Out for revenge: Cyclones readying for tough contest with Oklahoma

Linebacker, Marcel Spears Jr., prepares for a play during the football game against University of Iowa at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 8. The Cyclones were defeated 13-3.

Noah Rohlfing

Oct. 7, 2017. A date, for many Iowa State football fans, that will not be forgotten anytime soon.

The day when Iowa State beat Oklahoma for the sixth time in the program’s history. The date when, around the country, people began to see the vision coach Matt Campbell was putting together for the Cyclones.

It was also a day when Oklahoma looked lackadaisical and not fully focused on the task at hand. The Sooners fumbled into the end zone, struggled to get going on the offensive end and were clueless at times on defense.

That was last year.

Campbell said in his press conference on Tuesday the win wasn’t as important as what came after.

“To me, I think that win last year is a little bit irrelevant,” Campbell said. “What I thought was relevant was our response to that win, and that’s where I thought our culture really started to change.”

Never mind that, though.

This Saturday, No. 5 Oklahoma rolls into Ames seeking revenge.

The Sooners have ample ammunition, led by an electrifying offense manned by quarterback Kyler Murray. The former Texas A&M quarterback and soon-to-be Oakland Athletics outfielder has accounted for seven touchdowns without playing a full 60-minute game yet this season. There’s a reason for that.

The Sooners have been putting teams away early.

In the season opener, against a much-hyped Florida Atlantic team led by the mercurial Lane Kiffin, the Owls had no chance. Oklahoma built a 42-0 lead by halftime and the offensive starters didn’t see the field again. In week two, Chip Kelly and his UCLA Bruins — very much a work-in-progress at this point — visited Norman, Oklahoma, and all they got was a 49-21 defeat that was once again over by the half.

Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock knows the Cyclones have a lot riding on their defense this Saturday, and it all starts with containing Murray.

“Incredible offense,” Heacock said. “The scheme, the athletes, the mindset, the quarterback. He’s incredible, there’s not a throw he can’t make.

“We’ve gotta be QB option sound, we’ve gotta be scramble sound.”

One adjustment the Cyclones will have to make on Saturday will be playing in space, something the pro-style offense Iowa ran in week two did not force them to do.

Redshirt sophomore safety, Greg Eisworth, said the main difference would be pass coverage versus creeping up in the box.

“The good thing is that our offense is more of a spacious team, so we’ve seen that all spring and fall,” Eisworth said.

The work for Iowa State’s defense isn’t just in the coverage game, either. Oklahoma may have a dynamic quarterback, but as Heacock said, the Sooners have a stable of capable game-changers at the running back position, not counting injured star Rodney Anderson.

Trey Sermon, the projected starter against Iowa State, ran for 744 yards (8.7 yards per attempt) in 2017—when splitting time with Anderson— and had a breakout performance on the road against Ohio State in the Sooners’ 31-16 win.

He will be the lead back Saturday, but there are others to keep an eye on as well, such as T.J. Pledger and Marcelias Sutton.

There’s a reason the Sooners are averaging 567.5 yards per game.

Meanwhile, Iowa State still doesn’t know who is going to be starting at quarterback on Saturday, although wide-receivers coach Bryan Gasser said Wednesday Kempt practiced lightly.

No matter who starts for the Cyclones, the offense will need to wake up against the Sooners.

Gasser preached the importance of bouncing back.

“The biggest thing is rediscovering ourselves and saying ‘what do we do well, what do we hang our hats on,’” Gasser said.

One area the Cyclones might be able to attack is in the flats, with redshirt freshman Tarique Milton and junior Deshaunte Jones making headway in the slot against the Hawkeyes.

The Cyclones will need a better performance from the offensive line as well on Saturday. Oklahoma is near the bottom of the conference in defensive stats, but the Sooners have yet to play their starting defense for a full game, similar to the offense. The stats may not truly suggest how improved the Sooners’ often-porous defense is compared to the 2017 team.

The Cyclones have beaten the Big 12’s standard-bearer once in the Campbell era. The Cyclones know they will have to play a near-perfect game on Saturday to rack up a second.