Iowa State (3-4, 0-4) vs. Oklahoma (4-3, 1-3)
Date: October 29, 2022
Time: 11 AM
Place: Jack Trice Stadium
Line: Iowa State +1
When we last left off...
Iowa State went down to Austin to face a resurgent Longhorns squad that’s much improved from 2021 under young quarterback Quinn Ewers. As has been typical of the 2022 season, this game was tight from the get-go, but the Cyclone offense actually started well, taking a 7-0 lead on a touchdown catch by a wide-open Jaylin Noel.
However, Texas has Bijan Robinson, and boy did they use him. Throughout most of the afternoon, the star running back repeatedly made spectacular individual efforts to gash Iowa State in the running game. He and Roschon Johnson paired up for over 200 combined rushing yards. Texas grabbed a couple of scores before halftime to take a 14-7 lead into the break. After trading punches for a good chunk of the second half, the Cyclones found themselves down 24-21 with just over five minutes to play.
On the final drive, the Cyclones converted a long fourth down to keep moving. Then found a wide-open Xavier Hutchinson far downfield, but the otherwise sure-handed receiver dropped what was almost certainly a touchdown and a late lead for Iowa State. A crushing blow for a group that just can’t seem to get out of its own way.
The Longhorns closed the game out and Iowa State walked away with a three-point win.
Following the departure of Lincoln Riley to USC, along with a mountain of some of the best players on the roster, the Sooners under first-year head coach Brent Venables has struggled to a 4-3 record on the season. Surprisingly, the defense has taken a significant step back, ranking as one of the worst defenses in the Power Five. Most expected the defensive-minded Venables to have that group in tip-top shape, but it appears culture change takes some time.
Oklahoma holds a commanding 78-7 lead in the all-time series, BUT Iowa State has beaten the Sooners twice in the last five seasons and hasn’t lost to the Sooners by more than 10 points in the Matt Campbell era.
Iowa State Offense
First, the bad news that you’re all well-acquainted with: Iowa State’s offense has been kind of poopy this year. The running game has been almost entirely unsuccessful (though that can’t be a complete shock given the loss of maybe the best running back in school history in Breece Hall), and first-year starter Hunter Dekkers has shown flashes of the talent we’ve heard about for a few years now, but his “rookie” struggles have overshadowed some of those highlights.
The Cyclones currently sit near or at the bottom of the Big 12 in yards and points per play. Strangely though, Iowa State actually is fairly proficient on third-down and fourth-down conversions, ranking 38th and 21st in the country, respectively.
HOWEVER, I’m here to tell you that some of that may be changing for the better soon. While certainly far from perfect, the offense absolutely took a step forward against Texas. We saw a more purposeful and aggressive passing attack that attempted to stretch the ball down the field (or at least more than it had previously). We finally saw some of the potential for what a vertical offense with a big arm like Dekkers’, and it was fun. If they continue those trends, we may see the Cyclones start to turn a corner offensively.
Let’s take a look at few things we saw against Texas that could be a sign of things to come.
The last handful of games, we’ve seen Hunter Dekkers be excessively timid at times, defaulting to his check-down option far too often, whether that’s a running back underneath or Xavier Hutchinson or Jaylin Noel on a shallow crossing route. However, we saw this offense consistently try to be more aggressive in the passing game, and it worked to great effect. As was the case with most of the game, the camera angle is horrendous to use for film review, but we can get a decent idea of what’s happening here.
X is lined up outside on a go route, and draws the attention of a deep safety. Jared Rus runs a delayed “slip” route to the flat, which draws the attention of the strong-side linebacker. Cartevious Norton runs a delay route out of the backfield, which is essentially the running back version of a hitch. This route draws the attention of the weak-side linebacker. With the both linebackers covering underneath and the weak-side safety at least partially preoccupied with X, Jaylin Noel finds himself with some room about 15 yards downfield in the soft spot of the defense. Hunter delivers a strike, which Jaylin reels before hanging through a big hit from the backside safety.
This is a big-time, aggressive play that Iowa State can use to gain chunk yardage against the remaining defenses on the schedule. This is especially notable because Norton was open underneath, an option that Dekkers was more than happy to default to for the last four games.
Here we see roughly the same concept out of similar looks, both ending in solid completions, one for a touchdown and one for a long third down conversion. Both plays begin out of bunch/bunch-adjacent set. One receiver runs a fairly standard slant route, while another runs a route to the boundary.
On the first play, that’s a corner route by X, and on the second play it’s a rub route by Hanika. However, on both plays, the third route is a trail route, which is essentially a slant with a couple extra steps before the break, which creates space between the two routes and forces the linebackers to make a decision. Which route Hunter takes depends on how the linebackers react. In both cases, they followed the early crosser, leaving the trail route wide open.
A couple times per season we’ll see Iowa State bust out something like this. A backside post on a play action or RPO out of a heavy set, most of which end up in a long gain or touchdown. Quenton Bundrage’s 97-yard touchdown against Texas in 2014 and X’s touchdown against Oklahoma in 2020 were almost identical to this one. Not necessarily this exact play, but this shows us how well a well-executed play action can work when run out of our common heavy-run sets. Use tendencies to your advantage.
Hoo boy are things bad on defense for the Sooners. Oklahoma ranks 80th or worse in the country in the following categories:
Opp Points/Game - 87th
Opp Yards/Game - 108th
Opp Yards/Play - 89th
Opp 3rd Down Conversion - 111th
Opponent Redzone Scoring - 79th (close enough)
Opp Yards/Rush - 106th
Opp Completion %: 89th
In fact, the only defensive stat in which they don’t rank in the bottom half of college football on defense is 4th down conversion, where they sit at 12th.
This defense is bad. Very, very bad.
Lincoln Riley’s teams were not known for their defensive prowess, and it appears as though the culture change to adjust to Venables’ more hard-nosed style is going to take some time.
Seriously. This defense is poopy.
The Verdict - Iowa State....barely...I think...
Iowa State’s offense appears as though they might be close to thinking about possibly contemplating turning a corner, but the running game still isn’t very good and Dekkers still has to grow quite a bit. That said, the Cyclones will be playing one of the worst defenses in the Power Five and will likely have the opportunity to move the ball against a very porous Oklahoma defense. How many points that results in will ultimately come down to the Cyclones’ ability to make plays and avoid shooting themselves in the foot with silly penalties and mental mistakes.
Iowa State Defense
Somehow, Iowa State’s defense has gotten even better, despite the losses of Mike Rose, Jake Hummel, Isheem Young, and Enyi Uwazurike. The Cyclones currently rank third in the country in opponent-adjusted defensive yards per play, and rank in the top-15 in yards per carry allowed, points per game allowed, and total yards per game allowed. While still not a turnover-hungry defense, Heacock’s group is still well ahead of their typical pace in terms of forcing turnovers.
Simply put, this is the best defense in the Big 12, and I’m not sure there’s an argument for anybody else. The secondary has turned out to be the strongest group of the entire unit, despite most people thinking they could be good, but might have to go through some growing pains to get there. Anthony Johnson has been fabulous at safety, and TJ Tampa and Myles Purchase have been more than you could have asked for this season. That secondary has chance to be an absolute menace for the next few years.
Despite the turnover on both the roster and the coaching staff, the Sooners are up to their usual shenanigans on offense (albeit to a lesser degree). The offense is led by 24th-year quarterback transfer Dillon Gabriel by way of Florida State and UCF, who has remained efficient when healthy, throwing just a single interception on the season. However, the Sooners are a run-heavy team led by Eric Gray and Javontae Barnes, though Gray is the clear leader of the two. The Tennessee transfer is averaging a whopping 7.2 yards per carry, so slowing him down will be critical to containing the Oklahoma offense.
However, the Sooner passing game is still a significant threat. The aforementioned Dillon Gabriel is an efficient passer with a bevvy of targets to throw the ball to, and none of those are more important than Marvin Mims. The speedy receiver is probably a consensus top-5 receiver in the conference (how anyone orders Xavier Hutchinson, Xavier Worthy, Quenton Johnston, and Marvin Mims is entirely subjective). He’s a significant downfield threat that absolutely must be accounted for by Anthony Johnson, Beau Freyler, and Jeremiah Cooper.
The Verdict - Iowa State
SImply put, the Iowa State defense was built almost specifically to stop Oklahoma and teams like them. Contain the deep pass and the running game, and force an offense to dink and dunk their way down the field. OU does not want to do that, especially over long fields. And as we’ve seen this season, if Dillon Gabriel isn’t on top of his game, that offense can get bogged down at times.
Conversely, the Cyclone defense is about as consistent as they come, and rarely gives up big plays, which remains the bread and butter of the Oklahoma offense. Jon Heacock is regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football for a reason, and games like these are exactly what this defense is made for.
Oklahoma’s special teams are ranked 22nd as a unit by Football Outsiders, meanwhile Iowa State’s special teams remains a 115th-ranked, unmitigated disaster akin to a porta-potty on the third day of a festival. In fact, Iowa State gave up their third blocked punt of the season just last Saturday.
I cannot fathom why the punt protection remains complete garbage, but here we are, stepping in our own shit every single week. And if a punt miraculously goes unblocked, there will almost assuredly be some catastrophic error on some other phase of special teams. The special teams ineptitude remains the most confounding part of this football team, and I don’t know when it will get fixed.
The Verdict - Oklahoma in a landslide
I think you can probably figure it out.
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
On a scale of gas station food items from the Big Bopper microwaveable cheeseburgers to Kwik Star’s Bacon Mac & Cheese bites, I’d rank this game somewhere around a Kum & Go Tornado. Pretty solid for a quick snack, especially paired with the right drink, but not any sort of slam dunk that’s going to leave you incredibly satisfied.
Despite my pessimism about special teams, I see this as a very winnable game for Iowa State. In a true strength vs. strength matchup, I see Iowa State’s strength being better than Oklahoma’s strength, and Iowa State’s weakness being better than Oklahoma’s weakness, though neither margin is all that large. I see this as a game that could come down to a critical turnover or mental mistake.
That last sentence is probably the single most worrying part of this preview, given this team’s propensity to follow up amazing individual plays with mind-boggling turnovers and torturous penalties. IFFFFFF Iowa State can avoid a catastrophic special teams error or critical turnover and force Oklahoma to drive 70+ yards on most possessions, this game could swing in Iowa State’s favor fairly quickly, provided the offense continues on the upward trajectory we think we saw vs. Texas.
Of course, none of this could happen and we see another 9-7 tire fire if the offensive jump against Texas was a fluke and we see some critical, nonsensical mistake that most fans never previously thought possible. It’s anybody’s guess really.
Iowa State - 31
Oklahoma - 24
eat shit you wagon riding losers