Oklahoma is not going to win every game by 28 or 49, and so Sooner fans are grateful for Saturday’s 37-27 win over Iowa State in Ames, especially after last year’s 38-31 loss to the Cyclones in Norman. Saturday’s win was hard-fought and presented plenty of opportunities for confidence going forward as well as room for improvement.
Lots of room for improvement.
This football game had every opportunity to be a good old-fashioned blowout. The Sooners went on a 10-play, 74-yard drive to end the first half up 24-10 with possession ahead of them to start the second half. After picking up a first down, Oklahoma proceeded to lose yardage on two consecutive plays, setting up a third-and-17 from the Sooners’ 35.
Kyler Murray just missed Hollywood Brown.
And within :47 seconds, Iowa State was back within 7.
Oklahoma missed a chance to go for the kill.
The two things that happened today or that were exposed for Oklahoma should be correctable. First, the Sooners weren’t able to connect deep in the second half. Brown gained 189 yards on seven carries in the first half, 139 of those in the first quarter, an Oklahoma record.
The second half? Two catches, two yards. It looked on TV like Murray had trouble seeing downfield, possibly the result of Cyclone pressure. One exception was this beautiful 50/50 ball to fullback Carson Meier in the third quarter:
That was Murray’s longest completion of the second half by a lot, and note that Meier was in front of his defender, making him easier to see for Murray. When you have a home run threat the caliber of Hollywood Brown, he should be given a deep look at least once a quarter. It opens up the run, the short pass; it opens up everything.
When a receiver the caliber of CeeDee Lamb only catches three balls for 36 yards, you’re not using your best assets.
For the day, Murray finished with 348 yards on 21-of-29 passing, three TDs and a quarterback rating of 90.5. That’s his lowest rating of the season, but he’s consistently been over 90. On the other hand, Murray ran 15 times for 77 yards, his highest yardage of the season and his highest number of carries, by quite a bit. Against UCLA, Murray carried ten times for 69 yards, and he carried four times for 23 yards against Florida Atlantic.
When considering Murray’s feet, one can wonder whether they’re an attack weapon or a weapon of last resort. In other words, the more Murray is running, the more pressure he’s facing and the harder it is for him to find receivers. Credit to Iowa State for adjusting to Oklahoma’s deep threat after the first quarter, but the Sooners need to be able to find Hollywood deep in the third and fourth quarter of ball games on a consistent basis.
The other area for improvement for Oklahoma is on defense, all of it. It felt like Mike Stoops and the Sooner defense regressed this week, going back to old, bad habits such as not blitzing and sitting back on receivers by 10 to 15 yards.
Iowa State had a lot to do with that. Sophomore quarterback Zeb Noland was largely good, finishing with 360 yards on 25 of 36 passing. Receiver Hakeem Butler was terrific with 174 yards on five catches and two big scores that exposed all sorts of tackling issues.
That tied the game at 10, and I counted four missed tackles. Parnell Motley was the first to miss him. Kahlil Haughton was the second. Tre Norwood and Curtis Bolton both went whiff on Butler before he romped into the end zone.
On Butler’s second score, Parnell Motley got victimized again with Tre Norwood left to chase him into the end zone.
For what it’s worth, Motley had a bad day at the office. Got beat, missed tackles and, well, he saved the game.
Look at what that pressure off the end will buy you. Maybe Oklahoma tried to do that more in the second and third quarters and it wasn’t noticeable by the average football fan. To most folks following the game on social media, it sure seemed as if Mike Stoops had been spooked by Butler’s physicality, speed and his ability to break tackles so he decided to play off Cyclone receivers and lay off the blitzes.
I likened it to a new believer backsliding.
It’s correctable, but it’s got to get fixed if Oklahoma were to have any thoughts of winning a national title. Alabama’s 62-7 win over a decent Mississippi team after the Rebels scored on the first play from scrimmage should serve as a warning to the rest of college football and especially the Sooners that it would take an extraordinary season with a gutsy, go-for-it, aggressive defense to have any shot at a national title.
Or to beat TCU or OSU or West Virginia and win the Big 12.
Enjoy the win. Here’s hoping that the coaching staff recognizes these issues and fixes them posthaste.
The cover photo is from OU football’s Twitter feed.