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OU & OSU Sports

December 27, 2011

History won't help Sooners

TEMPE, Ariz. — Over the last two seasons, Oklahoma has seen every version of the spread offense imaginable and faced them at every speed imaginable.

That won’t do the 19th-ranked Sooners (9-3) any good as they prepare to face Iowa (7-5) in Friday’s Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium.

Teams in the Big Ten Conference just play a different style than the Big 12.

“They’re a very, very physical team. They don’t make many errors. We have to be on our As and Bs. We have to play physical. That’s their strong suit. It’s a Big Ten team,” OU safety Aaron Colvin said. “We know they have big guys. They’re going to come at us. They’re not going to be afraid.”

It’s not about being afraid or timid. It’s about the ways teams go about trying to score points.

The Big 12 is a passing league. Four of the FBS’s top six passing teams (No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 Texas Tech) are Big 12 teams.

Teams in the Big Ten do throw the ball. The Hawkeyes enter the Insight Bowl averaging 236.3 passing yards a game. But everything is set up by its ability to run the ball with brutal precision.

Iowa quarterback James Vandenburg only attempted 360 passes this season. OU quarterback Landry Jones has nearly completed that many (339) and his completion percentage is just 63.1 percent.

The Sooners know success or failure on Friday night starts with their ability to stop the run. It means winning a lot of physical battles against a big and physical Iowa team.

“It’s different from what we typically face, but it’s the challenge and something we need to step up to,” OU middle linebacker Tom Wort said.

The challenge might have gotten a little easier last week. The Hawkeyes suspended running back Marcus Coker for the game. The 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore rushed for 1,384 yard and 15 touchdowns. The rest of Iowa’s team was responsible for another 330 yards and three touchdowns.

But mentalities don’t change because of injuries, and OU doesn’t believe it will affect what Iowa will try to do Friday.

“They’re in the Big Ten. They run the ball a lot,” Sooner nickelback Tony Jefferson said. “They probably have a backup who’s just as good. We’ll prepare as if 34 was playing. He’s a hard runner.”

If Iowa’s making changes, it’s not announcing them.

“I don’t think so. It’s going to be Iowa offense. We are going to do what we did every game,” Hawkeye receiver Keenan Davis said. “It’s going to be smashmouth, Iowa football.”

Expect to see Jefferson playing a lot more at safety than the hybrid safety/linebacker spot he typically occupies. The Sooners will need more bulk at the line of scrimmage. Expect to see OU using four defensive tackles a lot Friday. That’s what it does against teams that truly emphasize running the ball.

On the other hand, the change is style is something that appears to play right into the Sooners’ hands. Three of its best defensive performances of the season came against Florida State, Texas and Kansas State.

Those three teams share a common trait in that all three use ball control offense that are run based.

“It’s something you see through the year. We see it in our league, too. When you play people like Kansas State and whatnot, you see more of that,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.

After a season of chasing receivers all over the field, the Sooners aren’t timid about spending the final night of the 2011 season playing a team that still sees the value in three yards and a cloud of dust. It’s what wins in the Big Ten.

“If anybody can run the ball on you it’s going to make for a long night,” OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “When they have balance in what they do you just struggle to come up with schemes and with things to stop them. It’s no real secret. You have to play more physical.”

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