss with a victory over Iowa State. Williams was under pressure throughout much of the Baylor game because of breakdowns along the O-line. The times that the OU quarterback had time to go through his progression, there were no open Sooner receivers.

Williams needs to have a Big day both throwing the football while sprinkling in a few strong runs to keep the ISU defense honest. The Sooners also need to be able to run the football, something they have had difficulty doing throughout the season. A lot of this rests with the offensive line. Brooks, who is 143 yards shy of a third season of over 1,000 yards rushing in his OU career, has had several big games this season, and he needs to put together another solid performance on Saturday to open up OU’s aerial attack.

Iowa State won’t make it easy for the Sooners to run the ball. The Cyclones have been very stingy this season against the run. The Cyclones are giving up an average of 112.6 yards rushing per game.

The Sooners have a host of talented wide receivers, but that talent hasn’t shown out in recent contests because of the failure to get open compounded by dropped passes.

Oklahoma has been good this season creating turnovers. The Sooners rank third nationally with 15 forced fumbles and is tied for fourth with 12 fumble recoveries.

The one thing OU needs to clean up for sure on defense is tackling. If the Sooners are going to beat Iowa State, it is imperative that they be able to get Cyclone players to the ground when they are in position to make the stop. Baylor runners and receivers were making to many yards after contact and after the catch against the Sooners a week ago.

Season stats

Oklahoma                  Stats                  Iowa State

40.0                   Avg. points scored        32.5

24.5                   Avg. points allowed      20.5

455.3                Avg. total yards              434.7

384.7                Avg. yard allowed         306.4

10                      Giveaways                      10

17                      Takeaways                     12

Savvy Sooner stat(s)

  • Among teams with at least 35 trips inside the red zone this season, Oklahoma ranks first nationally, scoring on 49 of 50 red-zone trips. Iowa State ranks fourth nationally with 39 scores in 41 red-zone trips.
  • Only one other time since 1999 have the Sooners lost back-to-back games in the regular season. That was last season when OU lost to Kansas State at home and the following week lost at Iowa State.
  • An OU win on Saturday, coupled with a Baylor loss to Kansas State, would clinch a spot for Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.

Bottom line

Oklahoma is a three and a half-point favorite to defeat Iowa State, which essentially just accounts for home-field advantage. Regardless, the game is expected to be close as all of the games between these two teams have been over the last four years. I expect Oklahoma to play well in its final home game of the season and playing before the home crowd. The Sooners won their last two home games by 21 (TCU) and 31 points (Texas Tech), respectively. I don’t expect the margin to be that great against Iowa State, but I’m pretty confident Oklahoma will win the game.                       Oklahoma 31, Iowa State 27