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Unfamiliar Season Finds the Sooners in a Familiar Position

Big 12

The 2020 College Football season has been a challenge for teams across the country. And, Oklahoma is no stranger to that either. After starting 0-2 in conference play, a conference championship appeared to be out of the question. But, on Saturday morning in Arlington, an unfamiliar season finds the Sooners in a familiar position. The Sooners will attempt to lock down their sixth straight conference championship while Iowa State searches for their first since 1912.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall

Even though tradition is one-sided, the makeu[ of these two teams is eerily similar. First, look no further than the head coaches where you see two young, energetic ball coaches in Matt Campbell and Lincoln Riley. Their kids have fed off that energy over the last few years that has led Oklahoma on the verge on six straight and Iowa State in position to win their first Big 12 championship. But, the similarities don’t end just there. As you look at the 2020 season these two teams are even in nearly all statistical categories.

Defensive Similarities

Oklahoma comes into this game with their strongest defense since 2003. The defensive productivity is certainly much improved since their previous meeting this season. The Sooners rank in the top 10 in the country in rushing defense, sacks, and third-down efficiency. With the defensive line being the strength, it has allowed the secondary to improve in tackling and coverage. However, the Cyclones are just as strong on the defensive side. They rank in the top 35 in the country in all major defensive statistical categories. That includes going toe to toe with the Sooner in almost an identical statistical comparison on total defense, scoring defense, and rushing defense.

Different attacks, but similar results

Comparatively, you could make an argument that Iowa State is playing just as well offensively as the Sooners are. But, the way that each team has gone about it this season has varied somewhat. The Cyclones rely on the nations leading rusher in Breece Hall as they average 200 yards per game on the ground. Additionally, quarterback Brock Purdy is asked to do just enough to manage the game and make solid decisions with the football. However, for Oklahoma, they have relied on the right arm of Spencer Rattler a little more as the Sooners are averaging 327 yards passing per game. The wildcard here is the emergence of running back Rhamondre Stevenson who has been a difference-maker late in the season.

Key Matchups to watch

Oklahoma’s rush defense versus Iowa State’s running attack

The Sooners have been one of the best teams in the country against the run. Comparatively, led by Hall, the Cyclones are one of the best in the conference. Oklahoma’s ability to make Iowa State one dimensional will be pivotal. Hall rank for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the previous meeting. However, 100 of those yards were in the second half. If the Sooners can hold Hall to 85 yards or less that will be the magic number in winning this pivotal matchup.

Iowa State’s lengthy receivers against Oklahoma’s short defensive backs

The top six pass catchers for the Cyclones are really tall and Oklahoma’s defense lacks size. How this match is avoided or exploited could be a big key in the game. The receiving corps of Xavier Hutchinson, Charlie Kolar, Landon Akers, Chase Allen, Sean Shaw, and Dylan Soehner go 6’3, 6’6, 6’0, 6’7, 6’6 and 6’7. Meanwhile, the tallest defensive back for Oklahoma is at 6’0. Strictly from a strategic perspective, this is the most interesting matchup. How will the Cyclones look to exploit that matchup? Alternatively, how will Alex Grinch get Oklahoma out of that one on one matchup?

Which offensive line protects the best?

Both teams like to get after the quarterback. The Sooners average 3.7 sacks per game on the season. Comparatively, the Cyclones average 2.7 in their own right. But, the big difference coming in is that Iowa State only surrenders one sack per game which is good for ninth in the country. However, they haven’t faced a defensive line quite as talented as Oklahoma’s. Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto, and Ronnie Perkins have accounted for 19.5 sacks on the season. Conversely, Oklahoma has given up nearly 2.5 sacks per game. So, Rattler will need to have good pocket presence. Additionally, the Sooners offensive line will need to control JaQuan Bailey and Will McDonald off the edge who have combined for 15.5 sacks of their own.

Which Quarterback can limit the negative plays?

For the Sooners, Rattler has thrown seven interceptions on the season with four of those coming in losses to Kansas State and this Iowa State team. He’s done a wonderful job in protecting the ball since the Texas game. However, he did throw an interception and fortunately avoided another one against Baylor. Baylor could be the common denominator for both of these quarterbacks as Purdy threw three interceptions in this game as well. Purdy has a total of six interceptions on the year. The Quarterback that manages the game and the pressure of the game likely wins this game for their team.

News and Notes

  • Oklahoma will be looking for their 14th conference championship since the inception of the Big 12.
  • The Sooners are 10-1 in Big 12 Championship Games with the one loss coming against Kansas State in 2003.
  • Ranked number six, Iowa State will be the highest-ranked opponent Oklahoma has played in the title game since playing top-ranked Missouri in 2007.
  • Since Campbell has been at Iowa State, Oklahoma has only outscored the Cyclones 174-167. It’s the closest margin of any Big 12 opponent in that time.

Analysis and Predictions

As we’ve discussed, these teams are very evenly matched on both sides of the ball. Turnovers, penalties, and many of our key matchups will most certainly decide this game. However, one of the most interesting storylines could be intangibles. The Sooners are going for six straight and the Cyclones are going for their first title in 112 years. There won’t be as many fans there this season, but the atmosphere will be just as electric. Oklahoma has the experience in this, Iowa State doesn’t. How much will that matter on the field? For our detailed analysis and predictions for the 2020 Big 12 Championship Game, please click the link below.

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