(Photo credit: Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK)
Oklahoma coach Brent Venables isn't ready to heap too much praise on his defense yet.
Instead, he is preaching attention to detail as the 14th-ranked Sooners prepare to host Iowa State in Big 12 action Saturday night in Norman, Okla.
"It's tackling, it's covering, it's zone, it's man, it's precision and timing, it's alignment, it's eyes, it's pad level, it's physicality, it's consistency," Venables said. "You know, all of those things. It's red zone, it's third down, it's fourth down."
The Sooners (4-0, 1-0) are tied for second nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 8.5 points per game heading into the clash with the Cyclones (2-2, 1-0).
"We've got a long ways to go," Venables said. "I have great appreciation and respect for the improvement our guys have made, which we have been talking about for some time now, that we have seen improvement. But they'll be the first ones to tell you ... there's evidence that there's been some improvement but nowhere close to a finished product."
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has noticed the difference in the Sooners, who were near the bottom of the Big 12 last season in several statistical categories defensively.
"They create chaos on defense," Campbell said. "They're so multiple, they're really talented, and they are (a) high-pressure defense."
The Sooners have forced 10 turnovers through four games, good for an eighth-place tie nationally.
Oklahoma is coming off a 20-6 victory at Cincinnati last Saturday. Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel completed 26 of 38 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.
Iowa State, meanwhile, has protected freshman quarterback Rocco Becht well, allowing just one sack this season while the Cyclones have turned the ball over just three times -- all on interceptions.
"Especially in a game like this, you've got to do a great job of protecting the football," Campbell said. "You look at the games we've won this year, and we've won the turnover margin. The games we've lost, we've either tied or lost the turnover margin. It's hard to win football games here if that part of the football game fails."
Venables praised Becht's development.
"He's instinctive. He's athletic. He's confident," Venables said. "Throws the ball well on the run. Seems to be a good leader. Likes to play; you can see the emotion without being overly dramatic, but you see a personality. Their team follows him."
While Oklahoma has struggled defensively in recent years, Iowa State has been near the top in the Big 12 recently during Campbell's tenure.
That hasn't been any different this season, as the Cyclones enter Saturday's game with the top defense in the conference, allowing an average of 292.5 yards per game.
Oklahoma's offense is second in the league at 506.8 yards per game.
Last week, in a 34-27 Iowa State win, Oklahoma State posted 409 yards of total offense -- the first time since November 2021 that a team had reached 400 yards against Iowa State.
"It's a huge week for us to continue to move forward," Campbell said. "How do you build on what you did well last week? How do you keep growing forward in some of the areas that we need to get better at?"
The Cyclones have lost their only road game thus far, 10-7 at Ohio on Sept. 16.
--Field Level Media