AMES — If Iowa State had something resembling a typical Big 12 offense, oh what fun could be had here.
As of Saturday morning, seven of the top 13 scoring teams in the nation resided in this league. The Cyclones had played four of them before Oklahoma got to Jack Trice Stadium Saturday. They held all four from 13 to 23 points under their season-average.
In fact, ISU has now held all nine of its foes under their current scoring-averages. But it didn’t really limit the Sooners at all, and thus had little chance of upsetting the nation’s 14th-ranked team.
Oklahoma hung a 35-20 loss on the Cyclones, doing so by moving the ball skillfully almost the entire game. Were it not for two Durrell Givens interceptions of first-half Landry Jones passes, this would have been yet another blowout in OU’s long line of one-sided wins over ISU.
“Landry Jones, he was on fire,” said Iowa State nose guard Jake McDonough. “He was making the right passes, making the right reads, finding the open man. It was frustrating.”
What separates the Cyclones from making the jump from a lower-tier bowl team to a conference-contender is they don’t have offensive dazzlers like Jones and his OU receivers, or so many other vultures disguised as quarterbacks and game-changers at other skill positions.
It seems like every Smith (Geno, West Virginia) and Jones in this league plays well above the national norm at quarterback.
Kansas State’s Collin Klein is the Heisman Trophy favorite. Texas Tech’s Seth Doege began Saturday leading the nation in touchdown passes, and Baylor’s Nick Florence was the leader in passing yards per game.
Like everyone else, the Cyclones had their problems with Klein, Doege and Florence. But the points allowed suggest they fared pretty well overall. However, they couldn’t rein in Jones, who has an OU-record 35 wins as a starter.
Jones completed 32 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns. He really showed his mettle after getting picked off by strong safety Givens on consecutive second-quarter possessions.
The Sooners led by just 7-6 with 1:04 left in the first half after a 51-yard field goal from ISU’s Edwin Arceo. Starting at their 25, they used two running plays for 14 yards, shaving the clock down to: 26 with the ball at their own 39.
Then Oklahoma remembered it was Oklahoma, and Jones threw a 40-yard pass to Penn State transfer Justin Brown. The next play was a 21-yarder to Kenny Stills. Touchdown, 14-6, and you knew then how this game was ending.
Most coaches would have run out the clock in their own territory and taken that 7-6 halftime lead, especially knowing they would receive the second-half kickoff. OU co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel had Jones take a shot, and what a shot it was.
“Jones threw an accurate pass, No. 19 (Brown) made a gifted catch on the sideline,” ISU Coach Paul Rhoads said.
“You see that week in and week out in this league. This league is loaded with talent. It’s a very exciting brand of football, and you’ve got to step up and make plays, play after play after play.
“Their guys did on that particular down, and we didn’t.”
Their guys did all day. Oklahoma had 593 yards, Iowa State 290. If only the Cyclones had the kind of offensive firepower to keep their own defense off the field considerably more.
The Sooners have Jones and Brown and Stills. They have a No. 2 running back (Brennan Clay) who stepped in for injured Damien Williams and rushed for 157 yards.
Iowa State had nothing of the sort. In a league packed with exceptional Smiths and Joneses, the Cyclones don’t have that great quarterback. While Sooner receivers were going up the middle all day to grab passes in traffic, ISU’s guys had the dropsies in the first half and gave QB Steele Jantz a worse statistical day (20-of-40) than he deserved.
Rhoads has more than caught the attention of fellow Big 12 coaches and players by forging a defense that normally competes well against video-game offenses.
“They’ve done a lot of good things in this league,” said Jones. “They held Baylor to 21 points, and Baylor has been prolific on offense. We weren’t going to come in here and think this would just be a blowout game.”
The trick for Iowa State is to build an offense worthy of its conference, to talk elite high school backs and receivers from the Sun Belt into moving north. Way north, not just north to Norman.
As almost everyone in the Big Ten can tell you, it’s easier said than done.
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