Landry Jones entered the pre-season as the third-choice quarterback on the Oklahoma depth chart. Saturday afternoon, Jones was behind center as the Roughnecks won their third straight game. In a hard-fought contest played in 31 degree weather with winds reaching 30 MPH, the Roughneck’s defense kept the Threshers out of the end zone, and scored the games only touchdown on a 33 yard Kenny Vaccoro fumble return. In the end, it was enough for Oklahoma to leave Ames with an improbable 16-6 victory and move their season record to 3-6.
What went right: Defensive Coordinator Jackie Shipp and his entire defensive squad get a game ball as the Roughneck’s defense is the sole reason for the road victory. Oklahoma held CJ Beathard to 145 total yards passing and a completion percentage of 35%. The Roughneck’s D limited the Threshers to 2 field goals and kept Iowa out of the end-zone completely. Threshers running back Orleans Darkwa, who ranks in the top 12 for SFL rushing yards, was held to 81 yards and 3.4 yards per carry. On an afternoon in which it became apparent the offense would not be able to move the ball, the defense stepped up big time, picking off a pass and then later causing a fumble late in the 4th quarter that was returned for a touchdown. These plays sealed the victory. On offense, rookie tight end Mark Andrews had four more catches, and is now ranked #3 in the SFL in catches for the season. Rookie kicker Lane Clark was 3-4 in field goal attempts, including a 47-yarder.
What went wrong: Offensive Coordinator Eric Morris better have bought Jackie Shipp a steak dinner, because the Roughneck’s offense was terrible, doing everything it could to give the game away. Lance Dunbar rushed 17 times for 45 yards, a mere 2.6 yards per carry. Landry Jones was 13 of 25 for 94 yards, a passer rating of 44.4. Overall, the Roughnecks were outgained 259 to 159, with the Threshers doubling the Roughneck’s first down count. Oklahoma’s third-down conversion percent was a pathetic 3 for 18. Additionally, the Roughneck’s suffered an injury blow as wide receiver Brandon LaFell is out for the next six games, basically the remainder of the season. LaFell has 19 catches for 296 yards and leads the team with 4 touchdown receptions. The Oklahoma front office will scramble to find a replacement for this big offensive weapon.
Analysis: This was a game that the Roughnecks had no business winning. The offense was completely shut down, Landry Jones had his worst afternoon as a starter, and the running game couldn’t move the ball. Somehow, someway, the team managed to find a way to win. Despite starting the season 0-6, the 3-6 Roughnecks are now improbably in the mix for the Midwest Division, as leaders Iowa and Omaha are only two games ahead with 5-4 records. To think that the Roughnecks can make a run at the division crown is likely fanciful thinking, but even having this discussion shows how much the season has turned around in the past few weeks. Losing LaFell is going to hurt as he was the touchdown target of choice for Landry Jones, but this could see even more red zone opportunities for rookie sensation Mark Andrews.
Up Next: A huge divisional showdown as the Omaha Express (5-4) travel to Norman.