Coming into Saturday’s game, the Cyclones were riding a four game winning streak, climbing to a 14th place ranking and a driver’s seat to the Big 12 Championship Game. Come Sunday, the streak is over, and the ranking dropped from 14 to 23, but prospects of a title game berth are still very much alive. Let’s take a look at what happened against the Mountaineers.
What Went Wrong
Prior to Saturday’s game in Morgantown, the Cyclones had consistently been able to get off to fast starts before slowing down and letting the defense win the game. Saturday, West Virginia was able to capitalize on a busted coverage for a long completion on the third play of the game, then continued to move the ball well on the way to a 20-0 lead.
John Heacock has worked some serious magic into this defense to make it one of the best in the conference. Even after a rough start, the defense bowed up and held one of the best offenses in the country to zero second half points. That said, holding a Big 12 offense to 20 points (20 below their average) should be plenty good enough to win the game. Yet, here we are. If the Cyclones want to take down the Pokes on Saturday, avoiding multi-possession deficits will be key.
Red Zone Playcalling
Kyle Kempt ran MULTIPLE QB keepers, including one at the 1 yard line on second down on a read option play. Kyle Kempt has done a spectacular job since taking over at quarterback, but even Kyle knows that his 40 yard dash time could flirt with double digits. He’s not a runner in the slightest capacity, and should not be used at the goal line ever. This comes down to play calling. However, Tom Manning is a pretty smart guy and won’t make that mistake twice.
The offensive line struggles continued on Saturday, even against a Mountaineer defense that was giving up over 200 yards per game. The line was able to open up a few holes to run through, but largely underperformed based on the youth of the Mountaineer front seven. I do think the successes the line did have on Saturday could lead to more improvement over the next few games, but the Cyclones will need some of that improvement to show up this Saturday against Oklahoma State.
What Went Right
After a couple blown coverages to begin the game, the defensive secondary played absolutely lights out, holding Will Grier, David Sills, and the West Virginia offense out of the endzone completely for the entire second half. D’Andre Payne continues to show off his chops both in coverage and run support, making stop after stop on screen plays, and making an incredible interception on a deep pass from Grier. Generally speaking, if you don’t hear a cornerback’s name called during the game, that’s a good thing, but D’Andre Payne made sure his name was heard on Saturday in a big way.
Lost in the game might be the big field goal Owens hit near the end of the first half to finally put the Cyclones on the board. Garrett had struggled a bit in recent games, but absolutely nailed a 42 yard kick from the left hash after being stopped multiple times, once due to a crowd member pointing a laser at the holder’s face. The confidence he hit that field goal with should be a huge boost to his confidence going forward.
Responding to Adversity
West Virginia had just opened up a 20 point lead in the second quarter, and a lot of Cyclone fans feared a blowout. What happened instead was a gritty, tough performance nearly ending in a spectacular comeback. This team’s ability to respond to adversity exceeds any Cyclone team in recent memory. This just doesn’t give up. If Oklahoma State does jump out to an early lead on Saturday, don’t worry. These Cyclones are going to come back. They’re going to hit the Pokes right in the mouth and make them continue to hate coming up to Ames.