2018 Game VI: Iowa State (2-3, 1-2) vs. #6 West Virginia (5-0, 3-0)
Date: Saturday October 13, 2018
Time: 6:00 P.M. CST
Location: MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Line: WVU -6.5
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
SB Nation Website - Smoking Musket
All aboard the train – its October! And that means the Matt Campbell convoy has filled up at the train station and is full steam ahead. Dare I say it, but this team is deadly in the second month of the season. In fact, they are 5-0 over the last two years, with THREE WINS versus Top-25 opponents.
The offense is all of a sudden clicking on all cylinders – and the conductor is none other than true freshman Brock Purdy. The 2017 Arizona High School Football Player of the Year has transformed the offense not only with his arm, but most importantly with his legs. We saw the script completely flipped last week, and all is right with the world.
All that we see in our path is an undefeated West Virginia team, under the lights, in Jack Trice Stadium. Hold on boys and girls, this is going to be a fun one to watch!
When we last left off….
Iowa State went into Stillwater, OK and took a victory right out of the hands of Oklahoma State. Both sides of the ball played lights out, and the offense was humming, even without stalwart running back David Montgomery. I loved, loved, loved the play-calling, as Campbell kept the foot on the gas, understanding the tempo and situation of the game. Multiple times we saw play-action shots downfield on first downs, and, for once, the running game complemented the passing game, not vice-versa.
Of course, we all want to anoint Brock Purdy as the next big thing, and don’t get me wrong, he was freaking fantastic. I was yearning for something different after throwing up in my mouth against TCU, and in my article last week mentioned that we needed to find a “scrambling quarterback who can create yards with his feet, especially on third downs.” Well, we found him.
The defense played opportunistic, and for the first time all year, pinned their ears back and blitzed. It worked to perfection, as OSU’s quarterback was under duress all game. Defensive Coordinator Jon Heacock brought in fresh legs every chance he got, and there was no drop-off in talent. That my friends, is something that ISU has never, ever, had.
West Virginia Tidbits
Seen this play before?
The Mountaineers were everyone’s dark horse to compete for a Big 12 title this year, and so far, they’ve met those expectations. Quarterback Will Grier is in the conversation for the Heisman, the passing attack is other-worldly, and the defense is no slouch either.
I’ve got one big point to make, and don’t let this go unnoticed – they haven’t played anyone yet.
With wins over Tennessee, Youngstown State, Kansas State, Kansas and Texas Tech, this West Virginia team has scraped the bottom of the Big 12 barrel. Their only competent opponent was Texas Tech, and while they led early, the offense failed to score a single point in the second half.
I’m not going to let the stats scare me. Ya, ya, the Mountaineers rank in the top-30 nationally in both total offense and defense, AND scoring offense and defense. And Grier has led them to score on 31 of 56 possessions, as they are uber-efficient in the red zone. But even against KU last week, the laughable Jayhawks had a chance to cut it to one score in the 4th quarter, only to muff a punt and, as KU always does, lose.
Throw it all out – Matt Campbell is just as good of a coach as Dana Holgorsen, if not better. This game is going to be a good one!
West Virginia ran away from the Big East in 2012, and haven’t looked back since. Their football program has been above average, but never vied to win the Big 12 Conference.
In this short-lived series, the Mountaineers lead handily, by a 5-1 margin, as Iowa State’s lone victory came in an exciting come-from-behind victory in Morgantown, by a score of 52-44 in 2013.
Iowa State Offense
The gods have spoken, and Brock Purdy is the savior this Iowa State offense has been praying for since the start of the season. He has opened up the offense, like “Moses through the Red Sea,” all with the ability to be a dual-threat run-pass quarterback.
First Key to Victory – Continue to Stretch the Field
I was tremendously impressed by Iowa State’s ability to counter the perimeter run game with the vertical pass. It stretched the field in all depths, both horizontally and vertically, and opened up the downfield pass. West Virginia runs a very tight ship on defense with their 3-3 stack, and has caused headaches for Iowa State in the past. Their three linebackers play butt-to-nut on their defensive linemen, so there are gaps in the horizontal pass and read-option run, Iowa State just has to do a good job of sustaining their blocks.
That pressure will fall on the shoulders of the offensive line, and for three weeks now we have seen the same starting five. They are beginning to gel, and I’ve noticed them doing a far better job of getting penetration into the second-line of defense. They will have their hands full, as WVU leads the Big 12 in tackles-for-loss.
David Montgomery is questionable to play on Saturday, and boy oh boy, would he make a difference as a workhorse running back in draining that clock. If the DM Train plays, look for more variation of the read-option attack, as the defense will be unable to account for his elusiveness along with Purdy’s high-stepping, touchdown-scoring legs.
If he does not play, I foresee a similar approach to last week, with a fly-motion sweep, forcing the defensive backs to stay on their toes in the play-action. Kene Nwangwu showed flashes, as there is no one that turns the corner faster.
I was waiting for that second threat in the receiving game, and collectively there were multiple receivers who stepped up big against OSU. Tarique Milton and Landen Akers are the burners, Deshaunte Jones can make you miss in a phone booth, and Matthew Eaton is a leaping red zone threat. On top of all that, you have the best of the bunch in Hakeem Butler. Oh, and it sounds like Chase Allen should be playing.
West Virginia Defense
The biggest surprise for the Mountaineers has been their prowess on defense. Led by a veteran crew, coordinator Tony Gibson has impressively held opponents to the lowest point total in the Big 12. On top of that, they rank second in both passing AND rushing defense, and are tops in tackles-for-loss.
It all starts up front with the three-man line, and nose tackle Kenny Bigelow Jr. makes it happen. While the defensive line doesn’t create much pressure, they clog up the middle better than your stomach after a meal at HuHot. That creates open lanes for the linebackers, and they eat, namely David Long, Jr. who ranks 4th in the conference in tackles AND 2nd in tackles-for-loss.
Second Key to Victory – Convert on Third Downs
There isn’t a bigger momentum-shifting down than third down, and WVU is the best in the Big 12 at stopping it. They do it by playing sound physical defense, and let their scheme do the talking. It will be paramount for Purdy and company to make those situations manageable. His ability to scramble changes this outlook completely, and adds another weapon to the offense’s arsenal.
The Mountaineers top unit is their secondary, as they start three safeties, and have only allowed 211 passing yards per game. In fact, they have only allowed ONE 300-yard passer in the last two years, and none in 2018. Their nickelback, or what they call the SPUR position, is led by Dravon Askew-Henry and his 44 consecutive starts. Free safety Kenny Robinson, Jr. is second on the team in tackles, and leads the team with two interceptions, and top cornerback Keith Washington, Jr. had this game-changing pick-six against Texas Tech.
The Verdict – EVEN
Ask me a week ago, and I would have given WVU the win here. Brock Purdy shakes that all up, and his ability to stretch the defense with his legs changes the game. Iowa State played with a lot of tempo last week, but look for them to slow this game down, limiting possessions and keeping Grier off the field.
With the three-safety look, I don’t foresee as many downfield options available, but Iowa State will continue to keep WVU honest, as we have genuine speed on the outside.
Iowa State Defense
Now, I know a lot of you were thinking with ISU giving up 42 points last week that the defense faltered. Keep this in mind: both teams had 16 possessions in that game, and out of those 16 times OSU had the ball, EIGHT drives ended in FOUR plays or less. That is impressive.
I was awestruck at how many times I saw second-string defenders on the field, and the execution never missed a beat. Those fresh legs proved to make a difference, especially since Iowa State BLITZED more than any other game this year. The linebackers played otherworldly, continuing to bottle up the run, and Willie Harvey deserves recognition with honors at the end of the year. He, along with O’Rien Vance and Mike Rose, played sound football, and will need to continue as such this weekend.
We haven’t asked much of Brian Peavy or D’Andre Payne this year, but they will be as busy as a combat fighter engaged in battle. I expect more speed to be on the field, and look for Reggan Northrup to supplant one of the linebackers (as we saw against OU). That also means more defensive backs, namely De’Monte Ruth, Datrone Young, and Richard Bowens III.
Third Key to Victory – Score Points off Turnovers
If there is one downside to Heisman-hopeful Will Grier, it is his knack at throwing interceptions. He is not afraid to fit the ball in tight windows, and it will be important to take advantage of both errant throws and batted passes. The second part to this - if Iowa State can force takeaways, they have to turn them into points.
I don’t expect to see as much pressure as we saw last week, as Grier will take a big bite out of the back end of our defense. WVU took advantage of one-on-one matchups against our safeties two years ago, and it will be important for Heacock to keep his soldiers back in coverage.
Therefore, the majority of the pass rush will come from the defensive line, and we have seen penetration from such players, especially Jaquan Bailey, who is quietly playing his best football. Ray Lima will be asked to dominate the interior, and as always he will do so.
West Virginia Offense
The Mountaineers have one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the game in Will Grier, as they even have a website to promote him as a Heisman candidate. Rightly so, as the gunslinger is one of only two players to pass for over 300 yards AND at least 3 or more touchdowns in all 2018 contests. The Florida transfer never saw a pass he didn’t like, and isn’t afraid to heave it deep. He is both efficient and accurate, and has passed for an absurd 21 touchdowns to TEN different recipients.
Grier has three tremendously talented targets, and none is as powerful as David Sills V, who is a touchdown machine. The All-American and 6-foot-4 senior has hit paydirt 26 times in his career, and has six touchdowns on the year. Leading the three-headed monster with 490 receiving yards is Marcus Simms, who also has big-play potential, averaging 18.8 yards per catch. Last but not least, don’t forget Gary Jennings, Jr., who also has six touchdowns and 364 yards.
The offensive line is impressive, with a combined 85 starts among them, and are led by All-Big 12 left tackle Yodny Cajuste. They have paved the way for 162 yards per game on the ground, and have kept Grier’s pocket generally clean.
The Mountaineers have a litany of running backs, and utilize all three in different ways. Freshman Leddie Brown has come on as of late, securing his second 100-yard day of the season last week. Not far behind him are Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway. Pettaway, if you remember, doused the Cyclones two years ago with over 180 rushing yards in Ames. Look for each to get their own, but this offense starts and ends with the passing game and Will Grier.
Verdict – EVEN
Again, call me crazy, but I honestly believe Iowa State can hold their own against this West Virginia offense. There is no one better at making halftime adjustments than defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, as Iowa State has held opponents to 7.6 second-half points in their last SIXTEEN GAMES. This secondary is legit, and it will be a helluva matchup to watch come Saturday.
The Mountaineers special teams is not bad nor great. Their field-goal kicker Evan Staley has only attempted six field goals on the year, and made four. Punter Billy Kinney ranks fifth in the conference with a 40.8 net average, as he has only booted the ball TWELVE times in five games.
The return game is not very exciting either, as Marcus Simms has been bottled up. Iowa State has showed flashes of brilliance returning kicks – especially Kene Nwangwu, who averages an electric 34.4 return average.
Connor Assalley continues to do what he is told, and is a perfect 8-for-8 on kicks. Punter Corey Dunn does not have a strong leg, but he has done a solid job of pinning opponents inside the 20.
Verdict – EVEN
Lets give all the positional units a PUSH, as offense, defense, and special teams are even as it gets.
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
There will be many points put up in this one, but I foresee both defenses clamping down in the second half, as turnovers and field position will play a huge role in crunch time. This game will be close, and while our friends at CFB analytics - https://www.cfbanalytics.com/predictions give ISU a 48% chance at winning, I like the Cyclone’s odds even better.
I will ride right along Brock Purdy’s arm in this one. Iowa State’s chances of winning are similar to his completion percentage in this game. While we don’t expect to see his 78% rate from last week, he will probably fall somewhere right around 65-70%. Do that, and Iowa State pulls this one out.
Jack Trice will be rocking on Saturday, and it seems eerily similar to the TCU test from a year ago. I am confident that Campbell will have the boys ready to play, and Iowa State can hang right with West Virginia.
Will Grier will get his, maybe even a few deep passes here and there, but all in all, this defense should be able to contain their offense to below season averages. Brock Purdy will be the wildcard, and David Montgomery will only add more power to the offense’s punch if he plays.
Give me the Cyclones and an upset of the Number #6 team in the country!
Iowa State 34
West Virginia 31
Let us know your thoughts below
How Will the Cyclones fare against #6 West Virginia on Saturday?
This poll is closed
The Mountaineers offense is too much too handle
It’s a close one and the favorite pulls it out
Iowa State plays their game to perfection and it’s Sweet Caroline all over again!
We are BURNING COUCHES IN DZ TRIANGLE!