Tavon Austin was largely held in check with only 74 rushing yards on 14 carries but a 75-yard tip pass from Geno Smith that Austin took around the left side for a touchdown proved to be the back breaker with 6:31 left in the 4th quarter. Iowa State tried to rally on the ensuing drive but a fumble by Jeff Woody at the West Virginia 5-yard line ultimately sealed the Cyclones' fate. It was Woody's first fumble since the Nebraska game in 2010.
Both teams came out with conservative game plans due to the 20 mph winds from the west-northwest and both tried to win the game on the ground. West Virginia running back Shawne Alston rushed for a career high 130 yards and one touchdown and provided a thundering punch to go along with Austin's elusiveness.
The Cyclone defense looked worn out and thin the entire game but time and time again managed to hold West Virginia to field goals once they crossed the midfield. One has to wonder how the defense would have looked with either Durrell Givens or Jansen Watson healthy against a powerful Mountaineer offense.
As expected, Sam Richardson came back down to earth this week and went only 13 of 31 for 162 yards through the air. However, he showed bright spots with touchdown passes to Jerome Tiller, Josh Lenz, and a great deep throw to Quenton Bundrage that was reminiscent of the old Brett Meyer to Todd Blythe connections from over half a decade ago. Richardson showed functionality in the run game and tacked on 119 yards on 18 carries when West Virginia was content to let him try to pick apart their defense. The man is a redshirt freshman and even if he gets beat out in the spring and fall next year then the Cyclone offense will be in extremely capable hands.
Now the team waits a week to discover their bowl destination with a myriad of options in play. Although it is very likely the Cyclones missed on the chance to play in San Diego or Tempe there are still good destinations available.
Unfortunately a win by Oklahoma today and Kansas State next week likely moves all the Big XII teams up a bowl slot, and with a Baylor win over Texas Tech, gives the Big XII nine eligible teams. It will be hard to believe the Cyclones don't end up in New York City in this scenario unless bowl organizers feel Iowa State won't travel well this year.
In the end though this is all about perspective. Rhoads has a team bowl eligible for the third time in four years and that has only been matched by Dan McCarney in his run of three straight bowls from 2000-2002 and bowls in five of six years from 2000-2005. The offense has developed as the season wore on and the defense will get healthy with the time off. The prep in December will again advance the younger players and adds another brick to the foundation of this era of Cyclone football.