Eli’s OU Rundown: Can the Sooners’ avoid a pre-Texas letdown?

Eli’s OU Rundown: Can the Sooners’ avoid a pre-Texas letdown?

OU vs. Iowa State: The Sooners should head to the Cotton Bowl 5-0, but their recent margins against the Cyclones have been slim.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Sep 29, 2023, 4:31pm CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Sep 29, 2023, 4:31pm CDT

NORMAN — Before the Sooners can turn to Texas Week and head to the Cotton Bowl unbeaten, Oklahoma has to handle Iowa State on Saturday (6 p.m., FS1) at Owen Field.

Let’s talk about it. 

What’s at stake?

On Tuesday, five days before OU’s Week 5 kick with the Cyclones, center Andrew Raym got asked about Texas.

“I think coach Venables does a great job with us and with the team on that,” he said. “We have a huge focus on just going 1-0 each week. We don’t look ahead. Everything this week is about Iowa State. I haven’t even thought about Texas since you brought it up just now.”

A mouth-watering Red River Rivalry game may lie ahead and the Sooners are 18.5-point favorites, per Bovada. But the Cyclones (2-2) are coming off a get-right win over Oklahoma State. 

Rocco Becht rides the momentum of a 348-yard and three-touchdown passing performance — both career highs. Coordinator Jon Heacock again has Iowa State playing defense as well as anybody in the Big 12. 

Let’s not ignore recent history, either. 

The Cyclones trail OU 101-100 across their last three visits to Owen Field. Brent Venables recited earlier this week. 

“We know the last three times that Iowa State has come to Norman against some pretty good teams in ’17, ’19 and ’21, they’ve had a lot of success,” the Sooner head coach said. 

One last note … the Sooners are 3-3 and 1-5 against the spread the week before OU-Texas over the last six seasons.

Three things that intrigue me

Gabriel and the passing game vs Iowa State: The Big 12’s top passing offense meets the league’s leading secondary. Who blinks first? 

Enough has been made about OU’s stagnant run game. The challenge this week belongs to Dillon Gabriel and an aerial attack averaging 349 yards, sixth-most nationally. 

Iowa State will invite the Sooners to run the ball and maybe that’s what Marcus Major, Tawee Walker, Jovantae Barnes and Gavin Sawchuk — the drivers of the nation’s 67th-ranked rushing offense — need to get going. 

Or maybe this is the week for Gabriel and the Sooners to find the passing consistency against a secondary giving up 177.3 yards.

A good path toward finding that flow? Starting early. 

“Creating easy completions. Moving the chains,” said Gabriel. “I mean, I don’t want to sound like a broken record but finding ways to get in the rhythm.”

Jaren Kanak’s return? The sophomore linebacker confirmed the injury that required a hospital visit in Cincinnati was a pulmonary contusion.

“I took a hit or I gave somebody a hit or I hit somebody at a weird angle …,” he said on The Podcast On The Prairie with teammate Danny Stutsman and former Sooners Brayden Willis and Jeremiah Hall. “It’s basically like a bruise on my lungs.”

Kanak was back in practice this week and would presumably step back into the starting lineup if he’s cleared to play.  The Sooners may be cautious, though. That could present opportunities for fellow sophomores Kip Lewis and Kobie McKinzie at linebacker. 

Byrd or Everett? Venables said guard Savion Byrd will be back after missing the trip to Cincinnati with an injury he suffered against Tulsa. So who starts at left guard Saturday between Byrd and fellow lineman Troy Everett?

Byrd’s offseason progression made him the Sooners’ Week 1 starter before he was benched against SMU and left injured at Tulsa. Everett, the Appalachian State transfer, started at Cincinnati and has been Byrd’s primary fill-in through four games. He’s now taken more than double the snaps (187-91).

An ideal situation would see the Sooners rotate the pair the rest of the way for the sake of fresh lines up front. I wrote this week on Everett’s juggling act and the learning process he’s working through in his first fall at OU. 

Something from the opposing locker room

The black eye (on the football field) of Iowa State’s season to date is the Cyclones’ 10-7 loss to Ohio on the road on Sept. 16. Campbell is focused on how Iowa State will respond in its first game away from home since that stunning defeat. 

“How do you handle a road game environment?” he said. “We didn’t in our first test. Have another opportunity to get on the road. One of the great places of all time to play college football.”

Something I’ll be watching 

Venables’ best defenses throw various blitzes and pressures at opponents. Iowa State’s Becht playing his seventh collegiate game, Venables would be wise to toss some interesting looks in Becht’s direction.

That’s where Dasan McCullough comes in. The hybrid linebacker returned against Cincinnati and could be primed to be the disruptive force Venables calls on Saturday night.

Best thing I heard this week

Wide receiver Nic Anderson has two older brothers.

You’ll remember Rodney. He ran for 1,285 yards out of the OU backfield from 2015-17 and now works with Sooner Sports Properties on name, image, likeness. Ryder, the middle brother, played at Ole Miss and Indiana and is on the New York Giants practice squad.

What did the youngest Anderson brother do after his older siblings left the house? 

“If you ask my mom, when my brothers went to college, I kind of had the whole upstairs to myself,” he said. “So (my parents) barely saw me. I’m not going to lie.”

How’d he spend that time?

“Watching film. Playing video games. Sleeping. Eating snacks,” Anderson said. “Love food. That’s what I was doing.”

A prediction

I don’t do game predictions, so … I’ll say we’ll see a 100-yard rusher for the Sooners.

It’s happened once this season when Walker went for 117 yards against SMU. There’s little to indicate OU’s run game is about to finally explode, either. But Iowa State’s run defense presents a chance. 

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].
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