Oklahoma’s margin for error dwindled with its 48-41 loss to Kansas State on Oct. 26.
The Sooners (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) are virtually out of the College Football Playoff hunt if they pick up a second loss, and their schedule only gets tougher. It begins Saturday against Iowa State (5-3, 3-2) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Following five consecutive 11 a.m. kickoffs, the Sooners received a night game when they battle the Cyclones at 7 p.m. on FOX.
Here are five things to watch when OU meets Iowa State under the lights:
1. How will the Sooners respond to the Kansas State loss: OU’s been superb at responding to losses while coach Lincoln Riley's been in Norman.
In 2015, the Sooners lost to Texas and ran the table to the College Football Playoff during Riley’s first season as offensive coordinator.
In 2016, OU lost two of its first three games before going undefeated the rest of the season.
In 2017, the Riley-led Sooners lost an early Big 12 game to Iowa State, regrouped and made the College Football Playoff.
Finally, in 2018, OU fell to Texas in October and returned to the playoff again.
OU’s ability to recover from losses can’t go unmentioned but it’s also not a guarantee this season will play out the same.
The Sooners have a veteran cast that’s been in this spot before. Saturday will show how well they really handled the Kansas State loss.
2. How much OU’s running backs will be involved: OU's running backs accounted for six carries against Kansas State two weeks ago. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks had three carries each for 11 yards.
Meanwhile, OU quarterback Jalen Hurts, who badly wants to go 1-0 this week, put up 96 yards on 19 carries in the loss.
While OU seems to lack balance running the ball, it's averaging 7.1 yards per rush this season. There are still plenty of questions. The main one: why aren’t Brooks and Sermon getting the ball more?
Brooks was a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago and Sermon was close.
If it’s any positive, Brooks and Sermon should be fresh for OU’s final stretch of the season. It’s just unclear how much of an impact they’ll be able to make in the current offense.
3. Can Oklahoma finally force a turnover?: OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s turnover initiative hasn’t been all that successful over the past month.
OU hasn’t forced a turnover since its Sept. 28 game against Texas Tech, which has prompted Grinch to try new things in practice that might help the defense create more takeaways.
4. In the trenches: Oklahoma’s offensive line will get a major test against Iowa State.
OU’s inexperienced group has held up well, considering the team’s offensive production, but they’ll go up against a veteran defensive front.
“They’re a pretty experienced group up there,” Riley said. “Several guys that’ve been playing against for a long time. Then they’re also very good in the linebacking corps. The way they involve the secondary guys in the run fits, they’re unique that way. They do a great job coaching it. It’s tough.”
5. The coaching battle: Kansas State’s Chris Klieman outcoached Riley in their first meeting with each other — something Iowa State’s Matt Campbell has experience doing.
Campbell led Iowa State to a shocking 2017 win over OU — well, it was shocking at least at the time.
Campbell’s turned the Cyclones into a respectable program, which Riley praised on Monday.
“You can tell they certainly believe,” Riley said of Iowa State. “They play hard, they’re very very well-schemed on all sides. Competitive each and every game. Seems like they always give themselves a chance to win. I think that’s one of the biggest compliments you can give any coach, is if they’re able to do it with different people and sustain it, and he’s certainly done that there.”