The 2011 Insight Bowl will see the intersection of two teams that took largely different journeys to get to Tempe. Despite the facts that both teams had disappointing regular seasons and have not demonstrated particularly impressive play, Oklahoma is poised to rout the Hawkeyes.
Iowa has never been ranked this season and suffered five losses to Iowa State, Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan State and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes averaged a mediocre 236.3 passing yards and 142.8 rushing yards per game. Furthermore, 1,384 of their 1,714 rushing yards came from running back Marcus Coker, who will not play in the bowl game due to violations of the school’s code of conduct.
Perhaps the most revealing statistic about the Hawkeyes is their slim advantage in points scored versus points allowed; they have averaged 28.7 points per game while surrendering 23.3. Lastly, the combined record of the teams Iowa beat this season is 43-47.
Oklahoma, besides a puzzling loss to 5-7 Texas Tech, lost to quality opponents. Baylor boasts Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and is ranked 12th with a 9-3 record, preparing to play Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Oklahoma State, likewise, is ranked third with one loss and arguably should be in the national championship but has to live with a matchup with Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Sooners have racked up an average of 365.1 passing yards per game (fourth nationally) and score 40.3 points per game, good for 10th in the nation. They have given up only slightly fewer points than the Hawkeyes, averaging 22.8, but their productive offense has usually compensated for poor defense.
Ultimately, Iowa is at a major disadvantage with the loss of Coker. His backup, De’Andre Johnson, only had 18 carries for 79 yards on the year. The OU defense will shut down the rush game and force quarterback James Vandenberg to throw more than he is accustomed to.
In the passing game, receiver Marvin McNutt has had an impressive season, hauling in 78 catches for 1,269 yards and 12 touchdowns. Again though, he is by far the biggest target in Iowa’s passing attack, and the Sooners will not allow him to dominate like he has done over the course of the season.
Iowa will likely struggle to move the ball against the Sooner D. It’s possible they will have success, but for that to happen, new faces will likely have to step up and make big contributions.
The play of the offensive line will be crucial. For the Hawkeyes to have a chance against the Sooners, they will need to somehow develop the run game or have huge success in the pass game. OU will likely pressure Vandenberg and try to force him to make mistakes. If he’s not careful and the Hawkeye offense overall doesn’t bring its best game, it won’t be pretty for the black and yellow.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, they will most likely have their hands full with the Sooner offense as well. Yielding 44 points to Iowa State, 31 to Northwestern and 37 to Michigan State are not positive signs for a unit that will face one of the top offenses in the nation.
More important than the statistical disparities is the opportunity this game presents for Oklahoma. The Sooners grossly underachieved this season, finishing the year with an inexcusably poor outing against their rivals and squandering a chance to end the season with a conference championship and BCS berth.
The Sooners have had plenty of time to stew over that game and lament the missed opportunities. They were embarrassed in prime time on national television. They have experienced the lowest of lows, and they will bring their best to Tempe to face the Hawkeyes. Landry Jones hears the critics and is eager to shrug off his poor recent performances and end the season on a high note. The Sooner D is hungry to end the season strong. Bob Stoops is 25-4 coming off losses, and he, as well as the players, undoubtedly understands the importance of this game.
The only way Iowa beats OU is by forcing turnovers or taking advantage of OU simply not showing motivation or competitiveness. And neither of these things will happen. Not for an OU team that has tasted bitter defeat and failure like this team has. Not for a team that fully understands what’s at stake in the desert on December 30. The game is crucial for the program, for a semblance of momentum heading into the offseason, for recruiting, for confidence and for pride.
The Sooners know this and will demonstrate that by pummeling the Hawkeyes.