OU vs. Iowa State Preview: Eric Gray and the OU offense face a tough test

NCAA Football: Kansas at Oklahoma
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Sooners are taking on Iowa State is a real test of the Sooners’ strengths.

What’s good?

The Sooners woke up this morning in Iowa. Normally, I would make a state joke here but admittedly… I don’t know much about Iowa other than they are the first state to vote in the presidential election and that they love football.

And man, do they love football.

Make no bones about it, Iowa State will be yet another test and challenge for this middle of the road Oklahoma team. Winless in conference play, the Cyclones have managed to play every team within one score so far. Their offense can’t run. Their QB can’t help but cough up the ball. But their defense has been so good, and with a little Xavier Hutchinson magic, Iowa State has had a road map to beat Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, and Texas. It just hasn’t happened.

What to watch for

  • The Sooners have to establish the run, obviously. Iowa State makes you accept three yard runs. They do a great job of forcing you to be patient, which has been the kryptonite of the previous version of Oklahoma. Eric Gray, maybe the offensive MVP to this point of the season, needs to be the best player today. Time of possession is a stat that usually doesn’t matter for a Jeff Lebby led-offense, but I think it will today.
  • As opposed to years past, Oklahoma has a QB who has been a little safe with the football and resisted testing teams downfield consistently. That could be an advantage today, as Iowa State will drop multiple guys into deep coverage, not allowing you to hit the home run ball. However, that does not mean the short stuff will be there, either. Eight men in coverage means a lot of zones are plugged up. Gabriel will have to do something I have not seen him do much of this year — throw with anticipation. Not throwing the ball up for grabs like Rattler and Williams is a good thing. Waiting too long to throw in between two defenders and allowing Will McDonald to get home could be just as detrimental.
  • Billy Bowman could be returning today for the Sooners. We start the safety conversation all over again. Bowman returning could clean up the blown coverages we saw against TCU and Texas. Does it help the missed tackles we witnessed against Kansas? I don’t know, but my guess says no. Reason being is those missed tackles came from guys who I think will still be out there. Maybe Bowman gives you more flexibility to now play three safeties? Do we see Robert Spears-Jennings? Do we see Key Lawrence, Bowman, and Trey Morrison?
  • Oklahoma is allowed to rush the passer. Outside of a few Brent Venables dialed up blitzes, the pressure hasn’t been consistent since entering conference play. Today Oklahoma will be playing a young, green QB who could be forced into multiple game-winning errors if just forced to play fast. Ethan Downs and crew need to get their engines revved because with the way the coverage has been on the back end, I don’t know if I would want Iowa State testing you with Xavier Hutchinson.

Know your opponent

  • Will McDonald is the best defensive lineman in the conference. Yes, he racks up sacks. Yes, he live in a QBs lap. Why should you respect him though? He is the reason the dreaded “rush 3 drop 8” works. He plays the run really well. Sooners will have to be prepared with Anton Harrison and Wanya Morris to have their best games not just in keeping Gabriel upright but keeping Eric Gray clean to the second level.
  • Hutchinson is the offense for Iowa State. He is the most dynamic and consistent threat for this team. He is averaging double digit targets a game and I would put the over/under at 15.5 this afternoon. Hutchinson can win the jump ball, bully you in short yardage, and pick out holes in zone coverage. Woodi Washington, Jaden Davis, and CJ Coldon will need their help over the top otherwise Iowa State will throw it his direction every snap they don’t see a double team.
  • Hunter Dekkers just screams Big 12 QB. Strong jaw and strong arm in tow, don’t let Dekkers lack luster numbers fool you. He has flashes. I have described him all week as frisky but if allowed to he will pull out his best Sam Ehligner impersonation and try to make you think he is what Jeff Lebby is most scared of, a gamer. Dekkers is however turnover prone, Oklahoma will have their chances to bring in 2 or 4 interceptions today. Can they? I will let you decide that.
  • Iowa State is going to do their best to take the Marvin Mims, Jalil Farooq, and Theo Wease led passing game away. Their secondary is physical and sound and honestly for me… what I was most impressed with watching them back this week. If the passing game is going to get off the ground its more likely we see a heavy perception of Brayden Willis and Drake Stoops than the deep shots those other guys are known for.

Prediction

The Sooners have their strength against Iowa State’s strength. Their weakness against the Cyclone weakness. This matchup, truthfully, is the game thus far the one I have done the most mental gymnastics on. Can Iowa State’s offense be the ‘get right game’ for the Oklahoma defense or will be the other way around? I am leaning Oklahoma but man, I am feeling terrible about it.

Oklahoma – 27

Iowa State – 26