Following a tough home loss to Notre Dame, the 14th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners return to Big 12 Conference play as they hit the road to tangle with the Iowa State Cyclones this Saturday in Ames.
Oklahoma's 30-13 loss to the Fighting Irish was particularly hard to take considering the game was tied at 13-13 until the 5:05 mark of the fourth quarter. The setback was the Sooners' second of the season, the other coming against Kansas State in a 24-19 final back on Sept. 22, which means their two losses have come against the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the most recent BCS rankings.
Iowa State is 5-3 on the year, but just 2-3 in the Big 12. The Cyclones won at home over Baylor last Saturday, 35-21, putting the brakes on a two-game slide and giving the team a 3-2 home record. Including this bout, three of ISU's remaining four games will be extremely difficult as it will also face Texas and West Virginia sandwiched around a clash with Kansas.
Oklahoma has dominated the all-time series with Iowa State, winning 69 of the previous 76 meetings. The Sooners have won 20 straight matchups in Ames, and have lost only once to the Cyclones in the last 42 years (1990).
Despite 356 passing yards from Landry Jones and a record-setting 15 catches for 181 yards by Jalen Saunders, the Sooners were held out of the end zone until the 9:10 mark of the fourth quarter last week against Notre Dame. Jones did not toss a scoring strike in the game, and he was picked off once and sacked twice. The Oklahoma run game was nonexistent, as Damien Williams tallied just 29 yards on 13 carries, the team finishing with a scant 15 net yards on the night. OU was just 4-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts.
The Oklahoma defense stood tall for most of last week's game, but the Irish scored 17 points in the final five minutes and change to earn the victory. The Sooners surrendered 215 yards and three TDs to the UND rushing attack, which averaged 5.5 ypc. Tony Jefferson and Aaron Colvin led the OU stance with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively, but the unit as a whole logged just a single sack, only two TFL, and failed to come up with a turnover.
With Landry leading the way, the Oklahoma offense is putting up 40.1 ppg, while converting nearly 50 percent of their third-down opportunities and scoring on 95 percent of their trips to the red zone. Jones has hit the mark on 64 percent of his passes for 2,009 yards, 12 TDs and only four interceptions. Saunders, who had only five catches on the year before last week's huge effort, currently ranks third on the team's receiving list, which is headed by Kenny Stills and his 45 grabs for 557 yards and four TDs. The run game is spearheaded by Damien Williams, as he averages 6.7 ypg in totaling 581 yards and scoring seven times.
Defensively, the Sooners are permitting just 17.4 ppg, with foes typically churning out 149.1 ypg on the ground and 167.0 ypg through the air. With last week's late collapse certainly adding to it, Oklahoma has now surrendered as many points in the fourth quarter (61) this season as it has in the first three quarters combined. Jefferson is clearly the team's most active defender, logging 59 tackles, while second-leading tackler Javon Harris has a club-best four interceptions.
Stoops was quick to acknowledge the effort put forth by the Fighting Irish, but at the same time praised his team for leaving it all out on the field.
"What a heck of a football game. I told my players I was very proud of how they fought, how they competed, how hard they played and all of that. We just needed to be a few plays better in some areas."
Iowa State QB Steele Jantz tied school records for completions (36) and touchdown tosses (5) in leading Iowa State past visiting Baylor last weekend. Jantz hit 10 different receivers for a career-high 381 passing yards, and his 36-of-52 performance tied ISU's single-game completion mark. Jantz connected with Jarvis West (seven receptions, 99 yards) for three TDs. The Cyclones added 176 rushing yards, as Shontrelle Johnson led the charge with 73 yards on 16 totes.
While the Cyclone offense was blowing through the Bears, the defense lived up to its end of the bargain as well by holding the BU offense, which came in sporting a scoring average of 48.0 ppg, to 21 points. That despite giving up 541 total yards, including 426 via the pass. ISU also forced four turnovers, including three fumbles. Linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott tallied 13 and 11 tackles, respectively, but the unit did not record a sack and made just one stop behind the line of scrimmage. Durrell Givens was credited with two fumble recoveries.
Iowa State's success this season has almost occurred in spite of its offensive effort, as the team averages just 25 points and 369.4 ypg, both of which rank the team ninth in the 10-team Big 12. The Cyclones are actually the worst rushing team in the conference (141.9 ypg), with Johnson's 343 yards leading the way. ISU has scored just six rushing TDs this season, half of what Jantz has thrown in completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,219 yards. He has been picked off eight times, but the team's top five receivers have combined for 15 TD catches.
Allowing just 19.8 ppg, the Iowa State defense currently ranks third in the conference and it has been especially tough against the run in yielding only 135.1 ypg on 3.6 ypc. The Cyclones sit second in the league in interceptions (10), and they've returned two for TDs. Knott (79) and Klein (67) rank one-two on the team's tackles list, the two also combining for three picks.
Coach Paul Rhoads was clearly happy with the outcome of last week's bout with Baylor.
"I'm very proud of our football team. We were composed, energized and played together in all three phases. It was a good win coming off two losses for our football program."