Oklahoma Sooners: Inside Slant Oct. 14

The Sports Xchange breaks down this weekend's matchup.


Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops began and ended his press conference with the very same theme. Basically, the Sooners' season will be determined by the rate of improvement between now and the rest of the season.

"We're still a work in progress," Stoops said. "The better teams, the ones that have a chance to win championships, improve as the season goes along."

A few minutes later, his offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, struck on the very same theme, as well as an older one, pertaining only to his offense.

"We haven't played our best yet," Wilson said. "We're playing well, we're playing clean, but we're still leaving points on the board in every game. ... Our best teams here have improved."

So that's the narrative as Oklahoma (5-0, 1-0 Big 12) prepares to face Iowa State (3-3, 1-1) Saturday at Owen Field.

The Sooners are ranked No. 6 by the media and the coaches. They haven't played since topping Texas 28-20 Oct. 2.

They're coming off an off week, which means even with Stoops giving the team last Friday, Saturday and Sunday off, the Sooners have had time to regroup, put in a little more work on some persistent issues.

They should be as ready as they'll ever be to go after another Big 12 championship and, conceivably, to earn a place in the BCS championship game.

A few places that might show itself?

Can the Sooners continue to take care of the ball and not take mindless penalties? Can they turn around their fourth-quarter issues, in which opponents have outscored them 51-17? Can they dramatically cut down the number of big plays they allow defensively?

There are plenty of question marks, and still Oklahoma is right where it hoped to be at this point before the season ever began.

Can the Sooners take advantage?


--It is a frequently brought-up subject: "The Texas hangover." And yet, since Bob Stoops came along, the Sooners have been very good in their first game following the Texas game, going 11-0 during Bob Stoops' tenure. Many of the games have been biggies, like 2000's 31-21 victory over No. 2 Kansas State or 2007's 41-31 victory over No. 11 Missouri. The last time the Sooners faced Iowa State coming off a Texas game was 2006, a 34-9 victory.

--An interesting line of questioning erupted during Bob Stoops' weekly press conference. Has he ever considered hiring a kicking coach, be it a full staff member or a graduate assistant? His answer: No. He believes the staff is able to coach the Sooners' kickers well enough, even if OU is in its third straight year of in-season turnover at the position (currently, Jimmy Stevens is OU's placekicker, having won the job from Patrick O'Hara, even though Stevens lost the job the previous two seasons). Finally, Stoops was asked if anybody's tried to sell him on hiring a kicking coach, to which he said, "Uwe asks me all the time." "Uwe" is Uwe von Schamann, who kicked at Oklahoma from 1975-78 and in the NFL, mostly for Miami, from 1979-84. The former Sooner kicker still makes Norman his home.

SERIES HISTORY:Oklahoma leads the series with Iowa State 67-5-2 and has won the last 11 meetings in the series. The Sooners lead 34-3-1 in Norman.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Oklahoma is averaging 4.9 yards per snap and 415.6 yards of total offense per game. Landry Jones has completed 133 of 208 passes, including 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. Ryan Broyles is catching 9.2 balls per game for 103.6 yards, while DeMarco Murray is running for 110.2 yards per game. As a whole, there's a lot to like, and yet the Sooners have blown only one team off the field: Florida State. The greatest issue is efficiency. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has said the same thing ever week since Week 3: "We're still leaving points on the board."

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Almost the direct opposite of the offense, in that it's stepped up when required, shutting down Utah State in the fourth quarter and holding Texas to field goals twice in the second half after the Longhorns were inside the five-yard line. But that's micro. In a macro world, the Sooners are struggling, allowing an amazingly bad 5.8 yards per snap and an amazingly high 411.6 yards per game. And the Sooners don't discriminate, allowing 248.2 yards passing per game and 163.4 yards rushing. Travis Lewis leads Oklahoma with 45 tackles. Jeremy Beal has 25 tackles, with 8.5 for losses and six sacks. Quinton Carter and Jamell Fleming have both intercepted two passes.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our main focus really has to be, and is, making improvement from last week, this week and being the best we can be in all areas of the game and continue to make improvement." -- Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops reinforcing the theme of the week.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: No. 6 Oklahoma (5-0, 1-0 Big 12) vs. Iowa State (3-3, 1-1) -- Oklahoma has won 33 straight games at home coming into Saturday and is coming off its only off-week of the season. In their last game, the Sooners topped Texas 28-20. In their last conference tilt, the Cyclones enjoyed a 52-38 victory over Texas Tech two weeks ago. Last week, moving out of conference, they fell 68-27 to Utah.

KEYS TO THE GAME: A heavy favorite, the Sooners can't afford to keep the Cyclones in the game via turnovers and penalties. Secondly, as it affects Saturday as well as the rest of the season, OU needs to play well from the start. It's a good idea because the Sooners have not been very good finishers this season, holding on more than closing out. Also, looking toward the rest of the season, a fast start would be a great indication Oklahoma's ready to remain in the national championship mix, remaining unbeaten despite some very big games still to play.


RB DeMarco Murray -- Even as the Sooners have spread out their tailback carries, giving Mossis Madu some real work lately, Murray remains the face of the Sooners' running game. A workhorse who needs two touchdowns to match Heisman winner Steve Owens for the most in program history, he's still averaging just 4.2 yards per carry, while running for less than that in four of five games. If the offensive line can block a little better and if Murray can do just a little more with his blocking, the Sooners will be off and running coming out of an off week.

LB Tom Wort -- The Sooners play two linebackers most of the time, and Wort, a true freshman who plays in the middle, isn't the one they don't have to worry about. That one's junior WLB Travis Lewis, who was first-team All-Big 12 his freshman and sophomore seasons. That leaves Wort, whose consistency level the rest of the season may be the strongest indicator of the Sooners' overall defensive progress. Wort is coming off his best game to date, a seven-solo, 10-tackle (two for loss) performance against Texas.


--DT Casey Walker and DE Geneo Grissom are the only Sooners not available for Saturday's game. Walker, usually a sophomore starter, is still nursing a sprained ankle. Grissom, a redshirt freshman who has yet to see game time, is coming off foot surgery.

--RB Roy Finch, a true freshman, may be -- well, if the hype is to be believed -- "unleashed" for the first time against Iowa State. Bob Stoops said they "anticipate Roy playing" at his Tuesday press conference. DeMarco Murray and Mossis Madu remain atop the depth chart at the position.

--LB Austin Box could also see action for the first time this season, now cleared and practicing following a preseason back injury. Box, a junior, has started in the middle in the past and would likely see time there or on the strong side in those rare moments the Sooners take their nickel package off the field and play three linebackers.

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