Oklahoma football: Sooners build defensive confidence in 27-13 victory at Iowa State

Oct. 29, 2022; Ames, Iowa, USA; Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman (28) intercepts a pass in the fourth quarter against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryon Houlgrave/Des Moines Register-USA TODAY Sports
Oct. 29, 2022; Ames, Iowa, USA; Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman (28) intercepts a pass in the fourth quarter against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryon Houlgrave/Des Moines Register-USA TODAY Sports /

Ames. Iowa — Once defensive struggles begin to snowball, it can be difficult to reclaim cratered confidence. After four-consecutive games of allowing at least 41 points per contest, Oklahoma football offered up evidence that the defense could trend back to the form that produced an undefeated non-conference mark.

“It is not an easy thing,” first-year Oklahoma Coach Brent Venables said after his defense forced three turnovers and held Iowa State to just 66 rushing yards in the Sooners’ 27-13 victory before 58,716 fans Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. “Our guys are smart and they have got a lot of video evidence. What we have been able to do on the practice field and the improvement that they have made, I think that is where we can continue to have confidence. …

“They see that when we do the little things right, when we trust, when we align, when we assign a key and we play with the discipline that it takes, when we play with the aggression and the assuredness that it takes, then good things will happen.”

Plenty of good things happened Saturday for Oklahoma (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) as it returned from last week’s bye looking to keep building and improving from its last outing, a 52-42 home win over then-No. 19 Kansas.

For the second game in a row, Oklahoma never trailed. Against Kansas, the Sooners built a lead of 20-plus points in each of the final three quarters, only to triumph by 10 points. Against Iowa State, the lead reached 14 points in both the third and fourth quarter and whenever the hometown Cyclones threatened, the Sooners responded.

“During the open week and this week, there was a lot of improvement in practice,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “That is where confidence comes from. It comes from doing it successfully on the practice field before you get to the game field. They did that and it carried over and I am really pleased to come up here and get a win against a football team that has been in, every one of their losses have been a one-possession game. I am pleased with that.”

The loss is the fifth in a row for Iowa State (3-5, 0-5), but for the first time this season the margin of defeat exceeded seven points.

And sure, the Iowa State offensive acumen has left a lot to be desired this season. The Cyclones entered Saturday averaging just 15 points per game against “Power-5” competition. In past years, a team like that has threatened to take advantage of the Sooners’ declining confidence and post one of its better offensive outings of the season.

Not this time.

While the Sooners did allow 308 passing yards to Iowa State sophomore quarterback Hunter Dekkers, it took Dekkers a whopping 57 pass attempts to get there. After the Cyclones had cut their fourth-quarter deficit to 20-13 with 10:29 to go, the Sooners intercepted Dekkers on his next two drives, once by Oklahoma senior safety Justin Broiles and the second by sophomore linebacker Danny Stutsman, who returned his to the Iowa State two-yard line.

“It was just kind of going back to that technique,” said Stutsman, whose interception is the first in his collegiate career. “Coach Venables has yelled at me a thousand times. ‘Pack it in on that hash (mark).’ That is right where the ball was. It is kind of good to see that pay off. What an awesome moment.”

Two plays later, Oklahoma senior tailback Eric Gray fielded a “Wildcat” direct snap from center and plunged forward for a five-yard touchdown that restored the Sooners’ two-touchdown advantage at 27-13 with just 4:36 to go.

Oklahoma continues to be strong in special teams. Senior punter Michael Turk helped his team flip field position with a 49.3-yard average over six punts and was credited with his first career touchdown pass when, as the holder on a 19-yard field goal attempt, flipped the ball slightly forward to sophomore kicker Zach Schmit, who scooted into the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter.

“,Coach (Jay) Nunez, the special teams guy (drew that up),” said Schmit, who also converted field goals of 41 and 34 yards as Oklahoma built a 13-6 halftime lead. “He works a lot behind the scenes because he is not able to actually coach in games, but schematically he has done a great job.”

Gray finished with 101 yards, which helped Oklahoma cope with the absence of standout freshman Jovantae Barnes (hamstring) and allowed quarterback Dillon Gabriel stay patient against the Iowa State defense, which is considered the best in the Big 12.

Gabriel threw for 148 yards and one touchdown, a 41-yard strike to a wide-open Jalil Farooq that provided the Sooners with some breathing room at 20-6 with 4:18 left in the third quarter.

“I saw a pressure look,” Gabriel said. “They had man to man (defense). Their good player playing in the middle of the field. Kind of saw that, put the run with into motion. Just key on that backside and then seeing that safety drive on the drag and release. Just taking advantage of that, high-low them and playing against the middle.”

Oklahoma hopes to continue its in-season turnaround and claim a second three-game win streak this season when it hosts Baylor (4-3, 2-2) Nov. 5 in Norman. The Bears visited Texas Tech on Saturday.

“It is a great win for all of our guys,” Venables said. “Our focus right now is about, ‘Finish what you started.'”

Oklahoma 27, Iowa State 13


Oklahoma 3-10-7-7–27

Iowa State 3-3-0-7–13

OKLA – Zach Schmit 41 Yd Field Goal
ISU – Jace Gilbert 27 Yd Field Goal
OKLA – Zach Schmit 2 Yd pass from Michael Turk (Zach Schmit Kick)
OKLA – Zach Schmit 34 Yd Field Goal
ISU – Jace Gilbert 43 Yd Field Goal
OKLA – Jalil Farooq 41 Yd pass from Dillon Gabriel (Zach Schmit Kick)
ISU – Jaylin Noel 15 Yd pass from Hunter Dekkers (Drake Nettles Kick)
OKLA – Eric Gray 4 Yd Run (Zach Schmit Kick)