By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
When players are injured, teams cling to the philosophy of "next man up." Backups are expected to step in for their fallen teammates.
For Oklahoma going into the Insight Bowl against Iowa, it's more like "last man standing" at certain positions. The Sooners are down to two running backs and sophomore Kenny Stills is OU's most experienced and productive wide receiver.
"You work some of your other personnel groupings, but some guys just need to step up and play a little more," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said of the injury issue. "You don't get to rotate out as much. You just have to manage it."
Sophomores Roy Finch and Brennan Clay go into the game against the Hawkeyes (7-5) as Oklahoma's running backs. The receiving corps has been decimated by injuries to All-American Ryan Broyles and Jaz Reynolds. Sophomore defensive back Joe Powell has been practicing at wide receiver.
Since Broyles' season ended with a knee injury on Nov. 5, quarterback Landry Jones has not thrown a touchdown pass in the subsequent three games.
The Sooners (9-3) can reach the 10-victory plateau with an Insight Bowl triumph but they had much higher hopes. Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the pre-season and had hopes for an eighth Big 12 Conference title and a spot in the BCS championship game.
"Obviously the season didn't go the way we planned," center Ben Habern said. "Our goals every season are to win a Big 12 championship and a national championship. For those goals not to be met, it's obviously frustrating. We have to take ownership of what happened."
Iowa lost three of its last five games. Last season, the Hawkeyes were in contention for the Big Ten Conference title but closed the season with a three-game losing streak. They bounced back to defeat Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.
"Like last year, we are facing a heck of a challenge," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose team is last in the Big Ten in pass defense. "Missouri threw that ball around and scored well last year. And now with Oklahoma the same way, we are going to have to be at our absolute best."
Oklahoma vs. Iowa
Need to know:
9 p.m. Dec. 30, Sun Devil Stdium, Tempe, Ariz., ESPN.
Oklahoma 9-3, Iowa 7-5.
The Sooners allowed 1,683 total yards 130 points in their three losses – two of those defeats came in the last three games. And in their three losses, they forced just one turnover. In the nine victories, OU forced 24 turnovers. The offense has become more ground-oriented since losing receiver Ryan Broyles. Redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Bell has become a short-yardage specialist and has rushed for six touchdowns over the last three games. The Sooners are fourth nationally in passing offense and 10th in scoring offense but they were limited to just 10 points in the season-ending loss to Oklahoma State.
The Hawkeyes finished 4-4 in the Big Ten Conference's Legends Division. Quarterback James Vandenburg (23 touchdowns, six interceptions) has been inconsistent but he has an outstanding target in Marvin McNutt. He finished the regular season with 78 catches, 1,269 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Running back Marcus Coker, who gained over 200 yards in last year's Insight Bowl victory, has been suspended. He was the Big Ten's second-leading rusher with 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns.
OU coach Bob Stoops, a former Hawkeyes' defensive back, will be coaching against his alma mater. … Iowa lost 21-6 at Oklahoma in 1979 in the only other meeting between these schools. Stoops played in that game as a freshman. … The Sooners and Hawkeyes both faced Iowa State this season. Iowa lost in Ames 44-41 in triple overtime the second week of the season. OU beat Iowa State 26-6 in late November. … OU has given up more yards this season than any since Brent Venables became defensive coordinator in 2004. … Oklahoma's defense has given up at least 120 rushing yards to its last seven opponents, including 278 to Oklahoma State in the final game of the regular season.