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Game preview: It’s the Hawkeyes and Sooners on Friday night [with poll]

[ 2 ] December 29, 2011 |

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s over Friday night, and Jordan Bernstine knows it.

“I’ve got to come out and play the game of my life, because I don’t know if there’s any more football in my future,” the Iowa safety said. “It’s all or nothing.”

Coach Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes will face the Oklahoma Sooners in the Insight Bowl on Friday night in Tempe, Ariz. (Rob Christy / US Presswire)

Bernstine is among the Hawkeye seniors hoping to leave college with 4-0 bowl records after the 9 p.m. Insight Bowl against Oklahoma, and if it happens, the Des Moines Lincoln High School graduate will be part of the biggest upset this bowl season.

“We like being the underdogs,” Bernstine said. “It’s not like it’s a first for us.

“People say we’re not an athlete-prone team, and we love hearing that. We know we have athletes.”

Whether Iowa has enough athletes to keep the score close – providing the Sooners bring their A-game – is the question.

“If they’re not the quickest team in the country, then they’re certainly one of them,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We can’t make mistakes and expect to be in the game.”

Oklahoma was the No. 1 team in the nation for the first month and half, but despite three losses, the 9-3 Sooners still are a two-touchdown favorite to hand the Hawkeyes their sixth loss of the season.

“Don’t pay attention to any of that stuff,” Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander said. “We know what can happen when teams are underdogs.”

He knows, because underdog Texas Tech ended the Sooners’ season-opening six-game winning streak with as 41-38 shocker in Norman, Okla.

He knows because he’s aware of what happens around him – like Iowa State’s huge upset of state rival Oklahoma State.

“Just because a team is a heavy favorite doesn’t mean anything,” said Alexander, who some project to be a first-round draft choice. “Let’s play the game, and then we’ll talk.”

Oklahoma's Landry Jones has completed 339 of 537 passes for 4,302 yards and 28 touchdowns. (AP photo)

Friday’s game is all about the quarterbacks. Or at least it should be.

With neither Iowa nor Oklahoma touting running backs in the game at Sun Devil Stadium, the focus switches to Hawkeye passer James Vandenberg and his Sooners counterpart, Landry Jones.

Which one gets the best of the defense he faces will go a long ways in determining whether Iowa pulls off the postseason shocker, or whether Oklahoma lives up to its billing.

“It looks like it could play out like that,” Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater said.

With Iowa down to little-used tailbacks, and Oklahoma without its top rusher, ESPN cameras will focus on the throwers, and even this is a statistical mismatch.

Vandenberg has completed 59.4 percent of his 350 passes for 23 touchdowns, while Jones has completed 339 of 537 passes for 4,302 yards and 28 touchdowns.

To whom does Jones compare?

“Tom Brady,” Hawkeye retiring defensive coordinator Norm Parker said of the New England Patriots quarterback. “The guy’s good. He’s real good. He’s probably one of the better guys in the country.”

He’s also a potential pro, although the junior says he will wait until after the game to announce his decision.

“He’s probably going to be a top 10 NFL pick,” Iowa linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. “We’re going to have to be sharp in our pass coverage, because their receivers have shown that they’re elusive when they get out in space.”

Oklahoma must be wary, too, of Marvin McNutt, Iowa’s record-breaking receiver who needs five receptions to break Iowa’s single-season record, and eight to establish a school career record.

“He’s going to be a handful,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s a big-time player, for sure. He’ll have a great pro career.”

Possibly the biggest factor in Vandenberg being productive is left tackle Riley Reiff, a junior who will decide in the next two weeks if he’s returning for his senior season or turning pro.

He’s going one-on-one with Alexander, the Big 12 Conference’s co-defensive player of the year who has 8 ½ sacks.

“I like to think that I’m a good player, too, but it’s going to be a tough task,” Reiff said.

Jones aside, Oklahoma also has the “Belldozer” quarterback factor for which Iowa has been preparing.

Blake Bell, a 6-6, 245-pounder, often enters games on short-yardage situations in what people call the Sooners’ Jumbo Package.

It includes two fullbacks – and the punishing Bell, who has 10 touchdowns on 34 carries in six games since the formation was unveiled.

“They put those two fullbacks in there, and it ends up in real power football at its utmost,” Parker said. “They overpower you in there.”

Parker is impressed, and so is Iowa defensive end Broderick Binns.

“Man, what can they not do?” he wondered. “They’re fast, they run the ball, they throw the ball. They snap it real quick.

“But I think we’re pretty good, too.”

 

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Randy Peterson: Randy Peterson covers college football, college basketball and the Iowa Cubs for the Des Moines Register. Randy can be reached at randypeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter via @RandyPete View author profile.

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