Friday, December 30th, 10:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Iowa Hawkeyes of the Big Ten Conference and the Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12 will meet in Tempe, Arizona for what figures to be a competitive Insight Bowl matchup.
The Hawkeyes are making their second straight appearance in the Insight Bowl, as they knocked off another Big 12 foe in Missouri last year, 27-24. Iowa has earned a 14-10-1 record in 25 all-time bowl appearances, and considering the fact that the program is 4-1 in its five bowl meetings with Big 12 opponents, history seems to be in favor of the squad. This year's team enters with a somewhat disappointing 7-5 record, including a 4-4 mark versus Big Ten opponents. Kirk Ferentz is 6-3 in bowl games as the head coach at Iowa, and he has led the program to bowl eligibility in 11 consecutive seasons.
"They have a lot of great players on their roster, as we look at their film, it's going to be an imposing task for us," said Ferentz of the Sooners.
This showdown marks the 45th bowl appearance for Oklahoma, and the Sooners' only previous Insight Bowl appearance resulted in a 25-point loss to BYU back in 1994 when the game was known as the Copper Bowl. The Sooners have an all- time bowl record of 26-17-1, with wins in their past two postseason games. Oklahoma is 9-3 overall this season and finished fourth in the Big 12. A win in this bout would give Oklahoma its 33rd 10-win season, a number that leads the nation.
These two teams have had one common opponent this season, Iowa State. The Sooners defeated the Cyclones by a 26-6 final while the Hawkeyes fell to their in-state rivals in triple-overtime, 44-41.
"You know, we played nine games really well and we played three defensively very poorly," said Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. "I would say for sure in two of them, offense really contributed to it with turnovers and field position and momentum and those kind of things."
The only previous meeting between Iowa and Oklahoma took place back in 1979 and resulted in a 21-6 victory for the Sooners. Ironically, Stoops played defensive back for the Hawkeyes in that contest.
In last season's Insight Bowl, Iowa tailback Marcus Coker earned offensive MVP honors as he was downright dominant, as the then-freshman rushed for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 33 carries. Unfortunately, Coker won't be on the field for this contest, as he was recently suspended for disciplinary reasons.
"It is unfortunate that Marcus Coker will not be with the team for our bowl game. We will focus and continue to prepare the players that are able to participate," Ferentz said in a recent statement.
Coker was a force during the 2011 regular season, as he rushed for 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging over 23 carries per contest. Obviously, the standout will be sorely missed, putting added pressure on a respectable passing attack that helped the Hawkeyes average 28.7 ppg and 379.2 total ypg. Junior QB James Vandenberg has completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 2,806 yards and 23 TDs against six INTs. Marvin McNutt is the star on the outside, as he has 78 catches for 1,269 yards and 12 scores.
The Iowa defense will play with some added motivation in this bowl game, as defensive coordinator Norm Parker has announced that he will retire after the tilt. Parker has been in his current position for the last 13 years and has enjoyed tremendous success, and the long-time leader was recently named Assistant Coach of the Year by the AFCA.
Opponents are scoring 23.2 ppg against the Hawkeyes, who are yielding just 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. There is room for improvement against the pass, especially when considering the fact that opponents have tossed 20 TDs against only nine interceptions this season. James Morris leads the defense with 105 tackles, while Mike Daniels has seven sacks to his credit.
That UI defense is fortunate that the Oklahoma offense has been hit hard by injury this season, as the Sooners were nearly impossible to slow down when everyone was healthy. Star wideout Ryan Broyles was lost with a torn ACL early in November, while tailback Dominique Whaley was lost in late October with an ankle injury. Wideout Jaz Reynolds will also miss this bowl game with a kidney issue.
"We've had some significant injuries over the last half of the season, but this is an opportunity for other players," said Stoops. "We're excited about our trip to Tempe and the opportunity we've got to reach 10 wins."
Oklahoma was crushed by Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale by a 44-10 final, and that lopsided defeat featured a poor offensive showing. Sure, the Sooners are averaging 40.2 ppg and 532.1 total ypg, but QB Landy Jones has a difficult time reaching those numbers without Whaley and Broyles. Jones is considered one of the top signal-callers in the nation, and he has completed 63.1 percent of his passes this season for 4,302 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 INTs. Broyles and Reynolds have combined for 15 receiving scores and nearly 1,900 receiving yards, so a great deal of pressure now falls on fellow wideout Kenny Stills (818 yards, eight TDs).
Frank Alexander, the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year, leads the Oklahoma defense into this bowl game, and he was recently honored as a Second-Team All-American. Alexander led the Big 12 with 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, and the standout also broke up six passes. The Sooners are limiting opponents to 22.8 ppg and 383.2 total ypg, and the club has been particularly strong against the run, holding ball carriers to 3.8 yards per attempt. There is plenty of room for improvement against the pass however, as foes are gaining 12.5 yards per completion.
The Sooners had the talent to challenge for the national title this season, but the injuries were just too great to overcome. Iowa could have gotten the nod in this game, but Coker's absence will be too much to overcome.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oklahoma 27, Iowa 17
12/27 10:33:59 ET