UPDATE: It looks like Iowa State QB Jacob Park did not travel with the team to Norman, confirming parts of earlier reports from Big XII Country and LandGrant Gauntlet.
UPDATE 2: According to The Des Moines Register, Jacob Park has taken a leave of absence from the Iowa State football team. This obviously confirms that he won’t play against Oklahoma on Saturday.
Original: The last time the Oklahoma Sooners matched up with Iowa State, they were at an interesting point in their 2016 season. They were two weeks removed from the debacle in Lubbock and were still looking to hit their stride on defensive. In their 2016 matchup on Nov. 3, 2016, the Oklahoma defense held Jacob Park, David Montgomery and Co. to just 290 total yards. Interestingly enough, this decent defensive performance was overshadowed by the stellar performance of do-it-all fullback Dimitri Flowers, who rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries.
Fast forward 11 months later, and the Sooners are in a similar predicament, albeit with some new faces on offense and defense. This time around, Flowers will likely stick to being a bulldozing blocker/receiving weapon for Baker Mayfield since the Sooners have a large stable of capable ball carriers this time around.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Sooners will get a boost in the secondary with Will Johnson and Robert Barnes returning from injuries. Up front, they will get defensive end Amani Bledsoe back and potentially Matt Romar, who remains a game-time decision. Although the entire unit looked good in Columbus, they had some serious lapses against Baylor two weeks ago. If the defense plays like they did early this season and late last season, it could be a performance that will help build confidence going forward.
Before we go any further, it is worth noting that a rumor of a Jacob Park suspension surfaced on Thursday. Matt Campbell has denied the report, but rumors that he didn’t make the trip keep swirling. This is something we’ll have to keep an eye on. If this ends up being the case, the ISU offense could take on a bit of a different identity.
Keys for Oklahoma
Get the running backs involved early and often
As we saw against Baylor, the Oklahoma backfield is really beginning to hit its stride, especially freshman running back Trey Sermon. If Lincoln Riley is able to get both Sermon and Abdul Adams some touches early on, it should really help the Sooner offense. Last year, they used the run to set up the downfield passing game, but this year there does not seem to be the same sort of rhythm to the offense. The fact that the Oklahoma offense has been so efficient in spite of that fact speaks volumes about the talent of this offensive unit and Lincoln Riley’s ability to adapt mid-game. I think the Sooners will use both backs early on and will start developing a rhythm that they can continue to use as the season goes on.
More consistency from the defense
Overall, the Oklahoma Sooners’ 2017 defense seems much improved compared to the 2016 defense. Their main problem is consistency — they have been great in flashes, but have struggled to be consistent at all levels. On the defensive line, Neville Gallimore and Kenneth Mann have made some great plays but have not been able to get a pass rush or stop the run on a consistent basis. The only time Sooners seem to be able to get a good pass rush is when they send their linebackers on blitzes or Obo gets into the backfield from his Jack spot. With their basic three-man rush, the Sooners have not been able to do much in terms of pressuring the QB.
This lack of pressure not only makes the defensive line look bad, but it also negatively impacts the secondary. It forces the players to stay in coverage longer and be less aggressive if they know that the quarterback will have time to get rid of the ball. Rewind back to 2015, when the secondary finished the year with 17 interceptions. This was not only the product of strong play from guys like Zach Sanchez, Jordan Thomas, Steven Parker, and Ahmad Thomas, but also a product of the front seven applying pressure to the quarterback. Guys like Eric Striker, Charles Tapper and Charles Walker applied consistent pressure up front which gave the guys in the secondary the ability to play aggressive coverage and create more turnovers as a result. If guys like Neville Gallimore, D.J. Ward, Matt Romar (hopefully), Amani Bledsoe, Duvonta Lampkin and others are able to do the same, then that could make a huge difference for the secondary.
Keys for Iowa State
Keep Baker Mayfield off the field
If Iowa State wants to be in this game when the fourth quarter rolls around, then they will likely have to keep Baker Mayfield off the field by pounding the rock with Mike Warren and David Montgomery. While Warren has had a good career in Ames, it looks like David Montgomery has taken over as the lead back so that’s who the Sooners should worry about on the ground. Montgomery has been a force this season and was dynamic against Iowa, rushing for 112 yards and catching five passes for 53 yards.
If Jacob Park can make the occasional big throw and keep handing it off to David Montgomery, the Cyclones may have a chance. Park has shown the ability to make plays with his arm and has already thrown for over 1,100 yards to go along with 9 touchdown passes on the season.
One way the Cyclones may be able to find success on offense is by hitting on a lot of short routes and crossing routes. The Sooner defense has struggled to defend this at times, which was highlighted in Waco. The Sooner DB’s were playing several yards off the receivers, allowing the receivers to make catches in the short passing game.
The Cyclones have several good receivers, such as Allen Lazard and Hakeen Butler, who can beat OU on short, intermediate and deep routes. But these players could have especially big games against the Sooner secondary if ISU is able to consistently have success with the short and intermediate stuff. In short, if the Cyclones can dink-and-dunk and the Sooners are not able to be more aggressive, OU’s defense could have trouble getting off the field.
Despite winning in Waco, I think the Sooners were frustrated with their performance and I think they will come out and dominate Iowa State on Saturday. Mike Stoops will be more aggressive with blitzes, and corners Parnell Motley and Jordan Thomas (who has been deemed healthy) will be able to effectively jump routes and make big plays. This has all the makings of a route in Norman.
Oklahoma 63, Iowa State 10