Oklahoma vs. Iowa State score: Sooners fend off feisty Cyclones for key Big 12 win
The Sooners had a battle in Ames, but came out victorious in the Big 12 championship game race
Iowa State pulled one of the biggest upsets in college football a year ago by beating Oklahoma 38-31. Back in Ames, the Cyclones weren't quite able to get the same big win as the No. 5 Sooners hung on for a 37-27 win on Saturday.
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray was exceptional in his first road start with 425 total yards and three touchdowns. Making his first start at quarterback for the injured Kyle Kempt, Iowa State's Zeb Noland gave Oklahoma's defense all it could handle in the passing game.
Surviving and advancing can be the name of the game in conference play, and don't discount Oklahoma getting an early road win even though it was a double-digit favorite. Had it beat the Sooners again, Iowa State would have had back-to-back wins over Oklahoma for the first time since 1960-61.
Here's what else we learned:
Lincoln Riley is not afraid to run Murray: The Oakland Athletics, however, might be afraid enough for the both of them. That matters not to Riley, though, who gave his quarterback a number of designed rushes. Murray finished the day as Oklahoma's leading rusher with 15 carries for 77 yards. Normally, running a quarterback with Murray's slight frame should be strategic to say the least. To Murray's credit, though, he's a smart runner. He knows when to get out of bounds or to slide. He knows where he is on the field. Murray has always been a gifted athlete and it behooves Oklahoma to use that athleticism, but they've used him wisely. That's good coaching and development.
Oklahoma's running back depth will be tested: Losing Rodney Anderson to ais bad enough. Now it looks like the backfield will be without Marcelias Sutton, who suffered what looked to be a bad knee injury on Saturday and had to be helped off of the field. Murray can run, but Trey Sermon and T.J. Pledger are the top two choices to get carries moving forward. Losing two backs for any period of time before September ends is normally a death knell for an offense's ground game. Oklahoma has enough depth to survive that, but its playing with fate.
The Sooners' D-Line is concerning: The Oklahoma secondary got abused by Iowa State's wide receivers -- more on that below -- but Noland also had a mostly clean pocket from which to work. That's an issue for the Sooners. Iowa State had a lot of success throwing down the field because Noland usually had time to let those plays develop and allow his big receivers to high point the ball. And when Oklahoma did have plays covered or contained, poor tackling turned them into chunk yardage. Noland finished with 360 yards through the air at a whopping 10 yards per attempt. There will be even better passing teams Oklahoma faces this season.
Hakeem Butler is a problem: The biggest question mark for Iowa State coming into this game was whether it had any weapons outside of running back David Montgomery. Consider this a check mark in the "yes" box. Butler, all 6-foot-6 of him, was a matchup nightmare for the smaller Sooner defensive backs with five grabs for 174 yards and two scores. He's big, strong and doesn't go down easy. Butler was a factor in Iowa State's offense a year ago with 697 yards and seven touchdowns, but he wasn't a go-to guy. That's different this time around.
Iowa State will be a thorn in the Big 12 again: Matt Campbell's team isn't sneaking up on anyone like last year, but they'll still be a difficult opponent in the Big 12 race. However, the returns could be slow. The Cyclones have started 0-2 (the opener against South Dakota State was canceled) and the next two conference games are at TCU and Oklahoma State. There's a very real chance the Cyclones have one win by mid-year. But don't forget about them if they do. The second half of the season is much more manageable. They'll be a pill, no doubt about it.
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