Quarterback Baker Mayfield and the No. 14-ranked Oklahoma Sooners found a tougher challenge in Ames, Iowa, than expected, but they came through with a hard-fought 34-24 win over the Iowa State Cyclones on Thursday night.
The Sooners, who have won 18 straight games against the Cyclones, moved to 7-2 on the season with their sixth consecutive victory. Iowa State dropped to 1-8 and is still winless in the Big 12.
Oklahoma came into the game short-handed on offense, with star running back Joe Mixon suspended for violating team rules. Samaje Perine was also out with a leg injury, thrusting fullback Dimitri Flowers into a bigger role than usual. He responded with 22 carries for 115 yards in addition to three receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown.
Still, the key was the passing game as Mayfield starred once again. He finished with 328 passing yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half.
Dede Westbrook also continued his impressive run through the Big 12, totaling 131 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. Per ESPN Stats & Info, it was the receiver’s sixth straight 100-yard game, the longest streak in the FBS.
Perhaps most importantly, Oklahoma held the ball for almost 37 minutes. John E. Hoover of Further Review summed up the strategy:
Bottom line: #Sooners offense did a great job of playing defense tonight.
— John E. Hoover (@johnehoover) November 4, 2016
The Cyclones didn’t have enough opportunities to come back in the second half.
Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park did his best to keep things close, throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t make enough plays to give the squad a chance to pull off the upset.
Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press summed up the team’s season:
Iowa State staking a claim as the best 1-win team in the country.
Only half-kidding. Cyclones have been close often
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) November 4, 2016
It was clear which team was more talented.
Despite being on the road, Oklahoma took control early with an opening drive meant to send a message. The squad needed only 2:29 to fly downfield, scoring on a six-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews.
Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register described the ease of the opening score:
Baker Mayfield with a 6-yard scoring strike to put Oklahoma up 7-0 in the 1st quarter. Fast and easy drive for the Sooners. #Cyclones
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) November 3, 2016
Mayfield threw an interception when his arm was hit on the next possession, but the Sooners held the Cyclones to a field goal, giving Oklahoma a chance to build on the lead with another long, quick drive.
Oklahoma scored its second touchdown on an excellent 30-yard reception by Jeffery Mead.
ESPN College Football provided a look at the end of the play:
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) November 4, 2016
Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World gave his thoughts on the impressive finish:
Mead has been in plenty of 1Q snaps. Very nice spin moves to break tackles and find end zone. He wasn't going to be denied a TD #Sooners
— Eric Bailey (@EricBaileyTW) November 4, 2016
However, Iowa State did not go down easily.
The Cyclones cut into the deficit when Park found Allen Lazard for the team’s first touchdown of the game. After an Oklahoma missed field goal and a couple of punts, the Cyclones took their first lead thanks to a 41-yard rushing touchdown by Joel Lanning on 4th-and-2.
The home crowd’s excitement didn’t last long, though. One play later, Oklahoma scored a 65-yard touchdown as Mayfield found a wide-open Westbrook, helping the favorites seize a 21-17 advantage.
Max Olson of ESPN.com joked about slowing down the senior receiver:
The following Big 12 defenses have found a way to stop Dede Westbrook this season:
— Max Olson (@max_olson) November 4, 2016
On their next possession, the Sooners perfectly executed the two-minute drill. Mayfield found Flowers in the back of the end zone with six seconds left in the second quarter, helping the team take a 28-17 lead at halftime.
John Shinn of the Norman Transcript provided an interesting note on Oklahoma’s drives:
3rd straight game the #Sooners have scored a TD with less than 20 seconds left in the first half. 4th straight they’ve scored.
— John Shinn (@john_shinn) November 4, 2016
The third quarter featured a slower pace.
Oklahoma utilized a 15-play drive spanning seven minutes to add a field goal, representing the only points of the entire quarter.
Iowa State took advantage of the close score and made its move at the start of the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 31-24 thanks to a 23-yard touchdown from Park to Dondre Daley.
Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune discussed the great play by the quarterback as it became a one-possession game:
That was a big-time throw from Jacob Park. Cyclones back within a score after a sleepy third quarter.
— Travis Hines (@TravisHines21) November 4, 2016
Oklahoma responded with a field goal, though, and its defense stepped up by forcing a turnover on downs on Iowa State’s next possession.
Flowers, who was solid on the ground all night long, then provided the necessary yardage to help the Sooners hold on for a 10-point victory.
The schedule gets tougher for Oklahoma in the final three weeks of the season, with matchups against Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State in order. Each of those games will go a long way toward deciding the Big 12.
Iowa State has a good chance to end its losing streak next week with a battle against Kansas, which is 1-7 overall and 0-5 in the Big 12.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops singled out Flowers for his work filling in at multiple positions, including running back.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a guy do all of that and do it so well,” the coach said after the game, per Mitch Sherman of ESPN.
On the other side, Iowa State still has questions on its depth chart. Park earned the start at quarterback after a strong showing against Kansas State, although Lanning is apparently not out of the picture.
“Jacob gave us the best opportunity to start the football game and give us energy,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said, per Luke Manderfeld of the Iowa State Daily. While Park played relatively well, the starting job is still a week-to-week decision, per Manderfeld.
The team will clearly try whatever it can to get back into the win column.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter.