The Oklahoma Sooners and Iowa State Cyclones are looking to climb their way up from the bottom of the Big 12 standings when they meet this weekend in Ames.
The Cyclones (3-4, 0-4 Big 12) have had a particularly tough start to conference play. ISU has lost all four of its conference games this year by a total margin of 14 points. For their part, the Sooners (4-3, 1-3) got their first conference win two weeks ago in a 52-42 shootout versus the Kansas Jayhawks.
Here's what to watch as Iowa State tries to secure its first Big 12 win this season.
Oklahoma at Iowa State
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The Oklahoma offense went from dismal to dangerous with the return of quarterback Dillon Gabriel. The Hawaiian gunslinger completed 29 of 43 pass attempts versus Kansas for 403 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. It was part of an offensive outburst that saw OU gain 701 yards of total offense.
Against the Cyclones, OU may try to rely on its rushing attack. The Sooners are finally showing some cohesion in the trenches, with left tackle Anton Harrison playing at an all-conference level to this point. The improvement up front is help clear paths for running backs Eric Gray and Jovantae Barnes, who combined for more than 240 yards on the ground a week ago.
Iowa State hasn't suffered much on the defensive side of the ball this season after losing its top five tacklers from a year ago. Linebackers Gerry Vaughn, O'Rien Vance, and Colby Reeder have made especially big strides from a year ago. If the Sooners do intend to pound the rock versus the Cyclones, they will find tough sledding against a defense that is allowing 3.3 yards per carry.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
The story is far different on the other side of the ball for the Cyclones, who are averaging nearly 8.5 points less per game in 2022. The regression starts with quarterback Hunter Dekkers, who has already thrown seven interceptions to 13 TDs in seven games.
Fortunately for Dekkers, he has a productive No. 1 receiver in Xavier Hutchinson. Hutchinson is averaging almost 10 receptions per game this season, and he has gone over 100 receiving yards in four of those contests. Taking Hutchinson out of the ISU offense will probably get plenty of attention from Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables and the rest of the Sooners on staff this week.
Unfortunately for them, the OU defense has yet to show it can stop any Big 12 team consistently this year. If Dekkers gets the chance to fire all game, he has a chance to put up huge stats against a unit that is seemingly rebuilding for the 12th season in a row.
From a situational standpoint, it's difficult to find a strong edge for either team in this spot. Both squads had an open date last week, so they should be as fresh as they will be for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, both coaching staffs had an extra week to prepare and drill their teams on fundamentals.
In terms of quality of play, Oklahoma showed its first signs of life last week since starting the Big 12 conference race. Gabriel's presence in the lineup clearly offered a spark that the Sooners had been missing when he was out with an injury. He will team up with OU's talented receiving corps to test Iowa State immediately. If the passing game is clicking, it will open up running lanes for the likes of Gray and Barnes.
The Cyclones tend to guard against the deep ball, and there's no reason to believe they won't continue doing so in this game. ISU simply cannot allow Gabriel to uncork a few throws over the top if it wants to keep OU's rushing offense in check. If Gabriel can't connect with receivers like Marvin Mims early, Iowa State will hang in against the Sooners for the entire game. Just not the whole game.
Prediction: Oklahoma 30, Iowa State 27
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— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
*Price as of publication.