December 5, 2023

Two games was all it took for the Oklahoma defense to return to its mediocrity, an underwhelming performance that is all too common in the Big 12.

Except for one team: Iowa State.

Matt Campbell is quietly leading a renaissance that the rest of the conference should pay close attention to. The Cyclones’ 20th-ranked defense was only good enough to hold Oklahoma to 37 points, but they are a refreshing step in the right direction for a conference in desperate need for better optics.

Oklahoma beat Texas Tech Saturday night 51-46, and West Virginia beat Texas 42-41 in games that I would characterize as complete garbage.

On the other hand, Alabama went to Baton Rouge and shut out LSU 29-0.

And that’s why we can’t have nice things.

Before this weekend’s games, Iowa State was No. 20 in total defense, allowing 323.3 yards per game. Against the Jayhawks, Iowa State held Kansas to 332 yards and three points. Oklahoma held Tech to 473 yards and 46 points.

By any standard, that’s poor. I see lots of defense of this type of performance, and it’s enabling and delusional.

After the game, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill was quoted as saying, “My whole deal with winning guys, for 40 years, my motto has been ‘Win by one, let’s get out of here.'”

And that’s how I know he’s not the right guy for the job.

Defensive coordinators should be obsessed with takeaways and shutouts and bone-crunching hits, not merely giving up 9 on third-and-10. There’s no “bring the pain” mentality in college football anymore, well, except in the SEC.

That might be optics. Sure.

But 51-46 is ultimately bad for the brand, and as a conference, they need to work together to improve national perception of its defense. They need to beg Matt Campbell to stay in Ames because what he’s doing has a chance to flip the script not just in Ames but in Norman and Stillwater and Austin and beyond.

Let’s look at a common opponent.

Iowa State beat Texas Tech 40-31 but held the Red Raiders to 363 yards and 31 points. To be fair, two Texas Tech touchdowns against OU were on short fields after Kyler Murray interceptions. But also to be fair, Alan Bowman didn’t play the second half. If you’re being honest, you know that Tech wins that game if he plays.

So, how does Oklahoma get there defensively?

I don’t know. Ask Matt Campbell. Dude is doing it, and Iowa State is about to become a formidable force in college football if he stays.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and every team in the Big 12 should be borrowing from his playbook.

At this point, thank the good Lord for Iowa State. They’re making us all look better.

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