One year ago, Oklahoma and Iowa State met in Norman in what ended up being one of the biggest games of the season for each team. The Cyclones won, giving the best year of the brief Matt Campbell era a signature victory, while it gave the Sooners a spark as they ran on to the College Football Playoff. This week, #5 Oklahoma (2-0) and Iowa State (0-1) will meet again, with the stakes potentially just as high for both teams.
Oklahoma enters conference play this year as it does most years, as a heavy favorite to win the Big 12. The Sooners were picked first in the preseason Big 12 media poll, receiving 46 of 52 first-place votes. It’s not surprising that OU is the overwhelming choice to win the league again; it’s done so the last three seasons.
This weekend’s game will be the first bout of adversity for the Sooners this season after losing running back Rodney Anderson for the year to a knee injury.
On the bright side for Oklahoma, it has one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the country, let alone the conference. Sophomore running back Trey Sermon will be the likely option to shoulder Anderson’s load. Sermon will have help, however, not just from the team’s other running backs but also his quarterback, junior Kyler Murray. Through two games, Murray has 92 rushing yards on 14 carries, good for an efficient 6.6 yards per rush.
Murray is no stranger to making plays with his arm, either, as he torched Oklahoma’s first two opponents (FAU and UCLA) to the tune of 515 passing yards, 11.7 yards per attempt, five touchdowns and just one interception. Junior Marquise Brown is Murray’s top target but will look to bounce back from the worst game of his career last season against Iowa State. The Cyclones held Brown to just two receptions for 16 yards in 2017.
While Oklahoma looks to make a positive first impression on the quest for a fourth-straight league title, Iowa State has a chance to set the tone for its third year under Campbell. The Cyclones have only played one game so far, a 13-3 loss last week against Iowa in the battle for the CyHawk Trophy. Their first scheduled game of the year was cancelled due to inclement weather, but the Cyclones will still get their 12th game when they play Incarnate Word on December 1.
Just like Oklahoma, Iowa State has major injury concerns entering this weekend’s dual. Senior quarterback Kyle Kempt was knocked out of the game against Iowa, but Campbell said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference that he doesn’t expect Kempt’s ailment to be a long-term issue.
If Kempt is healthy enough to play on Saturday, it’s a major boon for the Cyclones’ offense. Kempt was efficient in last season’s matchup between the two teams, completing 75 percent of his passes for 343 yards and three scores. He has one of the best running backs in the Big 12, and maybe the best currently healthy back, helping him out in the backfield as well in junior David Montgomery. Iowa found the key to bottling up Montgomery last weekend, though, holding him to just 44 yards on 17 carries.
Iowa State may need to rely on its defense to keep this game competitive. The best-case scenario for the Cyclones’ defense would be a repeat of its performance versus OU last year, when it held the Sooners to a season-low 31 points.
Oklahoma Keys To The Game
Sustain Drives – Iowa State’s defense is arguably the best in the Big 12. Oklahoma’s offense has the potential to strike quickly, but wearing down that staunch defense could be the key to holding on late. That means feeding the ball to Sermon, freshman TJ Pledger and the rest of the running back group to grind down the Cyclones.
Creativity – Third-year coach Lincoln Riley is one of the country’s best offensive minds. He’ll be tested this week in multiple facets. For one, he needs to show that he and the team learned from last year’s loss and can better attack Iowa State this year. Secondly, he has the opportunity to get creative with play designs and calls, which will be necessary to penetrate a good defense.
Force Punts – Oklahoma’s offense will carry the team again this season. With that in mind, the defense needs to do enough to give the offense as many chances as possible. Not allowing points sounds obvious enough, but each empty trip for the Cyclones means another chance for the Sooners to make a splash play and pull away.
Iowa State Keys To The Game
David Montgomery – Iowa State must get its best player going if it wants to win. He had 24 touches for 144 total yards from scrimmage with a rushing touchdown in last year’s upset win over Oklahoma. He’ll be a key to the Cyclones’ success all year, and the best players need to play their best in big games.
Turnovers – The Cyclones didn’t force any turnovers in their loss to Iowa last week. Against a more potent offense like Oklahoma’s, Iowa State will need to force a couple to slow down Murray and company. They won the turnover battle (+1) in last year’s meeting and will need to again this year.
Ball Security – This is the opposite yet equally important counterpart to the above key. Oklahoma can score at any point with how many fast, athletic weapons it has. Iowa State can’t afford to give OU more possessions than it has to. Kempt is always protective of the ball, having thrown just three interceptions in 266 career attempts. He needs to keep that trend alive on Saturday.
Iowa State is a good team with a good defense and a capable offense, but Oklahoma still deserves the 18-point spread. That speaks to how deep and talented the OU roster is more than it’s a critique of Iowa State. The Sooners are averaging 56 points per game through two weeks, and while it’s a small sample size, the Cyclones weren’t exactly electric on offense in their first game. Oklahoma should win this game and it could get out of hand if its offense looks as good as it has through the first couple of weeks in September. That said, OU was a big favorite last year and Iowa State proved that it could hang with one of the best teams in the country. That’s a tall task for the Cyclones to repeat, but a potentially necessary one this weekend.