Iowa-Oklahoma Preview

Once a national title shot was out of the picture, Oklahoma

surely would have been happy to return to Arizona for its bowl

game.

Just not this one.

The AP’s preseason No. 1 team missed out on a BCS bid after an

ugly finish, so the 19th-ranked Sooners are relegated to playing

the Insight Bowl on Friday against an Iowa team that hasn’t been

among the Top 25 all season.

While the Hawkeyes (7-5) were likely thrilled to be invited back

to Tempe after winning this bowl game last season, Oklahoma (9-3)

should be disappointed it’s not at least playing in nearby

Glendale. That’s where the Sooners were at this time last year for

the Fiesta Bowl, beating Connecticut 48-20.

Another trip to a BCS bowl remained within their reach entering

the season finale against Oklahoma State despite two surprising Big

12 defeats having ruined their national championship hopes.

Oklahoma could have claimed a share of the conference title and the

Big 12’s BCS berth, but an already mediocre second half of the

season turned into a virtual disaster with a 44-10 loss.

“That’s masking the problem if you say, ‘Oh, we weren’t ready to

play, didn’t want to play,’ any of that,” coach Bob Stoops said.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. We just weren’t good

enough, made mistakes.”

Mistakes were abundant following the Sooners’ 6-0 start. A 41-38

loss to heavy underdog Texas Tech on Oct. 22 ended a 39-game home

winning streak, and their national title hopes were completely

dashed four weeks later as Baylor beat them for the first time.

Another stunning result soon followed – their worst Bedlam game

loss since 1945. Though the Sooners weren’t favored to win, it

seemed they didn’t come ready to play. They fell behind 24-0 in the

second quarter and were kept out of the end zone until the game’s

final minutes against a Cowboys defense ranked 107th in the

FBS.

“Obviously the season didn’t go the way we planned,” center Ben

Habern said. “Our goals every season are to win a Big 12

championship and a national championship. For those goals not to be

met, it’s obviously frustrating. We have to take ownership of what

happened.”

Junior quarterback Landry Jones has done that, saying he was

“single-handedly” to blame for the Oklahoma State loss. He had four

turnovers that day – Oklahoma tied for the eighth-most in the FBS

with 28 – and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third

straight game.

Considered a possible Heisman Trophy contender to start the

season, Jones tied for the Big 12 lead with 14 interceptions. He

did throw for 28 touchdowns and 4,302 yards as Oklahoma relied more

on the passing game, particularly when leading rusher Dominique

Whaley was lost for the season after six games with a broken

ankle.

A more devastating injury came three weeks later with a torn ACL

suffered by Ryan Broyles, the NCAA’s all-time leader with 349

receptions. It may be no coincidence that Jones had no TD passes

and five interceptions in the three games Broyles missed as

Oklahoma went 1-2.

“We have a lot to get straight. We have a lot to correct,” said

Stoops, an Iowa graduate. “And I don’t know if just the bowl

practices can get it done but we’re going to try.”

More recent injuries have left Stoops’ team further depleted.

Starting wideout Jaz Reynolds (kidney), tailback Brandon Williams

(neck) and fullback Aaron Ripkowski (back) will miss the game.

Oklahoma could finish out of the final AP poll for the second

time in three years with a loss to Iowa.

The Hawkeyes didn’t receive a vote in the latest Top 25, having

lost three of their final five games.

Coach Kirk Ferentz now can only hope for a finish similar to

last year – follow a disappointing end to the regular season with

an Insight Bowl win over a ranked Big 12 foe. Iowa had Big Ten

title aspirations before losing its final three regular-season

games of 2010 but defeated then-No. 14 Missouri 27-24 in Tempe.

“Like last year, we are facing a heck of a challenge,” said

Ferentz, an assistant on Iowa’s staff with Stoops in the 1980s. ”

… Missouri threw that ball around and scored well last year. And

now with Oklahoma the same way, we are going to have to be at our

absolute best.”

No player was better than Marcus Coker in last year’s bowl,

rushing for 219 yards and two touchdowns, and an impressive

sophomore season followed as he was the Big Ten’s second-leading

rusher with 1,384 yards and 15 TDs. However, he was recently

suspended for this game after violating the university’s

student-athlete code of conduct.

Coker’s absence is a huge blow considering no other Iowa running

back had more than 18 carries or 80 rushing yards this season. This

could be a big break for an Oklahoma defense which has given up at

least 120 rushing yards to its last seven opponents, including 278

to Oklahoma State.

Iowa’s other big weapon has been Marvin McNutt, who set school

records and led the Big Ten with 1,269 receiving yards and 12

touchdown catches. The senior’s athleticism and good hands helped

quarterback James Vandenberg have a solid season, throwing for 23

TDs with six interceptions.

That duo hopes to extend the Sooners’ struggles on defense. They

allowed averages of 29.7 points and 449.2 total yards during the

3-3 finish, though Frank Alexander still took Big 12 defensive

player of the year honors after tying for the conference lead with

8 1/2 sacks.

Turnovers may be a key. The Sooners forced only one in three

losses, compared to 24 in their nine wins. The Hawkeyes defense had

just three interceptions in the final six games and ranked last in

the Big Ten against the pass.

Iowa, which lost 21-6 at Oklahoma in 1979 in these programs’

only previous meeting, has won a school-record three straight bowl

games.