Rohlfing: How the Cyclones will stand a chance in defining Oklahoma game


Brock Purdy runs the ball during the Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State football game Oct. 26. The Cyclones lost 34-27.

Noah Rohlfing

Well, the Nov. 9 trip to play Oklahoma just got a lot more important. 

With a loss to Oklahoma State in entirely avoidable circumstances, the Cyclones’ season now rides on a game against the No. 10 Sooners.

Okay, maybe not the season as a whole, but at least the Cyclones’ Big 12 Championship hopes. Heading into Saturday’s action, the Cyclones’ trip to Oklahoma did not look like much of a must-win as there would have been a path for Iowa State to reach “Jerry World” and Cowboy Stadium with a loss to Oklahoma and two losses in Big 12 play.

Then the Cyclones thought it would be a good idea to throw the ball 62 times against one of the worst rush defenses in college football, and you all know how that went.

“I think it’s hard for us to be the best version of us if we’re going to be that unbalanced at times,” coach Matt Campbell said. “I think [the] situation played it out.”

So now the margin for error, already slim given the quality of Oklahoma, is down to none. Iowa State can’t lose to the Sooners and conceivably have a chance at making the Big 12 title game.

The Sooners are undoubtedly a better team than the Cyclones. They have a Heisman candidate at quarterback in Jalen Hurts, which under Lincoln Riley is like saying water is wet — the man produces Heisman finalists without breaking a sweat.

The Sooners are also a big play threat — something Iowa State obviously struggled with against Oklahoma State. Nothing good comes from giving up three plays of 50 yards or more, and that’s exactly where the Sooners thrive. 

Even in their disappointing loss to Kansas State on Saturday, Oklahoma still had two 70-yard pass plays against the Wildcats’ secondary. The secondary has been the weak point of Iowa State’s defense this year, so maybe CeeDee Lamb and company will have some success. Limiting big plays will likely be a focal point of Jon Heacock’s game-plan for the next two weeks — especially on the swing passes that gave Oklahoma State success.

Stopping big plays will be one thing, but producing on offense will be another. The passing game is what gave Iowa State issues against the Cowboys, and it’s not the Sooners’ area of weakness defensively. But what Kansas State did to Oklahoma is a strategy the Cyclones should try to emulate when they arrive in Norman. 

Kansas State had 213 yards rushing against the Sooners and controlled the clock, possessing the ball for 38 minutes of game time. Keeping Hurts, Lamb and running backs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks off the field is a recipe for success. 

The Cyclones’ offensive line — which has been improving progressively over the course of the season — will have to pull a lot of the weight for this strategy to work, of course, but I don’t think it’s crazy to believe it could work.

In his first three starts, freshman running back Breece Hall has shown he can handle a heavy load of carries and still produce with touchdowns and consistent gains. He has run with power and a cutting ability none of the Cyclones’ other backs have — although Johnnie Lang can work with him as a change of pace back. 

But what’s the worst that could happen from giving Hall 25 carries and controlling the clock? Sure, the Sooners have two weeks to work out a run defense, but they don’t have the bodies yet to contend with a power-centric offense. 

Another wrinkle Iowa State should bring to Norman is the quarterback runs that worked so well against TCU. Wildcat quarterback Skylar Thompson had four rushing touchdowns (all on designed runs) against the Sooners, and Purdy is a better runner than him. 

Using the read option and other designed runs to get Purdy and Hall into space could stretch a suddenly lacking Oklahoma defense, opening up the downfield passing game for Charlie Kolar, Deshaunte Jones and the puzzlingly-quiet Tarique Milton. 

I’m not saying this strategy is a lock to work against what is a great Sooners team, but there’s zero reason for the Cyclones not to try it out.

In other words, the Cyclones need to run the ball.