Dec 5, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell watches from the sidelines during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports
When looking at Oklahoma’s growth since its 37-30 loss to Iowa State earlier this year, it would be easy to put all of that on the continued development of the Sooner offense.
That would be the easiest way to analyze Saturday’s Big 12 championship game tilt between the Cyclones and Sooners at 11 a.m. in Arlington, Texas.
But, looking deeper into the numbers tells a different story — a story of Oklahoma’s defense getting back a stellar playmaking pass-rusher in Ronnie Perkins and growing into an exponentially stronger unit than they have been in recent years along with a group of youngsters living up to their one-time high-level recruit potential.
“I think obviously getting those players back has certainly helped the growth of their football team over the course of the season,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said during the Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday. “But, I think most impressively is the young players and the super talented young players that are on this team, how they’ve grown through the season and obviously a great credit to their coaching staff and the development of those young players in the program, but I think, you know, knowing when we played Oklahoma, that it was a very talented very young team that was continuing to get better. I think that’s the thing that you’ve really seen through the videotape is just the growth that they’ve made from, you know, game one to obviously where they are today. Obviously getting to really talented veteran players back is is certainly a positive but I think the most impressive piece is the growth of the young players in the program.”
Oklahoma enters Saturday’s game sporting one of the league’s most improved defensive units as they rank No. 3 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense, No. 6 in passing defense and lead the league in rush defense at only a little more than 88 rushing yards per game.
Much of the unit’s success can be attributed to the return of Perkins, who was suspended for the season’s first five games due to a violation of NCAA substance abuse rules. The St. Louis native has compiled 18 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries and four sacks despite playing in only four games, giving an already tough Sooner defensive front a bonafide star.
“They’re big, they’re physical,” Campbell said. “You know, I think that that’s probably the most impressive piece. I think they do a great job playing so many guys and keeping those guys fresh and really the consistency in terms of the players that rotate in throughout the football game. I think the quality and the consistency that those guys are playing with has been really impressive.”
That improvement throughout the season can be pointed to on the offensive side of the ball as well, especially in the case of freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler.
Rattler concluded the season leading the Big 12 with 279.1 passing yards per game and 24 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
“If you take elite talent, and then you take a guy like Coach Riley, who’s done as good a job as anybody maybe in our sport of developing the quarterback position,” Campbell said. “I think what you get is a proven track record of excellence and I think that’s what you’ve seen really with a really talented young quarterback and just his growth through the entirety of the season and, again, credit to both the player and, obviously, the coach.”
*** Lincoln Riley on Brock Purdy:
“He is a really good player. He’s had a lot of really, really great experience obviously played a lot of games and you’ve seen him grow through the years and, you know, I think a lot like, you know, a lot of the same answers when facing Sam Ehlinger through all the years, not that they’re the same player, don’t want to insinuate that, but you see a guy early on in his career and you see talent and then you see it start to come together more and more as it goes through and then I think he’s really benefited from it. He’s also got a good supporting cast around him it’s been really consistent throughout the years as well so outstanding player and have a lot of respect for the way he plays the position.”
*** Riley on if he’d define Iowa State’s offense as traditional:
“I wouldn’t actually consider them traditional. I think everybody thinks just because of the use of the tight end, all of a sudden they’re traditional pro-style and honestly they’re really not. They use a lot of the same concepts that you see spread offenses all over the place (use) they just do it with, you know, they have some good tight ends, obviously, personnel-wise and so they use those guys. There’s actually a lot of similarities between what they do and what we’ve done when we play with our tight ends so I think they do a really good job. They do a good job matching schematically what they want to be to the personnel that they have and do a tremendous job using the tight ends and then obviously featuring the running back. Yeah, I mean, I certainly see a group that has a system that they believe in and I think also at times when the media kind of gets painted like you know they’re just doing it with a bunch of guys that ain’t very good players or something, they’ve got a lot of very good football players, a lot of NFL players on that offense and on that football team. As coaches they’ve done in my opinion a really good job, using those guys and putting them in positions for success.”
*** Riley on Iowa State’s defensive scheme:
“They’ve done a great job. I think that staff’s done as good a job as anybody in the country over the last several years. They’ve found something that works for them and they’ve got a unique scheme that they coach very well and you can tell they know the ins and outs of it. They’ve got a bunch of guys that play it well and you can tell believe in it. You know, once again, I mean, you look at these films and I mean so many these guys we’ve played against now three and four times. They’ve built up a lot of experience within it. And, you know, and again, a lot of good players. So, you know, when you combine some really good players, experience, good scheme, good coaches, you’re going to be pretty good on defense and they obviously have been.“
*** Campbell on if this was what he envisioned Iowa State football could be:
“Somebody asked me that question of, ‘Man, is this what you envisioned or what you saw?’ and, you know, I’ll be really honest with you, I think for us we were early on just trying to show that we could compete and, you know, I think from my end, I never put a number on it or, you know, a finality to it. I think the reality was that where we were when we got here, and I probably didn’t even realize where we were, until I really got here and got ingrained in the program and trying to hammer away at the things that we could control. Hopefully, allowing those things that we could control to manifest into developing a consistent competitive football program, and I think that’s the thing for me maybe more than anything that was our priority and where we were trying to get to and eventually let everything else take care of itself and continue to find ways to grow year in and year out and so far I think we’ve been able to do those things. That’s something that we’ll have to show that we can consistently do but you know that’s been kind of our mindset to things and certainly my mindset towards things as well.”