When the Oklahoma Sooners and Iowa State Cyclones met in Ames way back in the first weekend of October, they played a remarkably even game.
The Cyclones gained 417 total yards to OU’s 414. The Sooners had one fewer first down. OU was penalized nine times for 93 yards; ISU drew nine penalties for 90 yards. Each team turned the ball over once.
Of course, the scoreboard favored the Cyclones, whose 37-30 victory helped propel ISU to the top of the Big 12 standings. OU gets a shot at revenge on Saturday in the conference championship game. Why should anyone expect a different outcome the second time around?
Here a handful of reasons to believe the Sooners will get the better of the Cyclones in round two.
OK, this will come off all kinds of lame, but here goes: The Sooners struggled mightily to keep their footing at Jack Trice Stadium earlier this year.
The hijinks started on the Cyclones’ first drive of the game when ISU quarterback Brock Purdy hit receiver Landon Akers for a 36-yard bomb. Akers was standing all by his lonesome after OU strong safety Delarrin Turner-Yell slipped on his duff cutting with the ISU receiver out of his break.
OU’s equipment team had a rough night the last time they played Iowa St. Saw guys lose their footing repeatedly. pic.twitter.com/d6Kf8xTtha— Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism) December 18, 2020
Similar scenes played out again and again throughout the game. It looked at times as though OU’s players were ice skating.
Saturday’s matchup will take place in the climate-controlled confines of AT&T Stadium, so the state of the field shouldn’t matter. In fact, a fast indoor track may favor the more athletic team.
OU’s Spencer Rattler didn’t show any freshman jitters in his first road start against the Cyclones. He actually gave one of his better efforts of the season, completing 25 of 36 passes for 300 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. A forced deep shot late in the game resulted in the aforementioned pick, however, betraying Rattler’s youthful impatience.
Misguided youth pic.twitter.com/XYV4BQaZvl— Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism) December 18, 2020
Ever since OU coach Lincoln Riley pulled Rattler in the first half of OU’s following game – a win over Texas in the Red River Shootout – the young star has maintained more of an even keel. He threw just two interceptions against 11 TD passes in the final five games of the regular season.
ISU should see a more poised signal caller behind center for OU in round two.
The ground attack
T.J. Pledger and Seth McGowan held down the fort at running back the first time these two teams met. The duo combined for 94 rushing yards on 23 attempts and added 66 receiving yards on five catches.
The return of Rhamondre Stevenson from suspension has injected some new life into the OU ground game. The big fella is hammering out 5.9 yards per carry. He has found the end zone six times in four games.
With regard to the Cyclones, the impact of Stevenson’s absence in October stood out at an early juncture in the game. ISU stuffed the Sooners twice from its own one yard line on the first drive of the game, leading Riley to call for a sad 19-yard field goal.
Probably would have helped to have your 246-pound thumper on the goal line instead of the 211-pound freshman McGowan.
The pass rush
Another suspension hamstrung OU’s defensive line, as defensive end Ronnie Perkins also missed the contest. The Sooners sacked Purdy just once the entire game, preventing them from taking full advantage of the ISU QB’s occasionally lax ball security. (On the one occasion when OU DE Isaiah Thomas did get to Purdy in the backfield, he fumbled the ball away.)
Just as Stevenson has ignited OU’s running game, Perkins’ return has elevated the defensive line from a good group to one of the best in the country. He has compiled eight tackles for loss in four games, and opponents’ preoccupation with blocking Perkins is opening up one-on-one opportunities for his teammates.
A number of Perkins’ teammates in the front six have elevated their games, too. Nose tackle Perrion Winfrey is consistently creating chaos on the interior. Isaiah Thomas has grown into one of the best all-around DEs in the conference. David Ugwoegbu has become a threat after transitioning to interior linebacker.
A more active pass rush in this game can also help offset some of the matchup issues posed by ISU tight end Charlie Kolar and friends. If the oncoming rush is bearing down on him, Purdy can’t wait for his favorite target to body up defensive backs such as Brendan Radley-Hiles and Patrick Fields.
The revenge angle
The last time OU had the chance to avenge a loss from the regular season in the Big 12 title game, the Sooners took out Texas by a 39-27 final score in 2018. Additionally, a faction of Sooners started barking this week when they saw an absence of OU players on the 2020 edition of the all-conference team. Will the Sooners combine those perceived slights with the revenge angle to add a little extra motivation on Saturday?
They may need it. Bear in mind that the Cyclones still present OU with many of the same problems that they have in the last four games between the squads. Coach Matt Campbell’s team has won two of them. Moreover, this Iowa State team looks like the best opponent OU has faced in the Big 12 championship since the conference revived the game in 2017.
Nevertheless, the positive developments for the Sooners since the last time the two teams played show why OU is favored to win another Big 12 title.