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Iowa State Cyclones vs. West Virginia Football Preview

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Coming off two straight victories, Iowa State welcomes in West Virginia for Riot Bowl V.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at West Virginia
Lazard will continue to flex his muscles against the Mountaineers!
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Matt Campbell train is rolling, and the kool-aid drinkers are jumping on it. Two wins in a row — let’s make it three against the mighty Mountaineers!

2016 Game XII: Iowa State (3-8, 2-6) vs. #19 West Virginia University (8-2, 5-2)

Date: Saturday, November 26, 2016

Time: 2:30 P.M. CST

Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA

Capacity: 61,500

Line: West Virginia -6.5

Television: FS1

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

West Virginia Notes

West Virginia SB Nation Website – The Smoking Musket

When We Last Left Off

Boy, did the Cyclones look impressive last week.

Iowa State was firing on all cylinders, dismantling the Texas Tech Red Raiders by a score of 66-10. It was far and away their best performance of the year, as Matt Campbell was happy to see a full 60 minutes of football played successfully for the first time all season.

The defense was just as impressive as the offense, as safety Kamari Cotton-Moya won Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors with a pick-six and also a forced and recovered fumble. ISU held Tech to its lowest output in yards and points in the season.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Iowa State
Kamari Cotton-Moya and Willie Harvey have made this defense legitimate in conference competition
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Some people say if you have two quarterbacks you have none. Well, Matt Campbell seems to make it work with Jacob Park the passer and Joel Lanning the runner. Both were about as efficient as they one could be, with Park completing 14 of 18 passes and scoring 3 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Lanning ran for over 10 yards per carry, and hit pay dirt five times.

After many media pundits and sorrowful fans wrote this team off to begin the season, it has been mighty impressive to see the hard work pay off.

West Virginia Tidbits

Going into last week’s game against Oklahoma, WVU held its own destiny with a shot at winning the Big 12. Instead they came out flat, got in a 35-0 hole, and ended up losing a game in the snow to the Sooners by a score of 56-28.

Although the West Virginia defense had a lapse against Bob Stoops and the Sooners, defense has been their calling card all year. The Mountaineers do it with a 3-3-5 scheme, currently rank second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, and have held 9 of their last 11 conference opponents under 25 points per game.

On the offensive side of the ball, they are led up front with experienced linemen, with all 5 starters combining for 116 starts. The Mountaineers are about as balanced as can be, and are a force running the ball, as their leading rusher averages over 7.6 yards per carry.

Overall, West Virginia has over-exceeded any and all expectations going into the season, and currently sit at #19 in the country with an 8-2 record.

The Series

West Virginia leads the all-time series 3-1, with ISU winning their only contest in the Riot Bowl rivalry three years ago in a stunning come-from behind victory in triple overtime.

Highlights full of Grant Rohach and E.J. Bibbs are below.

ISU Offense

The passing offense has turned it up a notch over the last four weeks and is due to the impressive play of Jacob Park. Since taking the majority of the snaps, the sophomore has completed over 66% of his passes for 238 yards per game and thrown for 8 touchdowns. His ability to complete the tough throws and take what the defense gives him has allowed the offense to move the chains.

The main benefactor of those throws has been none other than Allen Lazard, and #5 is having a special season. He will have his work cut out for him, as WVU has one of the best cover corners in Rasul Douglas. At 6-foot-2, Douglas is taller than the average defensive back, but look for Park to continue to hook up with Lazard for throws all over the field.

Tom Manning knows who his playmakers are, and along with Lazard, his other weapon is Deshaunte Jones. Jones already has four receptions of 40 yards or more, so look for this talented freshman to get plenty of targets on Saturday.

First Key to Victory – Set up Pass with the Run

While the WVU defense is fourth in the Big 12 in rushing defense, they still give up over 4.2 YPC and 172 yards per game. David Montgomery will get the bulk of those carries, and against this 3-man front, ISU can plow the way for holes in the middle of the field. With positive running plays, that will keep the safeties honest and up in the box, and allow Park to find Lazard and company down the field for big plays.

And catches like this one.

Second Key to Victory – Keep LANRAM Rolling

This offensive line has paved the way for not only David Montgomery’s runs, but also Joel Lanning in short-yardage situations. By bringing in “F” position Sam Seonbuchner and tight end Sam Harms in the backfield, Iowa State has become a powerhouse on third downs and in the red zone. This used to be a problem in the Rhoads era, but Tom Manning and company have found a niche with their new lead blockers and a powerful running quarterback in Joel Lanning.

Lanning will see plenty of opportunities, and the junior needs to convert in the pressure-packed situations in this game.

West Virginia Defense

Led by defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, this Mountaineer defense is one of the best in the Big 12. Then again, that’s not saying much with how bad most defenses are in this conference…

While they give up a decent amount of yards (417 YPG), they still only allow 24 points and are second in pass defense efficiency. The Mountaineers have not allowed an opponent to complete more than 50% of its third-down attempts in 33 of their last 35 games. With fewer rushers on the line (3 down-linemen) they don’t gain much of a pass rush, but the linebackers are all over the field.

WVU is led up front by three senior defensive linemen, with 69 starts combined among them, and all come in at 275 pounds or more. Noble Nwachukwu is the leader of the pack, with six tackles-for-loss and three sacks.

The linebackers eat up space and can cover from sideline to sideline. They are led in tackles by Justin Arndt and Al-Rasheed Benton. Arndt plays on the strong-side and can get to the quarterback, as he has three sacks on the year.

With the 3-3-5 approach, WVU negates their beef for speed, and can play multiple hybrid positions at the cornerback and nickel back slots. Their best cover corner (who will most likely be matched up against Lazard), is senior Rasul Douglas. Douglas is big for his position and can play bump-and-run with the best of them. He is ranked number one in the country with seven interceptions.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Kansas
Douglas leads the NCAA in INTs
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Verdict – EVEN

On paper, you would think WVU gets the nod here, but with the way Park has moved the ball for ISU in recent weeks, the momentum carries the Cyclones into a vicious battle. I don’t see ISU gaining a lot of yards with Montgomery, but hopefully they can squeeze some holes for Lanning against the 3-man front. This game will come down to the arm of Jacob Park and his decision making. If he can play like he has the last couple of weeks, then ISU has a legitimate shot to beat the Mountaineers.

ISU Defense

I thought our defense played one of its most complete games last week, as they garnered a pass rush, stopped the run, and forced turnovers. It all starts up front, and the play of JaQuan Bailey and Jhaustin Thomas has carried over into the second line of defense (and what is our weakest position) at linebacker.

Willie Harvey played one of his better games last week, as his light is beginning to turn on and the game is finally starting to slow down for him. This defense has also done a great job of gaining pressure in the backfield, with 70 tackles-for-loss on the season, and had another 7 last week. Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock is dialing up the blitz, and with as good of a secondary as he has, look for ISU to continue to send pressure against WVU.

Third Key to Victory – Contain the Outside Runs

West Virginia is patient with their running attack, but when they get it going, watch out. They ran for 388 yards on the ground against OU last week, and do it with a stout offensive line.

ISU’s front four has to hold their own, especially on the outside where they are most vulnerable. WVU loves to run counters, spread-options, and sweeps to the outside, and can take advantage of our liability at linebacker. It will be important for the likes of Willie Harvey, Kane Seeley and company to break down and stay sound in their gaps.

NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Iowa State
Seniors Kane Seeley and Demond Tucker will need to leave it all out on the field
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

This secondary continues to impress, and has allowed the front seven to take chances at the line of scrimmage. Kamari Cotton-Moya should be named all-conference by the end of the season, and I could see Brian Peavy and/or Jomal Wiltz joining him. WVU likes to run, run, and then play-action pass, and our safeties will have to have to keep their heads on a swivel against this fast-paced offense.

West Virginia Offense

Dana Holgorsen brings in a potent, yet balanced attack into Ames. His quarterback Skyler Howard can not only fling it, but he can move the chains with his feet as well. The Mountaineers average 275 passing yards and 229 rushing yards per game and run at a breakneck pace. Their offensive line has only allowed 17 sacks all year and are the engine that keeps this train rolling.

Howard is in his second year as the starter, and has passed for 19 touchdowns on the year and 2,753 yards. The former JUCO completes his passes at a 63% clip and leads an attack that is good for third in the conference in third-down conversion percentage.

The receivers are led by Daikiel Shorts, Jr., who leads the team with 777 receiving yards. Their possession receiver is Ka’Raun White, and their deep-ball threat is Shelton Gibson, who averages over 20 yards per reception, and leads the team with six touchdowns.

Behind this potent offensive line, running back Justin Crawford will most likely eclipse the 1,000-yard mark against ISU, and averages a scary 7.6 yards per carry. Holgorsen likes to get his whole stable of backs active, and behind Crawford, the next two runners have combined for over 990 yards between them. In other words, it doesn’t matter who WVU puts back there, they have multiple threats — and don’t forget about Howard. The quarterback likes to run the spread option, and has run it in for six on eight occasions thus far.

Verdict – WVU

The Mountaineers’ best asset is their offensive line and running the football, which just so happens to be ISU’s largest weakness. The only way ISU will be able to put up a fight is if they can wreak havoc up front, and if our linebackers can tackle in space. Demond Tucker is playing in his last game as a Cyclone, and while he has underperformed this season, we need to see it left all out on the field for #97.

Special Teams

If there is one thing that WVU struggles at, it is special teams. The days of Tavon Austin are gone, and it shows as the Mountaineers are dead last in the conference in punt returns. Their kick return defense also is atrocious, and what better time for ISU (I have been asking for weeks now) than for Kene Nwangwu to bring one back.

West Virginia’s punter Billy Kinney ranks second in the conference with a 44-yard average, and first-year kicker Mike Molina is a solid 14-for-19 on field goals this year.

ISU has a secret weapon in both Trever Ryen (punt returns) and Nwangwu (kick returns) and in this low-scoring affair their presence can change the game at a moment’s notice.

Don’t forget about Cole Netten, as this senior will be hard to replace next season. He is quietly 5th in the country in field goal percentage, making 12 of his 13 kicks this year.

Verdict – ISU

ISU has proven they put the best players on the field in special teams, and it has showed. Add in the fact that we have two lethal returners and this has to lean towards the Cyclones.

Final Analysis

There hasn’t been a team in the Big 12 that is more improved since week one than the Cyclones. Matt Campbell has preached to us all to “Trust in the Process”, and slowly but surely we have bought in. This team couldn’t be playing any better than right now.

The defense is finding their footing, the offense is clicking with Park at the helm, and this team does not make mistakes. Heck, they have given the ball away only 11 times all year.

West Virginia is reeling after a big let-down performance on national television last week, in what was their chance to show that they could compete to win the Big 12. Well, I’ve got news for you: this Iowa State team can play with the big dogs too, and with our fans packing the Jack on Saturday for senior day, this Cyclone team will win their third in a row, and carry that momentum into next season.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at West Virginia
This game may come down to Cole Netten’s leg in the waning moments
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Final Score

ISU 28, West Virginia 27