Oklahoma Football: Previewing The Sooners And Iowa State
NORMAN, Oklahoma - Saturday is Senior Day in Norman for the Oklahoma Sooners, as 17 seniors will be playing their final game on Owen Field against Iowa State. It will be a special day for those seniors, who have accomplished a lot during their time in Norman.
While the day will be special for them, the game is another matter entirely. The Sooners come into Saturday's game on the heels of last week's 41-12 loss to Baylor, their shot at a Big 12 title gone. The Sooners are playing for pride at this point, as well as playing for bowl positioning.
Critics are howling about yet another season where the Sooners are out of national championship contention before the end of November. Things aren't great in Norman, but the Sooners are far from an all-out collapse. If the Sooners win out, they'll have won 10 games for a fourth straight season and for the seventh time in the last eight.
The Cyclones don't pose a huge threat to the Sooners, but it could be a great opportunity for the Sooners to regain some confidence before a tough closing stretch on the road against Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
Three keys for Oklahoma
1. Run. The. Ball.
The Sooners are 21st in the country averaging 217.7 yards per game on the ground this season, even with two bad performances against Texas and Baylor. Iowa State is a putrid 102nd in the country in run defense, giving up 209.4 yards per game on the ground. The game plan should be pretty simple for Oklahoma this week: establish the run game and hit enough play action passes to keep the Cyclones from stacking the box too much. The key will be establishing the run early, because the Cyclones are sure to come out with at least seven men in the box to start the game after watching the Sooners' inability to do anything last week against Baylor.
2. Blake Bell regaining confidence
There's no telling where Bell's confidence is right now. After the Texas Tech game—where Bell threw for 249 yards and two scores—it had to be sky high. However, he came crashing back to earth last week in Waco when the Bears dared him to throw the ball downfield and he couldn't do it. Bell has to prove he can at least be competent at throwing the ball against the Cyclones, or else road trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State to close the season could be brutal. A good performance from Bell, regardless of the opponent, could go a long way to restoring his confidence and preventing opponents from stacking the box against the Sooners.
3. Getting healthy
The Sooners lost several players to injury against Baylor, three of those on the defensive side. Bob Stoops said on Monday Julian Wilson was the most likely of the injured to play on Saturday, but didn't update any of their statuses on Wednesday. It's looking unlikely any of them will play, which offers the opportunity to get good experience for the younger players on the defensive side of the ball. Oklahoma needs to be healthy going to KSU and OSU, so there's no point risking anything against the Cyclones on Saturday if their status is iffy.
Three players to watch for Iowa State
1. Aaron Wimberly, RB- 416 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 33.7 kickoff return average
Wimberly has only played in seven games this season because of injuries, but when he does play, he's an electric playmaker. He's got great speed and is a hard runner. The Sooners gave up 182 yards a week ago to Baylor third-string running back Shock Linwood (not a shot to Linwood's talent level), so they're definitely vulnerable up the middle. They'll have to shore up the middle of the defense to prevent Wimberly from going wild.
2. Quenton Bundrage, WR- 32 receptions, 454 yards, 6 touchdowns
Bundrage has been the Cyclones most consistent receiver this year, and when he gets the ball, big things can happen. Bundrage had a 97-yard touchdown against Texas earlier this year and is averaging 14.2 yards per catch. It will be another tough cover for redshirt freshman Zach Sanchez this week.
3. Jeremiah George, LB- 102 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 7 PD
George does everything for the Cyclones on defense as evidenced by his impressive stat line. He's leading Iowa State in every statistical category except for passes broken up. There's no doubt he'll be jamming the middle all afternoon on Saturday in an effort to shut down the Sooners' run game. The Sooners will have to put a hat on him every snap.
Key matchup: Oklahoma offensive line vs. Iowa State defense
OU center Gabe Ikard said it didn't matter how many people the defense brought into the box to stop the run, it was still the job of the offensive line to block them and open holes for the running backs. That will be put to the test this week against Iowa State. There is little doubt Iowa State saw how ineffective the Sooners were against a loaded box against the Bears last week and how Bell was unable to do anything to get the Baylor defense to back off. Establishing the run early in the game will be key for the Sooners and that job falls on five sets of broad shoulders up front.
Prediction: Oklahoma, 34-14
Yet again, the Sooners win in ugly fashion, but that's what it takes for the Sooners to win games this season. Oklahoma puts up some big numbers on the ground and Blake Bell makes some big passes to regain a bit of confidence.