2020 Game XI: #6 Iowa State (8-2, 8-1) vs. #10 Oklahoma (7-2, 6-2)
Date: Saturday, December 19, 2020
Time: 11:00 A.M. CST
Location: AT&T Stadium (Jerry World), Arlington, TX
Capacity: 80,000, (25% fans are allowed)
Line: Oklahoma -5.5
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
SB Nation Website – “Crimson & Cream Machine”
Well, we may have come up the “rough side of the mountain,” as Matt Campbell says, but Cyclone Fans – we are finally here – The Big 12 Championship!
In a lot of ways, (other than COVID), this year has been different. Especially for Iowa State, as they have continued to trail-blaze their way to victories. We have truly seen a Cyclone tearing through the path of the Big 12, dominating the likes of Kansas State and West Virginia (by a combined score of 87-6), and beating both Texas and Oklahoma in the same year (for the first time in school history). Now while there may be a lot of firsts, this team simply is NOT finished.
After the Texas win, I got a call from my brother (who is getting married in 2021), and he said, “I think I want to go to Dallas for my bachelor party.” I don’t know about you Cyclone fans, but I am about as giddy as a toddler on Christmas morning. Hope to see you WRNLers at the game so we can drink Texas out of Busch Light.
Bring it On Boomer!
When we last left off….
Senior Day was special for the Cyclones, as they completely dominated West Virginia in all phases of the game, and won convincingly 42-6. It was a workmanlike performance. One that we have seen all year, where Iowa State plays their brand, their style of football, and simply does not matter who the competition is.
That’s the thing – this roster is so damn malleable, as they were built to compete against not only pass-happy Big 12 offenses, but also ground-and-pound programs. Physicality will be at its finest form on Saturday, and the only reason OU is favored is because of their history.
Now don’t get me wrong, Oklahoma deserves all the credit to get to where they are. But this Iowa State program simply doesn’t care. Teams of old would have had the shit scared right out of them in big moments – but not the 2020 Cyclones. Their laser-focus has been on display all year, and I for one, am NOT ready for this season to be over.
Talk about going up the wrong side of the schedule. This OU team stared a 1-2 record in the face, and all they have done is win SIX straight! Only one of those wins was by single digits (Texas in 4 OTs), as they have taken the rest of the Big 12 to the woodshed.
Typically, when you think of Oklahoma, you think offense, but what has impressed me most is the play of their defense.
Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch has upped the ante, and his “Speed D,” as they call it in Norman, has improved tremendously. Not only are they stout against the run (3.0 yards per carry), but over the last three games, have allowed a crazy 45% completion rate, and picked off 5 passes.
The biggest difference between ISU/OU Game 1 to now is the return of two playmakers coming off suspension. Senior running back Rhamondre Stevenson carries his lunch pail to work, as this monster has averaged 96 rushing yards per game, and defensive end Ronnie Perkins has a sack per contest since his debut.
Led by offensive savant Lincoln Riley, this Sooner program thrives on big plays, and there is no one better at drawing up one-on-one matchups down the field than Riley. Freshman Quarterback Spencer Rattler has come into his own recently. He is just as dangerous with his legs as he is with his howitzer for an arm.
This Sooner team is loaded with talent, but one thing that is missing – senior leadership. The OU depth chart has only FIVE senior starters, and honestly only SEVEN that contribute to their success. The Sooners are one of the hottest teams in America, but have also played very little football over the last month, as their last game on the schedule (WVU) had to be cancelled due to COVID concerns in Morgantown, WV.
Quite the lopsided affair this is, as OU leads the all-time series 76-7-2, BUT the two teams have split the last four meetings, as ISU even owns a +3-scoring advantage.
This is all too familiar territory for OU, as they have been here before, and then some. In fact, the Sooners have more Big 12 Championship WINS (10) than any other program has appearances. Read that one again…
Iowa State Offense
This is where the game will be won. As Oklahoma brings with them a tremendously athletic and deep defense. Gone are the bone-head coverage lapses and missed tackles from earlier in the season. Obviously Iowa State is going to play their brand of football, which is running the ball with Breece Hall. I expect a tough day trudging the football for #28, as his opportunities will be limited. But as good as a back that Breece “The Beast,” is, he will wiggle his way for close to 100 yards, and will have to gain most of his ground on the outside.
I expect a heavy dose of the three-tight-end set, as Campbell projects lead-blocker (and tremendously important) Dylan Soehner to suit up on Saturday. Watching the OU game back from earlier this year, those tight ends were mammoths moving the line of scrimmage late in the game. Charlie Kolar is a mismatch for any opponent, but more so against the Sooners, as they only have ONE defensive back who is 6-feet-tall.
First Key to Victory – Gotta Start Fast out of the Gate
I can’t emphasize this more, as this Cyclone team has had to dig themselves out of holes the last two times they played OU. Get this - in 2020, the Sooners have outscored opponents by a 127-17 margin in the first quarter (that is not a misprint)… Brock Purdy and company have to put together effective drives to keep the Sooners on their heels. That means positive yards on early downs, manageable third-downs, and finish in the red zone. PS no penalties at the goal-line please?
If I were OU, I would load the box and man-up tight on the outside receivers. Their safeties are aggressive as all get-out, but that can be combatted by the downfield speed of Joe Scates and Tarique Milton. Even if those deep passes are not caught, it will still keep the defensive backs honest. Look for multiple targets to go to Xavier Hutchinson, but most importantly Sean Shaw, Jr., as the sophomore has come into his own in the last few.
A big test on Saturday will be the play of the offensive line. ISU has done a tremendous job of keeping Brock’s jersey clean, only allowing 10 sacks all year (9th best in the country), but they will be in for a showdown with this front-four. Expect those tight ends to stay in and help chip on passing downs, but also more roll-outs and play-action for Purdy to move him out of the pocket.
Like I said in my opening statement, there is not a more improved unit than Oklahoma’s defense. After being the laughing stock of previous CFB playoff contenders, this Sooner D has clamped down, finally forced turnovers, and have one of the best front-sevens in the country.
Their rush defense is good for FOURTH in the nation, as Breece Hall is the only back to garner more than 73 yards any game this year. Defensive tackle Isaiah Thomas has been the unsung hero, as he was just a reserve in 2019, but is playing lights out, and leads the Big 12 in sacks. Speaking of quarterback take-downs, this team has wreaked havoc, collecting 27 sacks (4.5 per game), which is good for tops in the country in the last six games.
Iowa State will have to keep an eye on #7, as their best edge rusher is Ronnie Perkins, who after missing the first five games, has transformed this attack with 4 sacks in his last 4 games. Oklahoma runs a 4-2-5 scheme, and stand-up defensive-end Nik Bonitto missed last game due to COVID, but should be good to go.
Bonitto is only 230 pounds, and also plays outside linebacker. I noticed a lot of position changes in the offseason, as defensive coordinator Alex Grinch loves multiplicity (hmm. Sound familiar?), with safeties playing linebacker, and linebackers moving to edge rushers. They’ve replaced girth for speed, but that beef up front can still hold their own against the rush.
The biggest name that jumps off the page is Brendan Radley-Hiles, who is a jack-of-all trades nickel-back, and came in as one of the top recruits in country. He plays down in the box and will most likely be matched up with Kolar. Iowa State took advantage of his aggressiveness and 5-foot-9 frame in the first contest, and no doubt, will do so again.
The Sooners are led in tackles by ultra-fast linebacker Brian Asamoah, but after that, the next second-level defender in stops is David Ugwoegbu, who is sixth on the team in tackles. That means a very aggressive defensive backfield, who has tremendous closing speed, and ability to get back in coverage if need be.
Probably the weakest link of this team is the secondary. Albeit their improvement in the last two-thirds of the season, they are still apt to miss assignments. They have impressively only allowed all of TEN passing touchdowns all year, and do lead the Big 12 in Pass Defense Efficiency.
They carry tremendous depth, and have been rotating fresh legs in lately. Their best cover corner is redshirt freshman Woodi Washington, and his counterpart Tre Brown is the only senior that starts on this side of the ball. Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell is second on the team in tackles, and has a nose for causing explosions in the backfield.
The Verdict – OU
This is going to be the toughest matchup of the year for the Clones. It will be very similar to the Texas and OSU contests, where yards will be hard to come by, and Breece Hall will struggle to get going. That means the load will fall on to Brock Purdy’s shoulders.
Iowa State Defense
One major part I worry about are the first few drives. In game’s past it has taken Jon Heacock a few possessions to see what hand he has been dealt, and then boom – in-game adjustments are made, and ISU is back in the saddle again. In the last 8 games, ISU is allowing an absurd 8.6 points in the second halves. Absurd.
Take away all the non-offensive touchdowns we have pissed down our leg, and this defense should be tops in the league in scoring D (17.1 PPG). Obviously it starts with stopping the run, and while many think OU is a pass-happy, throw-it-all-around type offense, they actually run the ball more than they throw it.
Second Key to Victory – Force Turnovers
Its as easy as meat and potatoes. In a game as closely matched up as this, flipping field position with a turnover will make or break either team. I’m confident ISU can “rattle” Rattler with not only their blitzes, but also blitz disguises, as no one is better at that than the Scientist Jon Heacock himself.
I expect OU will try and establish the run early. That means players like Enyi Uwazurike and Jaquan Bailey will have to continue to play unselfish football, taking themselves out of the play, that way linebackers like Mike Rose and Jake Hummel can run free. The Sooners’ bread and butter run play (and many RPO versions off it) is the combo guard/tackle counter concept, where they pull both linemen and form a swinging gate of sorts as lead blockers. The key is to dirty up the run lane, and their last foe (Baylor) stopped it to perfection (76 rushing yards on 31 attempts). You better believe that master plan is in the playbook for Saturday.
I’m a tad worried about the scrambling ability of Spencer Rattler, but Iowa State will have to keep a “Spy” on him at all times. Easier said than done, but O’Rien Vance and Mike Rose are up for the task. Iowa State’s unsung hero on the inside (Isaiah Lee) is expected to play, as he is a difference maker up front.
This will be a big test for the secondary, namely our safeties on downfield throws. There is no one better at putting speedy receivers in one-on-one situations than Lincoln Riley, so it will be important for the likes of Lawrence White and Isheem Young to play their best version of Centerfield.
This Sooner offense has hit its stride as of late, as they lead the Big 12 (surprise) in both scoring and total offense. Again, not only are they ultra-efficient at passing the ball (9.7 yards per attempt), but have really churned out the yards on the ground.
The debut of running back Rhamondre Stevenson changed the dynamic of this offense midway through the year, as he is a powerful back. His counterpart T.J. Pledger is more of a change-of-pace runner, and has the wheels to break one. The offensive line is led by All-American Creed Humphrey, as he anchors the front and has the experience to communicate effectively against ISU’s blitz packages.
There are a smorgasbord of options at receiver, but the best one is probably freshman Marvin Mims. He has already tied the OU freshman record of seven touchdowns, and is their big-play threat. Other names to keep an eye on are: possession-receiver Charleston Rambo, slot-man Drake Stoops, and red-zone threat Theo Wease.
Tight End Austin Stogner, (who I think is second best tight end in the conference), is doubtful to play with a leg injury, but his backup Brayden Willis did find the end zone last game for a score.
The quarterback Spencer Rattler is a dandy. He has improved greatly since he first played Iowa State, and has completed passes at nearly a 70% clip. He has thrown for at least two touchdowns in 8 of last 9 games, and has the legs to extend plays. His maturation has grown tremendously, but he still tries to fit balls in tight windows.
The Verdict – ISU
I give both defenses the nod here, as there is not a more consistent unit than Iowa State’s D. Oklahoma may win a few battles early, but I think overall Iowa State will win the war, with a collective effort and again the masterful play-calling of Jon Heacock. PS He should have been a finalist for the Broyles Assistant of the Year Award…
Oklahoma carries with it one of the finest kickers in all of college football in Gabe Brkic, as the Lou Groza semi-finalist is a career 87% on field goals. He has only managed to boot one-third of his kickoffs back for touchbacks, so you know what that means!!!
If there was ever a time for fifth-year senior Kene Nwangwu to display his greatness it is now. Look for #3 to take full advantage when the time is right.
OU does have a solid punt returner in Marvin Mims, but not much to speak of on kick returns. They have only made 10 returns all year.
As close as this game will be, you know Connor Assalley will be called upon. If Iowa State has a chance for a game-winning field-goal at the buzzer, I’m confident the kick will go right down ASS-ALLEY!
Verdict – OU
Pretty close, but ISU’s track record hurts them here.
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
Who would have thought we would ever be here, huh? While it may be unfamiliar territory for us fans, this is exactly what Matt Campbell has been preaching with the “Process” since Day Freakin’ One. This Tweet is all you have to understand how disciplined Cyclone Football is:
Now, for my analogy of 1 to 10. Whew, this one took me a few whiskeys to think of. In the spirit of Christmas movies, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being dirty old Cousin Eddy (you know his name was probably spelled incorrectly), and 10 being Kevin McCallister (Home Alone is one of the best holiday films of all time), I give Iowa State a Tim Allen “Christmas with the Kranks’” chance of winning.
All you Chris Williams fanatics out there, take that any way you want…
Come at me. Haha
This one is for all the marbles. It will honestly come down to a play or two, and Iowa State needs to hold serve on the first few possessions, and avoid falling behind early. They also need to limit any and all special teams mistakes, and shut down those deep passing lanes. I expect our best players to show up, but it will be the second- and third-tier guys who will go down as heroes if we want to win.
Now for what I’ve been waiting for
Final Key to Victory – It’s all on Brock Purdy’s Shoulders
This game will be WON OR LOST with Brock Purdy. Plain and SIMPLE. OU will load the box and shut down Breece as much as they can, but if ISU wants to take home the trophy at the end of the day, then #15 will take them to the promised land. And folks, he is ready to do it!
Iowa State 35
Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comment section below!