Mike Stoops was describing Iowa State’s current team, but just as easily, he could have been talking about a number of Cyclone squads from the past 14 seasons.
“It’s a scrappy group,” Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator said leading up to the Cyclones’ visit to Norman, where No. 3 OU is a heavy favorite Saturday.
Sneaky, scrappy. Iowa State has a long history of both.
Its biggest ambush in school history was a stunning 2011 victory over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State, which spoiled the Cowboys’ national championship hopes.
Other teams have experienced a similar fate, or come frighteningly close.
In 2002, Iowa State began a meager .500 season by playing No. 3 Florida State within seven points, then a few months later knocked off No. 20 Nebraska.
Despite averaging less than five wins per season since, the Cyclones have toppled seven ranked teams and played nine others within one score.
It seems peculiar, then: With the Iowa State’s penchant for upset victories, why has it not captured one against OU in nearly three decades?
The Sooners are 13-0 against the Cyclones since 1996, when the Big 8 became the Big 12, and have won 18 straight games in the series. It is OU’s longest active win streak versus any opponent.
Iowa State and OU began sharing a league in 1928 when the Missouri Valley became the Big 6. The Sooners lost the series’ first meeting and are 74-4 since, losing just once since 1961.
OU’s last setback came in 1990, when Iowa State drove 80 yards in the final three minutes to seize a 33-31 victory on Owen Field.
The Sooners haven’t been immune to scares since then. They were thankful to leave Ames with a 34-24 victory a year ago, without the services of starting running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
That victory carried as much weight as any other, OU fullback Dimitri Flowers said, and not just because he had a breakout game with 115 yards rushing and a receiving score.
“There’s a lot of times where those games will come up and you’ll see teams falter,” Flowers said.
Therein lies the impact of OU’s role in the lopsided series.
OU has 46 conference titles because it is sure to stiff-arm even the cellar dwellers, a tag that Iowa State, as history reveals, has difficulty accepting.
The Cyclones (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) are guaranteed at least one marquee matchup against the Big Ten each non-conference season, thanks to their rivalry series against Iowa. That scheduling aspect makes a difference when Big 12 play arrives.
“They’ve matched up against us physically very well in the last couple of years,” said OU quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was sacked three times in Ames last season. “I think that’s just the type of guys they bring in their program and the coaching they instill. That’s something you always like competing against. You’re going to get their best shot.
“I think it’s a good game for us coming after a bye week, realizing that you’ve got to get back into it right away or else this team is going to hit you in the mouth.”
OU (4-0, 1-0) has won 17 straight conference games and is approaching the two-year anniversary of its last Big 12 loss, a 24-17 setback to Texas on Oct. 10, 2015.
Few teams are sneaking up on the Sooners.
How have they guarded themselves from that?
Mayfield and Flowers used the phrase “singular focus” a combined three times during their press conferences Monday.
“We have big goals and aspirations about playoffs and national titles, but at the same time, to get there, you’ve got to take it one week at a time. You can’t let a team slip up on you, or creep up on you,” Mayfield said.
There’s an understanding within the program that every team is likely saving its best performance for OU.
“Regardless of what you see on tape, from whatever team you’re talking about — maybe it was a tough loss they had, or they didn’t play well — you understand you’re going to see a different team against us,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “You can’t let ‘em sneak up on you, and our guys have a good mentality on that.”
Iowa State has played its best at optimal times and seriously endangered — or derailed — teams’ larger goals.
Just not against the Sooners.
Big 12 This Week
Saturday, October 7
11 a.m. (FS1)
Texas Tech (3-1) at Kansas (1-3)
11 a.m. (FOX)
Iowa State (2-2) at No. 3 Oklahoma (4-0)
2:30 p.m. (FS1)
No. 23 W. Virginia (3-1) at No. 8 TCU (4-0)
6 p.m. (FS1)
Kansas State (3-1) at Texas (2-2)