OU football: A thorn in recent years, Cyclones should be another tough test for Sooners

Oct. 28—An injured Brayden Willis didn't get to make the trip to Ames, Iowa back in 2020.

But he remembers how loud the environment was in 2018.

Oklahoma managed to escape that game with a 37-27 win. But they weren't so lucky in 2020, losing 37-30 in a tough early-season defeat.

"Their fans do a great job," Willis said. "It gets loud there. It's an all-star environment. It's fun playing there. I like playing there and I'm excited to go back up there."

Even if they haven't beaten the Sooners consistently, Iowa State has been a thorn in their side in recent years.

None of the six matchups since 2017 have been settled by more than 10 points, and Iowa State has won two of them. The Sooners narrowly escaped with a 42-41 win in 2019 and barely defeated Iowa State 27-21 in the 2020 Big 12 title game.

"First and foremost [with] Iowa State, they're always a tough, disciplined football team," Willis said. "They're always gonna be ready to play. You're not going to go up there and get [an easy win], here or in Ames."

Saturday's game could be the latest in a series of tough matchups between the two teams.

The Sooners may be a one-point favorite, but the odds are stacked against them on the road. The statistics show Iowa State as the best defense in the Big 12 and one of the top defenses in the country. They rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense, passing defense and rushing defense.

The Cyclones (3-4, 0-4 Big 12) sit at the bottom of the Big 12 conference standings, but all four of their losses have come by a combined 14 points. OU coach Brent Venables made it clear during his weekly press conference that he respects the Cyclones, especially their defense.

"They do a great job developing their guys, believing in their system," Venables said. "And again, playing with great effort and physicality. All the things that it takes to do well.

"Throughout the last [several] years, one of the things you really respect about [Iowa State coach Matt] Campbell and their staff is the development of their players. Coaches try to take pride in getting guys to play beyond their ability, and they've done that consistently, both through effort and toughness and physicality, fundamentals, belief, systems, all of those things."

However, Iowa State has really struggled offensively. The Cyclones have yet to score more than 24 points against a conference opponent, and they're averaging 16.3 points per game against Big 12 teams. They also rank near the bottom of the country in most offensive stats.

That doesn't mean the Sooners are taking them lightly. Iowa State still has a talented receiver in Xavier Hutchinson and a stout defense that keeps it in games.

"I see a very efficient offense," OU defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "Their quarterback (Hunter Dekkers), he's efficient. He leads the Big 12 in completions. They've given up three sacks, which may be the best in the country... It's a real challenge."

The Sooners (4-3, 1-3) also face a lot of pressure. Despite beating Kansas before their bye last week, they still face a tough schedule down the stretch and an uphill climb to remaining relevant in the Big 12 standings. However, Venables is more concerned about the Sooners improving on both sides of the ball.

"This game is about mental toughness and fortitude and perseverance and the will to win," Venables said. "And so we've got a chance to put that on display each of the next five weeks. If we put it all together as we've shown a few times this year, we got everything we need. That's what I know. But we've got to be relentless to improve. This is what the game is all about."

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