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Oklahoma Sooners-Iowa State Cyclones: What to Watch

Austen ArnaudDate: October 16
Time: 7 pm EST
Venue: Owen Field
Vegas Line: OU -23

Contrary to seasons past, blowout wins have been in short supply for the Oklahoma Sooners in 2010. Aside from a 30-point thrashing of Florida State, OU's opponents have all been within one score at the final gun.

Judging by the line in this case, though, Vegas expects OU to make quick work of an Iowa State team coming off of a bad home loss to the Utah Utes.

Winning is nice any way you slice it. Everyone would probably feel a little less anxious about the future if OU could get back to putting games away be halftime.

If the Sooners really are going to work the Cyclones over, keep an eye on:

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1. Defensive Adjustments to the Option

Continuing a theme for OU this year, ISU's offense features an elusive quarterback, Austen Arnaud, who can make plays with on the run. The backfield combo of Arnaud and Alexander Robinson combined for nearly 1,800 rushing yards in '09 in leading the 'Clones to a rare bowl appearance and even more rare postseason win.

The Sooners' well-documented struggles stopping the run this season have been a product of a D that looks completely clueless when a quarterback even feigns as though he might actually carry the ball. If OU can't figure out a way to stop running quarterbacks, games against Texas A&M and, potentially, Nebraska start to look awfully scary. OU coach Bob Stoops and defensive architect Brent Venables have had two full weeks to shore up the option defense, so this week's matchup should provide a nice litmus test of where the defense now stands.

2. Run Defense on First Down

I realize I've beat this dead horse before, but the Sooners absolutely have to get better at stopping the run on first down. It's where all OU's problems with the D start.

OU is allowing 4.91 yards per carry on first down. When your opponents consistently face 2nd and 5, you're going to have a hard time stopping anyone.

Honestly, I'm all talked out on this one.

3. Roy Finch's Debut

The lightning-quick freshman scatback out of Florida had coaches and players raving during offseason workouts, but Finch remains a mystery to those who don't have access to OU's practices (a little under 6.9 billion people worldwide). Word is that after letting a foot injury heal through the first six weeks of the season, Finch is ready to party.

Will offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson have Finch line up in the backfield? Will Finch operate out of the slot? Will Bob Stoops put him back to return kicks?

All will be revealed Saturday night.

4. Frank Alexander's Reps

Alexander's PT became an issue this week when reporters finally started noticing that Pryce Macon was on the field a whole bunch the past few weeks.

What's up with the big fella? Could be a lingering injury. Could be a slow start to the season. Could be that Macon has finally turned into the competent defensive end he was always projected to be.

With two weeks since the last game, Alexander had ample opportunity to get back in favor with the coaching staff. If he's not playing much this week, he might not contribute much this year at all.

5. Play-calling in Second Half

Maybe Bob Stoops heard all the bitching about "running up the score" and decided it's time to show some compassion? How else to explain the malaise in OU's offensive mentality after halftime.

According to cfbstats.com, In the first half of games this season, the Sooners are actually passing slightly more often than running at a ratio of 1.3 to 1 (134 passes, 103 rushes). Once the second half rolls around, though, Wilson calls plays like he's got a plane to catch. The balance swings severely to the ground game, with 1.5 runs called for every pass (112 runs, 76 passes).

There's a fine line between aggressive and reckless, and it's one coaches don't want to cross when they're trying to salt a game away. However, it appears as though the Sooners' reluctance to go for the throat with their calls in the second half has helped enable overmatched opponents such as Utah State and Cincinnati to hang around late into games.