Iowa State hits the road to face their toughest opponent of the season yet. Matt Campbell and the 2-2 Cyclones head to Norman, OK, to battle the 14th-ranked and undefeated Oklahoma Sooners this Saturday at 6 p.m. Iowa State bounced back with an air raid 34-27 victory over Oklahoma State last weekend in Ames. Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel was exceptional in Oklahoma’s first Big 12 Conference test of the season against Cincinnati, leading them to a 20-6 road victory.
“As veteran of a team systematically, Dillon has been in this system, not since Oklahoma, but Central Florida for six years,” Campbell said. “He has elite precision and he is a guy who knows what his answers are and he is almost the offensive coordinator at times on the field.”
The Cyclone's defense has had its fair share of tests regarding the opposing team's quarterback. In week one, Iowa State faced NFL prospect Theo Day at UNI, and in week two they faced Iowa’s Cade McNamara. On the season, Gabriel has over 1,200 yards passing with 12 touchdowns and one interception. His QBR of 86.6 ranks eighth in the nation. Last week, the experienced quarterback put up 322 passing yards versus the Bobcats. It is the third time this season Gabriel has notched over 300 yards in the passing game.
The numbers on paper are impressive, but Gabriel and the Sooners' offense have yet to play a defense as highly rated nationally as the Cyclones. Jon Heacock’s squad sits atop of the Big 12 and 19th in the country in total defense, allowing 292.5 yards per game. Oklahoma’s ability to distribute the ball (four receivers with 100 plus yards and three with 200 or more receiving yards) and up-tempo pace of play will be a major test.
“(Oklahoma) is banking on us not getting our feet set and our eyes set,” Heacock said. “I worry more about us than what they are looking at because it is going so fast. That’s where a veteran quarterback has some experience and kind of knows what it looks like. We have to do a great job of playing our defense.”
Iowa State’s offense regained some confidence after tailing a season-high 422 yards of total offense against Oklahoma State. Rocco Becht went off for 348 passing yards and three touchdowns, both of which are career highs. Becht earned national honors being named "The Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Week.”
Becht’s weapons across the field took a huge step forward as well. Jaylin Noel continues to be Becht’s favorite target averaging a conference-high 6.7 receptions a game and showed off his speed breaking out for two 25 plus yard catches including a 38 yard touchdown catch last week. Daniel Jackson who had been sidelined most of his time at Iowa State due to injuries raised many fan's eyebrows with six catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns. All were career highs.
Despite the attention and the awards, Becht still understands there is more work to be done.
“I honestly thought that we left a lot out there just on offense,” Becht said. “A lot of little stuff we could have done better just to open up runs.”
The ground and pound game has not been successful for Iowa State thus far. Iowa State only managed to gain 2.2 yards a carry and gained just over 70 yards on the ground against what was the worst rush defense in the Big 12. For the Cyclones to keep this one close they will need to lean on the arm of Becht and continue keeping a clean pocket (only allowed one sack this year).
This is the last time Iowa State and Oklahoma will face off as conference foes with the Sooners leaving for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) next season. The Cyclones have not beat Oklahoma since 2020 and it has been over five years since they last won in Norman.