The Sooners prepare to face off against Iowa State tonight (yeah, it's Thursday, we know). As you prepare to spend your weekday night watching the Big 12 front-runner face off against the 1-7 Cyclones, here are some things you should be watching.
Welcome to the Abdul Adams show
Samaje Perine is still recovering from his injury, so normally Joe Mixon would be the man getting the bulk of the carries. That worked just fine against Kansas State (after Perine left early in the game) and Texas Tech (Mixon ran for over 200 yards and caught for over 150 yards). Mixon also played a bit against Kansas, but he was in-and-out due to injury. With Mixon's suspension, though, Abdul Adams will see even more of the workload than he did against Kansas. As the only available running back on scholarship for Oklahoma, Adams will likely be playing almost every snap.
This is a huge opportunity for the man who could very well be the future at running back for the Sooners. So far he's carried the ball 41 times for 215 yards, and he has yet to reach the end zone. Expect that to change tonight. Iowa State ranks 115th in the nation in terms of yards-per-carry (5.15 ypc), and has allowed an average of 233.6 rushing yards so far. Both those numbers rank last in the Big 12.
So far Sooner Nation knows relatively little about Adams. He's clearly not as big as Perine or Mixon, so his running style isn't quite the same as either back. What he lacks (compared to those bulking backs, at least) in size, he makes up for in speed. Adams has the ability to hit the hole hard, and if he's given any space he has the ability to break off a long run at any moment. Adams' biggest play to date came last week against Kansas:
My big concern for Adams can also be seen in the play above; he's clearly got some speed, but his legs give out pretty hard at the end of that long run. Adams has been used sparingly in the system so far, so he really doesn't have a full game's worth of conditioning under his belt. Now he'll be the primary back. Hopefully the play above is a fluke and not a sign that he's not ready for a full game. I expect he'll be fine, but it's something to track as the game goes into the second half.
Iowa State ranks 53rd in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, which is better by comparison than their running defense. Under normal circumstances, Oklahoma would probably lean on the ground game. With Adams being their last experienced running back left for this game, and the back-up man going forward until Perine returns, Bob Stoops may be unwilling to put Adams at serious risk of injury. With a running back, that typically means less carries.
While I most certainly expect Adams to have his best game of the season, I also expect Oklahoma to throw the ball often. The Sooners prefer to present a balanced attack, but with Mayfield at the helm they're probably not afraid to throw the ball at any moment. Dede Westbrook hasn't stopped his attack on the Oklahoma record books, and several other receivers have started contributing lately as well. Mark Andrews and Geno Lewis, in particular, may see quite a few passes thrown their way. I wouldn't be surprised if Nick Basquine also makes his presence felt, either.
Oklahoma's easiest conference opponent came last week, and the defense responded by allowing only three points (a massive turnaround from the debacle in Lubbock). Their second-easiest test will likely be Iowa State. Iowa State has only 24 touchdowns on the season, which leads only Kansas. Iowa State uses a two-quarterback system, but that's really just because they can't figure out who is the better quarterback. More often than not, if a team can't decide which quarterback should start, it means both quarterbacks have problems.
The Sooner defense finally gave a quarterback a rough time last week, and I don't expect that to change this week. While I don't think that playing well against Iowa State will provide a defensive blueprint to use against Baylor or Oklahoma State, it certainly wouldn't hurt if Oklahoma could carry some momentum into those games later on.
Cyclone running back Mike Warren should have been the big problem for the Sooner defense, but he's getting fewer and fewer touches, and I'm not really sure why. With a few rare exceptions, though, running backs haven't been the problem for Oklahoma this season. Even if Warren gets the carries he should be getting, as long as Oklahoma trots out a competent pass defense, things should be fine.
On paper, this should be a comfortable win the for the Sooners. Trap games happen, though, and it might make sense for this to be one of those games for Oklahoma. The team is without its two starting running backs and the defense is still suffering from a long list of injuries. And did we mention the game is on a Thursday?
Frankly, I don’t expect Oklahoma to lose this one, despite the weakened team and a short week. Of course, no one expects trap games; that’s why they’re called trap games. So you never know. If Oklahoma comes out flat on the road tonight, they could be in for an interesting night.
A Thursday night game is a rare ordeal for Oklahoma, and it's on the road to boot. Iowa State could play better than expected, and Oklahoma's offense could come out flat without their superstar running backs. Honestly, though, I don't expect that Iowa State will be able to hang with Oklahoma all night.
Mayfield has been remarkably precise this year, and no one has figured out a way to stop Dede Westbrook. Along with a few big runs from Adams, I think that should be more than enough to put the game away. Oklahoma wins this one 48-20.