Dean's Take: Sans Rodney, Sooners Could Be Tested By Cyclones In Ames

Friday, September 14th 2018, 1:55 pm
By: Dean Blevins

THE SOONERS ARE …. 17.5-point favorites in a game with a relatively low over/under posted at 55 points. OU’s 74-6-2 and .915 win percentage against Iowa State is the best by one FBS program against another.  

SIXTH-YEAR QB KYLE KEMPT … threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns in the stunning ISU upset of the 3rd-ranked 31-point favored Sooners. Then a third-team QB on his third school, the Kempt the Sooners are planning to see is more experienced and more confident, after leading the ‘Clones to an 8-5 season in 2017. That’s like a 12-1 Big 12 Championship season for Oklahoma. Those 8 wins were the most since posting a 9-3 record in 2000. 

MATTY ICE CAMPBELL IS SOMETHING SPECIAL … It all starts with the QB and ISU’s outstanding young head coach Matt Campbell. His 2017 ‘Clones were picked to finish ninth in the ten-team Big 12 Conference. Prior to Campbell, ISU was 156-2 against Top 5 opponents. Victories over OU and TCU upped that number to three. Campbell’s recipe for success has always been ‘attention to detail.’ In ’17, ISU broke school records for fewest turnovers and fewest fumbles lost – went nearly the entire season before losing a turnover. As a defensive end at Mount Union College, Campbell was an All-American and went 54-1 in his four years! He beat out Lincoln Riley for Big 12 Coach of the Year last season when all Riley did in his first season in following a legend was to win OU’s third straight Big 12 title, lead his team to a second playoff appearance where it lost a classic thriller in 2OT while becoming must-watch television with a Heisman-winning QB running & be the most dynamic offense college football. 

The 38-yr od Campbell had become a well-known coach-on-the-rise as his rebuild in Ames was well ahead of schedule. Campbell followed a 3-9 first season with a 4-0 October & an 8-5 season in 2017 that included a Liberty Bowl win over Memphis, playing on its home field. The new coach had inspired a fan base that traveled 40,000 believers to the bowl game.

AS OF FRIDAY NOON …. it was still unknown whether a left knee that was tweaked in the opener, will allow Kempt to play. If not, Zeb Noland gets the start. ISU returns several really good players surrounded by a number of others who could give OU fits again this year. Smart, aggressive, confident guys who will stick you on defense and succeed on the ground and the air on offense. They had to replace a kicker & punter this season – in fact two early shanked ISU punts from deep in their own territory (14 yards and 13 yards) allowed Iowa to begin two series with very short drives. But a sound defense, especially for a first game – their opener was cancelled due to bad weather -- held up and allowed a sluggish offense to have a chance to win the 13-3 game they’d eventually lose in Iowa City. 

I’VE CLOSELY WATCHED THAT ISU GAME & BELIEVE OU MUST PLAY WELL TO WIN … Kempt turns 24 soon, is a sturdy 6-5 QB who is accurate with the ball and hangs tough in the pocket to deliver accurate throws. Back-up Zeb Noland has enough experience to engineer a successful day of offense in Ames. Impressively, Kempt led ISU briskly down the field and moving the chains to the one yard line. A motion penalty forced ISU to settle for a field goal, which would be their only points. Horrible first & some second quarter field position crippled chances to open up the playbook. 

MORE ISU OFFENSE … I was not that impressed with ISU’s offensive line, although it does return experienced players. The loss of receiver Allen Lazzard hurts, but 6-6 Hakeem Butler is a playmaker who didn’t see the ball much in the first half of Saturday’s loss. But he flashed his ability in the second and will challenge OU DBs. RB David Montgomery is a stud – one of the best in nation. He’s had to improvise his way around so-so OLine play at ISU but is truly a natural athlete with special skills. OU can’t let ISU get in the rhythm it got into a year ago in Norman and the rhythm it began the game win in Iowa City. It will be easy for OU defensive players who’ve received high accolades through two games to watch ISU’s struggles in week on film and not be as sharp as Montgomery and Co. require.

‘CLONES HAVE QUALITY DEFENSE THAT COULD GIVE OU PROBLEMS … ISU returns six starters on a defense that was one of the best in the league last season when it finished with the second 2 best scoring D. Stud backer/former QB Joel Lanning is gone. But LB group flew around making plays and hard tackles all game long against Iowa. Very impressed.  Marcel Spears is especially good. Campbell calls Spears the ‘Monty’ of the defense – stud RB David Montgomery being the heartbeat of the offense. A rare fact for ISU is that defensive line is the deepest position for ISU – touted as their best in a decade. 

They dominated the LOS against Iowa and will make an OU team replacing its best running back earn every yard it gets. Ray Lima anchors the DL in middle, junior JaQuan Bailey was fifth in B12 sacks last season, & Kamilo Tongamoa returns. The DBs are really good, particularly a pair of corners who’ve combined to start 59 games; Brian Peavy returns as an All Big 12 honoree and D’Andre Payne, also a senior, helps give them lock down corners.  

ISU’S ONLY TWO WINS AGAINST THE SOONERS … since 1961 came last season in Norman (38-31) and the 1990 win against the Gary Gibbs Sooners, 33-31. After seeing the game last season in Norman it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that OU has won 23 straight in Ames. ISU’s six overall wins in the series have come by 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 & 13 points.

OU’s 124 wins (.821 win percentage) in regular season Big 12 play since the start of the 21st century is a dominating 21 wins more than the program with the next most wins in that period (UT, 103-48). The statistic that may stand out more to me than any besides Bud’s 47-straight win streak is the 47 conference championships won by OU. There are good programs that have won only one conference title. Ever.

THE LOSS TO A SEASON-ENDING SEASON FOR A THIRD SEASON …. is cruel. Elite RB Rodney Anderson was, in my mind, on his way to establishing himself as the best RB in the NFL draft and finish his OU career after this junior season as one of the spectacular group of backs who’ve won the crimson and cream. He could do it all. Big, strong, fast, hands, block, elusive, leader, exceptional character. Just some of the words to describe the low-key junior. He might prove me wrong and return to OU for next season. But I’d think he’d want to get to the NFL and begin working on a second contract rather than give it another shot in Norman. It’s called economics. 

Many are downplaying the loss of Anderson believing that elite skill players remain and four backs will produce similarly to Anderson’s production. I don’t see it that way. The 1-2 punch of Anderson and Trey Sermon was as good as any in America. But now, there’s not the home-run threat and overall rare talent you found in Anderson, with any of the remaining backs. Sermon is a terrific power runner and threat. A perfect complement to Anderson’s style and abilities. But the ‘1’ part of the ‘1-2 punch’ is missing. It may not be evident in most games. But when you line up to play a Texas, a West Virginia, maybe an OSU, and definitely a highly ranked bowl or playoff opponent, you need your difference-makers. That is/was Rodney Anderson. And it may be the label for one of the three backs behind Sermon. But will they be that on the season-defining Saturday’s noted above? I don’t see it – at least not to the high-bar level of Rodney.

PREDICTION: …I can’t remember the exact score I predicted on Sunday’s Blitz. But here less than 24 hours from kick, I’ll take Oklahoma. Vegas’ over/under number of 55 is a strong indicator that this won’t be some 52-21 game. I’ll go with OU being tested, but going to 3-0, winning 34-20.

IN STILLWATER … Boise State presents a rare, non-conference test for the Cowboys. QB Taylor Cornelius needs to play better. I believe he will. The homefield advantage will be a factor, and I believe it’ll be enough for a high-quality win, 34-31.

BEDFELLOWS: FLAT-EARTHERS & THE ANTI-RECRUITING RANKINGS’ CROWD: … I recently overheard fans arguing that recruits three-star recruits are just as good as five-star prospects. And of course that flat-earth type of thinker can selectively cite several examples to bolster their holster . Heck, look no further than OU’s inordinate number of 5-star players who’ve not panned out or under-performed. Not to be forgotten in the fluid-fueled verbal scrum is the fact that OU, OSU and others have had walk-ons who were twice the players than the *****-stars. Didn’t take long to research and confirm my long-held opinion that the programs consistently atop national rankings are the same teams atop the recruiting rankings. The easy example is the King of the Hill, Alabama. The next handful of programs vary few vary based on the polls and services. But the list picks up with these Bluebloods: Georgia, Ohio State, and Clemson, with Oklahoma in the Top 10 and closing ground under the recruiting efforts of Riley and a coordinated group of support help. I’ve gone from shaking my head to laughing at those who stubbornly refuse to budge from their non-fact-based position – some of them coaches,  who got beat by opponents with the better ‘Jimmy’s & Joes.’ I don’t care if my running back is named Methuselah. But what I do care is that my team has more 5-stars than yours. Do the math. 

Thanks for checking in. I’ll be on social media again tomorrow and Saturday in Ames.