Reeling Iowa State visits No. 22 Sooners
NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma’s shot at a Big 12 Conference title and a Bowl Championship Series berth likely ended with a loss to Baylor last week, meaning a program with one of the nation’s proudest traditions had to reassess its benchmarks for the rest of the season.
What’s the Sooners’ main goal now? Senior center Gabe Ikard answered simply: “Win. Always.”
That’s something they’ve done often through the years against their foe, the Iowa State Cyclones, who they’ll play on Saturday.
No. 22 Oklahoma (7-2, 4-2 Big 12) is 70-5-2 all-time against the Cyclones and owns a 14-game winning streak in the series. Iowa State coach Paul Rhodes acknowledged that it’s “a series that is as lopsided as exists in the Iowa State record books.”
If the Sooners are to post the 35th 10-win season in program history, a win over Iowa State (1-8, 0-6) would seem to be a must, with road games at Kansas State and Oklahoma State remaining before a bowl game against what would figure to be a respectable foe.
“We’ve still got a lot of good guys on the team,” Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt said. “We’ve got a lot of good talent. I think our mindset will be we’ve still got to win every game. It’s Oklahoma. We’re still expected to win.”
Iowa State has been devastated by injuries, particularly along the offensive line, where the Cyclones have had to start eight different combinations (involving 10 players) in nine games. Iowa State has remained competitive, though, as four of its losses – to Iowa, Texas, Texas Tech and TCU – have come by a combined 18 points.
“I think the fans that follow Iowa State football are highly intelligent fans,” Rhodes said. “I think the fans recognize that we entered the season with a very youthful and inexperienced team that was quickly decimated by injuries at the offensive line and severely affected at the quarterback position, and thus you’re going to struggle because of it.”
Here are five things to watch when Oklahoma takes on Iowa State:
WHO’S AT QUARTERBACK I
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has remained a staunch supporter of junior Blake Bell, who has mixed strong outings against Tulsa, Notre Dame and Texas Tech with clunkers in the Sooners’ two losses against Texas and Baylor. Trevor Knight, who started Oklahoma’s first two games, saw some action against Baylor and there has been some clamoring from the fan base for third-teamer Kendal Thompson, who hasn’t taken a snap this season, to take the field. Stoops said this week that Bell remained the starter.
WHO’S AT QUARTERBACK II
Iowa State sophomore Sam Richardson has battled injuries all season, first spraining an ankle during the season opener, then injuring the thumb on his throwing hand. Freshman Grant Rohach made his first career start against TCU and passed for 148 yards. Expect Rohach to start again against the Sooners, with Richardson perhaps seeing action in a Wildcat formation. Rhodes said Richardson’s ankle isn’t his biggest concern right now, but rather his thumb because “it affects his throwing.”
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY
Oklahoma’s opponents are averaging 24.1 yards per kickoff return and 16.8 yards per punt return and the Sooners gave up a punt return for a touchdown in their loss to Texas. Iowa State has two players who have returned a kickoff for a score this season in DeVondrick Nealy (who had a 98-yarder last week against TCU) and Jarvis West (95 yards vs. Texas Tech). If the Cyclones could break a long return against Oklahoma, it could provide them with a huge momentum boost in their bid for an upset.
ONE FOR THE THUMB?
Iowa State’s Nealy has scored a touchdown in four straight games, catching a touchdown pass against Baylor, rushing for scores against Oklahoma State and Kansas State and returning the second-half kickoff against TCU. He’s the first Iowa State player with a touchdown in four straight games since James White accomplished that feat in 2011, and he’s done so despite limited touches – Nealy has had just 31 carries and five receptions this season.
CATCHING THE KING
Barry Switzer guided Oklahoma to national titles in 1974, 1975 and 1985 and long has been regaled in the Sooner State as “The King” for his coaching success. He remains one of the state’s most popular figures after winning 157 games during his 16 seasons as Oklahoma’s coach. Stoops, in his 15th season, could tie Switzer atop Oklahoma’s all-time coaching wins list with a victory over Iowa State. Stoops claims to have not thought about catching Switzer and said, “that kind of stuff has no place for me just because it’s not what is important.”