Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) breaks across the goal line for a touchdown in the third quarter of the NCAA Big 12 football game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Oklahoma Sooners at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. The Bearcats lost their first Big 12 football game, 20-6, to the Sooners before a sellout crowd. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht blended poise with panache. He projected cool, calm confidence in his first Big 12 start Saturday against Oklahoma State, carving up the Cowboys’ defense for 348 yards and three touchdowns in a much-needed 34-27 win at home.
So what stands in the way of more progress for Becht? Oh, just No. 14 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0), which the Cyclones (2-2, 1-0) will face at 6 p.m. (FS1) this Saturday in what may be their last trip to Norman.
“He’s doing a great job so far and it won’t always be easy,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said of his redshirt freshman playcaller. “It’s a position where great things are written about you today but it can flip on a dime, and you’ve got to have that character — whether it’s really good, or really bad — to stand up and lead the right way.”
The same holds true for all of Becht’s teammates, who will try to win in Norman for the second time in the Campbell era. Here are five Sooners to watch when the two teams tangle under the lights at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday:
QB Dillon Gabriel
The 5-11, 204-pound fifth-year senior is putting up career-best numbers early in his second season as a Sooner — and that’s saying something, considering his well-polished pedigree. Gabriel threw 70 touchdown passes to just 14 interceptions in three seasons at Central Florida, then crafted a 25-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season for Oklahoma. But it seems compiling those eye-popping numbers served as a mere prelude to his 2023 efforts. Gabriel’s completed a career-high 78 percent of his passes through four games. He’s tossed 12 touchdown passes to just one interception and also has rushed for two scores. Gabriel’s career touchdown-to-interception ratio is now a staggering 112-to-21, so finding any flaw in his game — other than his relatively short stature — proves to be difficult if not impossible.
LB Danny Stutsman
The 6-4, 236-pound junior from Windermere, Fla., led the Big 12 with 125 total tackles last season while also notching 13.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and two interceptions. One of those picks slammed the door shut on the Cyclones’ faint hopes for a last-gasp comeback in last season’s meeting. Stutsman intercepted then-ISU quarterback Hunter Dekkers and returned it to the two-yard line. The Sooners pushed it in from there to hand ISU one of its two losses last season by more than seven points. As for this season? Stutsman already has one interception, which he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. He also boasts two sacks and a fumble recovery — and once again leads the Big 12 with 43 tackles through four games.
S Key Lawrence
The former Tennessee transfer has always been a playmaker for the Sooners. Now he’s become one of the defense’s most reliable all-around players, as well. Lawrence, a 6-1, 206-pound senior, has a team-leading two interceptions on a defense that’s been adept at forcing turnovers. He’s also forced a fumble for the sixth time in his career. Lawrence intercepted a potential touchdown pass in last week’s 20-6 win at Cincinnati, so he’s adept at making big plays in crucial moments.
WR Nic Anderson
Anderson — whose brother, Rodney, shined in the Sooners’ backfield in 2017 — has only caught eight passes this season, but four have turned into touchdowns. So the 6-4, 207-pound redshirt freshman has fully emerged as a potent deep-ball threat capable of jetting past defensive backs at any time. Anderson averages 27.9 yards per reception and provides leading receiver Andrel Anthony (21 catches, 371 yards, one touchdown) with a field-stretching bookend that helps every other Oklahoma receiver enjoy more room to catch the football.
WR Drake Stoops
Former head coach Bob Stoops’ son isn’t flashy. He’s simply efficient and productive. Those attributes perfectly accent his teammates’ big-play abilities and Stoops is the epitome of a so-called “clutch” player. He’s been with the program since 2018 and has already matched his singe-season high in touchdown catches with three. He also ranks second on the team in catches this season with 20.