OU football: Sooners beat Iowa State behind Zach Schmit's touchdown, first-half performance

Oct. 29—AMES, Iowa. — It didn't seem out of the ordinary when Zach Schmit stepped up to kick a 17-yard field goal.

Instead of leaving the offense on the field for a fourth-and-goal from the Iowa State 2-yard line, OU coach Brent Venables sent Schmit on the field. The Sooners were tied 3-3 in the second quarter with Iowa State, and a field goal would give the Sooners the lead.

But that wasn't what Venables had in mind.

When the ball was snapped, Schmit ran forward. OU punter Michael Turk, the Sooners' holder, caught the snap and quickly tossed the ball slightly ahead to Schmit, who caught it and easily ran it into the end zone.

Schmit's touchdown did more than put the Sooners ahead by seven. It proved to be a crucial play in Saturday's 27-13 win that saw the Cyclones hang around until late in the game.

"I walked in, it was like the Red Sea parting," Schmitt said after the game. "The blockers did a great job, the scheme was amazing. It was pretty much just me jogging into the end zone."

The touchdown wasn't the only significant play from Schmit. His 41-yard field goal at the 7:28 mark of the first quarter was the first score of the game and gave the Sooners a 3-0 lead. He also added a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter.

Schmit was responsible for all 13 of the Sooners' first-half points and finished the game with two field goals, three extra points and a receiving touchdown. On the season, he's made 8-of-9 field goal attempts and all 31 of his extra point attempts.

"Our kicking game again was a real weapon for us," Venables said. "Zach Schmit has been just an assassin for us. The guy doesn't flinch. To me, he could be an MVP candidate [for us after] eight games."

Schmitt's first-half performance ensured the Sooners never trailed and gave the offense time to find its rhythm.

The offense didn't struggle much to move the ball in the first half, as they went into halftime with 227 total yards while possessing the ball for over 17 minutes. But they struggled to capitalize on a few scoring opportunities, and the Sooners went into halftime with a 13-6 lead.

The breakthrough came late in the third quarter. With the Sooners facing third-and-11, OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel evaded several Iowa State defenders and found Jalil Farooq for a wide-open 41-yard touchdown to give the Sooners a 20-6 lead.

Gabriel made some plays when he needed to — he finished with 165 total yards and a touchdown — but it was the running game that boosted the offense. Senior running back Eric Gray finished with over 100 rushing yards for the fifth time this season, and four other players added 15 yards or more to give the Sooners 182 for the day.

It was also significant to have Gray, who scored the game-sealing touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It was a big performance against an Iowa State defense that ranks 15th nationally in rushing defense.

"He's our guy," Gabriel said of Gray. "The run game has been really dominant and creating chunk plays and moving the sticks. Really a blessing to have him. Most importantly [we] just believe in him a lot."

While the Iowa State offense found some rhythm with 378 total yards, the Sooners defense did just enough to keep it at bay. They forced three turnovers and only allowed scores on 3 of the Cyclones' 13 possessions.

It was a big win for the Sooners (5-3, 2-3 Big 12), who have now won back-to-back Big 12 games after dropping their first three. The Sooners are now just one win away from bowl eligibility.

The hope is to continue this momentum.

"It provides a lot of momentum and confidence," Gray said. "... For us to come out here as an offense and show that we can impose our will on any defense and for our defense to do that to their offense, it's a big momentum swing for us."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580