2015 Game IX: Iowa State (3-5, 2-3) vs. University of Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1)
Date: November 7, 2015
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Location: Gaylord Family-Memorial Stadium, Norman, Oklahoma
Line: Oklahoma -26, O/U 61
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Don't look now, but Iowa State is currently the fifth-best team in the Big 12 Conference.
The gauntlet of the schedule is out of the way, and what remain are two cellar dwellers (West Virginia and Kansas State) at the end of the season. Advantage ISU.
Is it just me, or was anybody else surprised at how quickly the offense and new starting quarterback Joel Lanning adapted to coordinator Todd Sturdy? In a short amount of time we saw progress made on the offensive side of the ball, and a rising star in the sophomore Lanning.
To compare Texas to Oklahoma though, is like comparing Hawkeye Whiskey to Jack Daniels. Lanning and company will see an entirely different team across the ball this week. Oklahoma has more weapons, is better coached, and on a vengeance to win the Big 12.
When we last left off....
For the third time in Paul Rhoads's tenure, ISU came away with a shutout, as they won against Texas by a score of 24-0 on a brisk Homecoming night. It was Joel Lanning's first start, and first win in a Cyclone uniform. He was helped by a stellar effort on the defensive side of the ball, as linebacker Jordan Harris was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week.
Lanning continued to look calm in the pocket, going through his progressions, and keeping his eyes downfield when he scrambled. The impact of his legs paid a huge dividend for Iowa State, as they converted on 15 of 24 third downs. Running back Mike Warren carried a career-high 32 times, and the offensive line dominated the Texas front four.
All in all, Iowa State dictated the entirety of 60 minutes, playing their first complete game of the year, winning the turnover battle and killing it in time of possession. Great win for the program, and possibly a career-saving win for Paul Rhoads.
I watched game tape of OU, and in less than five minutes that damn "Boomer Sooner" song was already stuck in my head. Doesn't the band know any other tunes?
The Sooners somehow lost to that same team that ISU slaughtered last week. Since OU's gaffe against the Longhorns, the Sooners have outscored their last three opponents by a combined score of 180-34. Head coach Bob Stoops prefers to drive a car without brakes, as he always, always steps on the gas.
The Sooners stole away walk-on quarterback Baker Mayfield from Texas Tech, and so far it has worked in favor of the crimson and cream. Mayfield is ultra-efficient, as he is ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency, and has 25 touchdowns to 4 interceptions on the year.
Oklahoma is still vying for the Big 12 Conference crown, and controls their own destiny with matchups against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State left on their schedule.
Oklahoma leads the all-time series 72-5-2.
Iowa State last beat the Sooners in 1990. The Clones were coached by Jim Walden, wore the worst mustard-yellow uniforms ever, and every football program appeared to play on this thing called astro-turf. You can catch the highlights here, courtesy of Cyclones.tv "Cyclone Classics."
Iowa State Offense
The Todd Sturdy experiment in week one worked to perfection. So far we have seen an emphasis on establishing the running game. As shown in KnowDan's article earlier this week, the majority of runs went between the tackles, and ended in success. When guard Daniel Burton went down, in stepped Wendell Taiese, and the line moved forward without a hitch.
First Key to Victory - Protect Lanning in the Pocket
This will be the first real test for Lanning, on the road and in a frantic atmosphere. Running the ball will make his job easier, and continue to allow our offense to convert on third and short. The line will see a number of blitzes, and will have to keep their eye on #19 Erik Striker, as he terrorizes QBs in the backfield.
Oklahoma's strength is their pass defense, which bodes well for the ISU offense. The Cyclones oil for their running machine is Mike Warren, and I see the Oklahoma native getting a ton of carries in his home state. What this does is run the clock and make the game more manageable for Lanning and company. This rushing attack has now gained more than 225 yards in their last six contests, and that will have to continue if Iowa State wants to keep this one close.
I noticed in the Texas game that ISU's wideouts turned into possession receivers. There were a lot of crossing routes against man coverage, and curl routes to find windows against the zone. They made life easy for Joel as they came back to the ball when he scrambled. It will be important for the receivers to get off the ball, as Oklahoma likes to bump and run, and carries height at the corner position. I also look for Sturdy to take a few shots deep, just to keep the safeties honest; otherwise they will play up in the box all day.
The Oklahoma defense runs a hybrid 3-2-6 nickel package. They have one of the most feared defensive players in the conference, in DE/OLB Striker. The senior is the all-time sack leader in Oklahoma history, and can line up anywhere on the field.
The defensive line is feisty, but also a smaller unit. The average weight in the front three is 277, but they thrive on quickness. Defensive end Charles Tapper was named Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Week last week, as he corralled KU quarterbacks for three sacks and forced two fumbles. Then again, that was Kansas, so it doesn't really count.
The defensive backfield is the strength of this unit, as the Sooners carry veteran linebackers and taller-than-average corners. The Sooners rank 10th in the country in pass defense, only allowing 168 yards per game. Oklahoma's top three linebackers have combined for 570 career tackles, and are led by All-Big 12 middle linebacker Dominique Alexander.
But the Sooners have also hit the injury bug, as one of those linebackers - Jordan Evans - has missed the last two games and is probable; and their top corner - Preseason All-American Zach Sanchez - is doubtful with an injury.
Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in pass defense, due in large part to getting to the quarterback. They are second in the nation in sacks, as little brother Mike Stoops likes to dial up the blitzes.
The Verdict - Oklahoma
It's tough for any quarterback to play in Norman, Oklahoma, let alone Joel Lanning, who has one start to his name. Let me say this though - ISU doesn't need to chuck it 40 times against this vaunted pass defense. The offensive line can run the ball against anyone, especially an undersized three-man front of Oklahoma's. Look for Warren and his bash brother Joshua Thomas to get a ton of carries, making third down manageable. Also ISU needs to punch it in for 6 in the red zone. Field goals are for the birds in this one.
Iowa State Defense
The heart and soul of this year's team has been the defense. Wally the Wizard has received much criticism throughout the year, but has stuck with his game plan, and turned this young unit into a legitimate Big-12 caliber defense.
It all starts up front, and without Demond Tucker this 3-4 scheme doesn't work. Tucker has continued to eat up blockers in space, and will go up against one of the conference's best in Center Ty Darlington. Look for Trent Taylor and J.D. Waggoner to share snaps, as Taylor comes back from injury.
Second Key to Victory - Get Pressure on the Quarterback
In order for the back end of the defense to work, we have to get pressure on Mayfield. Ever since Trent Taylor has been out Pierson has been a non-factor. Hopefully with him back in the lineup that allows the "Sack Mamba" to go off for one of his patented quarterback feasts. Forcing pressure will have to come in a lot of different ways, most likely with outside blitzes from Jay Jones, and even Levi Peters (who recorded his first 2 sacks last week).
Jordan Harris and company will have another busy day trying to stop the bowling-ball-that-is Samaje Perine. Oklahoma likes to spread it out, and then run right up the gut with Perine. The linebackers will have to shred blocks, especially against a mammoth offensive line. While they are big, they are also young, as both bookend tackles are freshmen.
I can't be more excited than I am about our secondary. CB Brian Peavy has over-exceeded everyone's expectations, and Jomal Wiltz can turn on the burners. I think our secondary can match up well, and look for Nigel to key on Mayfield's favorite receiver, Sterling Shepard.
Third Key to Victory - Force Turnovers
In order for ISU to even have a chance in this one they HAVE to force turnovers, with a capital H. That will only happen with a mix of blitzes by the front seven, and aggressive play in the secondary. Nigel Tribune should have at least one, if not two pick-sixes on the season, and maybe this is the week he puts stick-em on the gloves and takes one back to the house. Also those turnovers have to turn into 6's and not 3's.
Bob Stoops uncharacteristically fired most of his offensive staff last year, and brought in a 32-year old by the name of Lincoln Riley to call the plays. Riley comes from the Mike Leach family tree, and dominated at East Carolina before donning a crimson polo. He likes to spread teams out, throw the go routes down the sidelines (ala Baylor), and run right up the gut with two-headed monster at running back.
Leading the charge out of the backfield is the sophomore Perine, who has lived up to his billing, with 729 yards and nine touchdowns on the year. His backup isn't a slouch either, as Joe Mixon provides fresh legs with 6.2 yards per carry average.
Sterling Shepard, all 5-foot-10 of him, is the heart and soul of this receiving corps. He leads the team in receptions (43), yards per game (91.5) and touchdowns (6), and creates a mismatch problem with his silky smooth quickness and ability to make defenders miss.
One stat to look at - QB Baker Mayfield leads the Big 12 in completion percentage (69.7%), and is second in the conference in passing yards per attempt (10.12). That means two things - he throws a great deep ball, and his receivers gain a ton of yards after the catch.
Verdict - Oklahoma
Even though the Sooners like to throw the ball deep, Wally's bend-but-don't break defense doesn't allow that to happen. That should be a contributing factor for the Cyclone defense in this one. Step one is to stop Perine, step two is to get pressure on Baker Mayfield. Easier said than done, so that's why I have to pick the Sooners in this one.
The kicking game will be a contributing factor in this affair, as field position can go a long way for a road team. It will be important for Iowa State to continue their stellar punt coverage, as the Sooners have a scary return man in Shepard.
It looks like Cole Netten will continue the place-kicking duties, and Chris Francis the kickoffs. Like I said before, unless fourth down is insurmountable in the red zone, the Cyclones need to go for it on fourth down any chance they get.
The Sooners are going all Tony Yelk on us, as freshman Austin Seibert handles the field goals and punting duties. So far, Seibert has been serviceable, making 11 of 13 kicks, and ranking third in the conference in punting average.
Advantage - Oklahoma
The Sterling Shepard weapon gives the edge to the Sooners here. And I still can't trust any kick that Netten makes.
KnowDan's Beer Pick of the Week
Is this a normal game in Norman? One that results in another comically bad way to blow open a close game? Because if so I'm just going to tell you to go out and get some hunter orange camo cans of Old Milwaukee and see if you can put down a case before Oklahoma makes it a 40 point game.
As a non-beer aside, I've noticed special teams typically flip the momentum of this game. In 2002 it was a blocked punt on the first drive that put Iowa State in the hole. In 2011 a botched punt by Oklahoma gave the Cyclones some life in what ultimately became a 20 point loss. And in 2013 a Sterling Shepard punt return to end the 1st half tied the game and flipped momentum. For the love of God guys, don't drop the ball on special teams and make me crack in to that Old Mil.
Now for a beer. It's simple for me this week. Surly just released their 2015 edition of Abrasive. If you like Double IPAs you should go seek it out. Then celebrate with it if something stupid happens and benefits the Cyclones on Saturday.
Bobby Stoops has continued to exert his dominance against Iowa State, and won't let us down in this one. He carries a mammoth offensive line, and three studs that can hit you on any part of the field.
Look for Iowa State to play their patented bend-but-don't-break defense, and Mayfield put up some big numbers between the 20s. The key will be in the red zone, as Oklahoma loves to run the ball against a tired defense, and will more than likely succeed.
On paper the pick seems to be Oklahoma, but I don't see the Cyclones laying down without a fight. Rhoads has continued to put a better product on the field each and every week, and it will be interesting to see how Lanning faces the pressure come Saturday.
I see a heavy dose of Mike Warren and Joshua Thomas in this one, as Sturdy wants to get the ground game going. The 3-man front of Oklahoma has its advantages for ISU, and even though Striker is a force in the pass rush, he is also only 222 pounds, and can be blocked in the run game.
I see ISU covering, but the Sooners taking home the victory.
Iowa State 27
PS - KnowDan here again. In researching how that 2002 game went down I came across this little blurb from the Cyclones.com recap:
A victory would have vaulted the upstart Cyclones into the national championship picture. Instead, they fell to 1-35-1 against Oklahoma since 1962 and are now 0-47-2 against teams ranked in the top 5.
Yes, there was a time in our lives that the first sentence was 100% serious.