Oct. 7, 2017 is a day that will live in infamy for a lot of Sooner fans. I still remember watching the game like it was yesterday and being in shock for several minutes (and hours) after the game was over. It legitimately took some time to process the fact that a team led by Baker Mayfield could lose to a team like Iowa State at home. Sure, Oklahoma lost some head-scratchers during the Bob Stoops era, but the 2017 loss to Iowa State was up there with many of those. The 2017 loss gave new life to the “fire Mike Stoops” mob that had briefly been disbanded following the Ohio State win, and also illuminated some minor weaknesses in the Sooner offense in 2017.
Luckily for the Sooners, they’ve fixed a lot of the defensive issues they had experienced last season (and the season before that). Through the first two games of the 2018 season, OU fans have justification for at least some optimism that the defense can be a strength of this team
On the Iowa State side, the problem lies on the offensive side of the ball. In their first game of the season against Iowa, the Cyclones were held to but three points. Some of that can certainly be attributed to a good Iowa defense, but the offense struggled even when the Iowa defense gave them openings. Further complicating things is the fact that Iowa State starting QB Kyle Kempt may not play on Saturday after suffering a knee injury against Iowa. Kempt is currently day-to-day, and the starter may not be announced until closer to game time.
I'd still be surprised to see Kyle Kempt play Saturday. https://t.co/EszqJimU6K— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) September 13, 2018
Date: Saturday September 15
Time & TV: 11:00 AM CT on ABC
Spread: Oklahoma -17.5
Here are some key storylines to follow on Saturday!
Oklahoma Running Back Situation
With the loss of stud RB Rodney Anderson for the season, the Sooners have to find some answers on the ground. Although the loss of Anderson hurts, Oklahoma has four capable backs at their disposal. As Lincoln Riley hinted at during his press conference on Monday, he will take a committee/hot-hand approach similar to what we saw at this time last year. This means that Riley will likely give each back a chance and rotate guys in and out based on how they are playing. The idea is for the cream to rise to the top.
While my favorite back personally is Trey Sermon because of his powerful and patient downhill running style, this backfield is wide open with Anderson out. Through the first two games, the back that has really impressed me is Marcelius Sutton. The shorter back has shown great burst, vision, balance, wiggle, and the ability to bounce off tackles. Sutton runs low to the ground and seems to burst out of the whole on every run.
If those two weren’t enough, T.J. Pledger and Kennedy Brooks are talented enough to share the load. Pledger is on the smaller end (5’9 200lbs.) like Sutton but is a bit more of an all-purpose back. He can catch well out of the backfield, has the strength to run between the tackles and the speed to break off big runs on the outside. There is a reason he had offers from Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia and a host of others. Redshirt freshman RB Kennedy Brooks is a bit larger than Pledger but also boasts a balanced set of skills. With Anderson down, Brooks could get a chance to shine and has the potential to be a difference maker if he can put it all together. Who plays on Saturday and how many carries each back gets will be intriguing to see on Saturday in Ames.
Oklahoma Offensive Line vs. Iowa State Front Seven
While Oklahoma played well on offense, defense, and special teams against UCLA, one glaring issue was the run-blocking of the Oklahoma offensive line. The line struggled at times to clear the way up front against the UCLA and did not open up a lot of holes for the Oklahoma backs. This could partly been attributed to Creed Humphrey starting his first game at center and a fairly talented UCLA defensive, but this line needs a bit of a bounce-back game in this department. However, the line has done a fantastic job in pass protection, so there’s less concern on that front.
Fortunately, Oklahoma has a chance to show improvement against a good Iowa State front seven. While Iowa State is known for running a 3-3-5 scheme, they played a lot more 4-3 against Iowa. According to defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, this stems from increased depth on the defensive line. Some standouts on the Iowa State defensive line include Matt Leo, Spencer Benton, and Jamahl Johnson. The solid Iowa State front has the ability to get after opposing passers while also slowing down the other team’s run game. They had some success against the Oklahoma offense last year by limiting big plays, particularly in the second half. We will see if they can duplicate that this year against Kyler Murray, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Oklahoma Front Seven vs. Iowa State Offensive Line
While the Oklahoma offensive line struggled at times on Saturday, they still protected Kyler Murray well and helped generate 49 points. The same can’t be said for the Iowa State offensive line. Their performance against Iowa last Saturday showed that they still have a long way to go. As a unit, they gave up four sacks and helped generate a paltry 19 rush yards. Yes, you heard that right, the Cyclones rushed for 19 yards (including the sacks) total last Saturday, with the running backs generating only 47 yards on 20 carries.
Now, the Iowa State offensive line is tasked with containing an increasingly aggressive Oklahoma front. Last week, Oklahoma registered an impressive six sacks against UCLA. The Sooners are finding a way on most snaps to get into the opposing teams backfield. They are doing this with a combination of stunts and blitzes from all over the field. Defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins, Amani Bledsoe, and Neville Gallimore have been especially impressive so far. On top of the push the line is getting up front, the linebacking corp is playing better than they have in a long time. Linebackers Curtis Bolton, Mark Jackson, and Kenneth Murray are really starting to play at a high level in terms of blitzes, coverages, gap discipline, and tackling in general. If they are able to continue this momentum, then it could be another long day for RB David Montgomery and whoever starts at QB on Saturday.
Iowa State QB situation
Last season, backup QB Kyle Kempt was thrown into the fire against the Sooners in Norman and never looked back. He led Iowa State to a successful season and was granted one final year of eligibility in the offseason. Due to a knee injury suffered last Saturday against Iowa, Kempt may not play this Saturday in Ames. If he is unable to go, backup QB Zeb Noland will be the guy for the Cyclones. Noland has a bigger arm than Kempt but is not nearly as accurate or reliable. With Kempt currently listed as “day-to-day”, we will likely have to wait to see who gets the start. No matter who gets the start, the Sooner defense needs to prepare for both guys and come to Ames ready to play.
Considering all of the talent Oklahoma has on their roster for a revenge game against Iowa State, I think this will be a Sooner football clinic in Ames. I also think one of the DBs will come away with a pick, and OU will force multiple turnovers on the day.
Prediction: Oklahoma 55, Iowa State 14