Thursday, December 29, 2011
Insight Bowl: Iowa vs. Oklahoma
By Brian Bennett
If you'd told Iowa fans before the season they'd be playing their bowl game in Arizona against Oklahoma, they would have been thrilled at the thought of making the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Instead, both teams underachieved and find themselves in Friday's Insight Bowl:
WHO TO WATCH: Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg and receiver Marvin McNutt. With starting running back Marcus Coker suspended, the Hawkeyes likely will have to rely on the passing game more than ever. That means Vandenberg and McNutt, who hooked up 78 times this season but were stymied in the season-ending loss at Nebraska. Oklahoma, even without the suspended Ronnell Lewis, can pressure the quarterback and finished the season ranked seventh nationally in sacks. The Sooners' pass defense, though, has been vulnerable at times this season, so Vandenberg will have a chance to make some plays if his offensive line protects. McNutt will wrap up a fantastic career in the desert; he needs four more catches to set the school's single-season record and seven to break the Hawkeyes' career mark.
WHAT TO WATCH: Who will run the ball for Iowa? Coker was a workhorse all season, averaging over 23 carries per game. Backup Mika'il McCall's status is still unclear, perhaps leaving rushing duties to sparingly used freshmen De'Andre Johnson, Jordan Canzeri or Damon Bullock. Coker himself emerged as a star in last season's Insight Bowl after a suspension to Adam Robinson, but a similar situation developing this year would come as more of a surprise. Also keep an eye on the Hawkeyes' defense, which often struggled this season to stop big plays and rush the passer. They will need Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns up front to create some havoc and for Micah Hyde and Shaun Prater to guard the back end to slow down Landry Jones and the Sooners' passing attack.
WHY TO WATCH: Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and for most of the first month of the season. Even with some key injuries and suspensions, the Sooners still have loads of talent and will give Iowa one of its toughest tests of the season. The Hawkeyes, though, have won three straight bowl games under Kirk Ferentz, including last year's Insight Bowl in an exciting game against Missouri. Their defense should be motivated to perform in the final game for retiring defensive coordinator Norm Parker. Many have pegged Iowa as the biggest underdog of bowl season, but Oklahoma's motivation has to be questioned as the team had much higher aspirations than this. The fact that Sooners coach Bob Stoops is an Iowa graduate and close friend of Ferentz adds some drama to the proceedings.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma 27, Iowa 20. The Hawkeyes hang around as Oklahoma comes out a little flat. But the loss of Coker is just too much to overcome and will force Iowa to be too one-dimensional on offense. The Sooners' defense picks off Vandenberg a couple of times and holds on for the win.