Very few of us need a history lesson in the danger zone that Ames, Iowa has come to be known within Big 12 country.
Is it fair to say Ames has become something of a North Lubbock if you will? A bit of a leap perhaps on my part, but under the leadership of Paul Rhoads it's become a place good teams go to lose if they don't show up ready to play. And while I'm willing to bet I don't represent the majority of Sooner Nation with the following statement, this Oklahoma team showing up ill-prepared is my biggest fear going into this game.
No one is going to sit here and convince you the two teams are on equal footing when they line up on the field across from one another. That said, it's certainly not like this is an Oklahoma program incapable of losing to inferior talent (cough, Texas Tech 2011, cough).
Rhoads has drawn praise from much more important and influential people than those of us here at CCM (though we too have been very complimentary) and for good reason. His teams rarely fail to show up ready to play and I fully expect that to be the case this Saturday. Just about any time Oklahoma comes strolling into an opposing stadium, the home team treats it as one of if not the biggest game on their schedule. There is no reason to expect any different from the Cyclones and if the Sooners take them for granted, they could certainly become the latest victim in Ames.
So how do the Sooners prevent that from happening?
Key No. 1 - RUN THE BALL
This is something the OU offense obviously struggled to do in their loss last week to Notre Dame. While Iowa State will trot out a more than respectable rush defense (Top 40 in the country), they aren't on the same level as the Irish. Few teams in the country boast a front seven the quality of which the Sooners faced last week, which is much more of a compliment to Notre Dame than a shot at the Cyclones.
Now, could Oklahoma still win this game throwing it 45-to-50 times? Yeah, probably. But should that be the game plan going into the game? Um, no. Have we not seen enough times already game plans designed solely around Landry Jones and the underwhelming success rate of such game plans?
Regardless of whether or not Damien Williams is able to go, Oklahoma has options behind him and while we can argue just how much of a drop off there may be all of said options are capable.
Key No. 2 - Win the turnover battle
If Oklahoma comes out on the wrong side of things with respect to turnovers, I can easily envision multiple scenarios in which they lose this game. Ball security, both on the ground and especially through the air, will be vital to getting out of Ames with a victory. The last thing this Oklahoma team needs is to come out, get an early turnover (or two), and give this Iowa State team and crowd any kind of momentum.
Key No. 3 - Pressure the quarterback
I didn't single out Steele Jantz, the ISU quarterback who will start Saturday, because if this OU defense does what I hope they can do I could certainly see Jared Barnett getting some snaps in this game.
In both of Oklahoma's losses this season, they've gone with a (in my opinion) very conservative game plan that involved attempts to get pressure solely with an OU front four that has failed to accomplish the feat all year. As a result, both Collin Klein and Everett Golson were allowed all day to throw and a very talented Oklahoma secondary was asked to do the impossible in covering for extended periods of time.
While neither Jantz or Barnett are the rush threat Klein and Golson were, both are capable of making plays outside the pocket and extending plays. The hope is Mike Stoops has learned from the two similar game plans that have played a significant role in two losses and does not repeat the same mistake for a third time. Jantz specifically is a guy who has proved to make highly questionable decisions with the ball when facing pressure, so there should be no version of an OU defensive game plan that allows for him stand tall in the pocket and pick apart the defense.
Key No. 4 - Get a lead
"No bleep, moron" is what I expect at least a couple of you said after reading that one. Allow me to explain. This Iowa State offense is not one built to come from behind, so is Oklahoma can jump out in front early it plays into everything the Sooners should be looking to do in this game. (1) Get after the quarterback and (2) control the clock on offense with the run game.
Key No. 5 - Attack the edge
Speed should be an advantage for Oklahoma in just about every game and Saturday is no exception. I'm all for getting north/south in a hurry, but would it kill Josh Heupel to attack the edge of the defense occasionally? I could be completely off base here, but it sure feels like an overwhelming majority of OU's run plays take place between the tackles.
I know, I know, the swing passes to the receivers and running backs are "an extension of the running game", but just once I'd like to see Heupel use Oklahoma's speed to their advantage.
I get that without Jake Knott in the middle of that defense this might sound counter-intuitive, which is probably fair but it's just something I'd like to see the offense do more of going forward.