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Iowa State Football Post-Mortem: West Virginia

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RIOT BOWL CHAMPS WOO

West Virginia Mountaineers v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

After a 48-42 win over Oklahoma State (which is looking less-impressive by the week, but we didn’t know that before the game), Cyclone fans were feeling cautiously optimistic about their chances in the Riot Bowl against West Virginia. The Mountaineers were toting a Heisman candidate at quarterback, and one of the nation’s best offenses, but the Cyclones have their own talented defense, built to stop the Big 12’s high-flying offenses.

Lo and behold, the Cyclones’ stout and aggressive (????!?!?!??!!?!!?!??!?!?!?) defense absolutely shut down West Virginia, holding them to just 152 (!!) total yards, about 25% of the average output. On offense, Brock Purdy continued to shine, with another 3 touchdown passes, and David Montgomery returned to his 1st-round draft pick form, with 189 yards on 29 carries, repeatedly gashing the defense with long runs.

Let’s dig into what went well and what didn’t in the upset of #6 West Virginia.

What Went Right (basically everything belongs in this section, but I’m going to identify the keys that will be most crucial going forward)

Brock Purdy

Without a doubt, the shining star of the past two wins has been true freshman quarterback Brock Purdy, who’s suddenly lifted the lid off a struggling offense and turned into a clock-eating, but highly efficient unit capable of putting together long drives. His most notable contribution to the offense has been his legs, adding not just the ability to extend plays and pick up yardage on scrambles, but also being a threat to gash the defense on RPOs, read options, and designed quarterback runs. Specifically, read options with David Montgomery are an absolute nightmare to defend, especially when Montgomery was so successful on his own runs that the defense basically needs to sell out to stop him. Purdy will need to get better at getting down and avoiding contact in the future, but that maturation step will come with time. Right now, the dude is just balling out and having fun, and I’m not about to be the one that gets in the way of a good time. This scramble is exactly why Purdy’s emergence at quarterback is such a huge boost to the offense. Neither Kempt nor Noland have the ability to make this play.

However, let’s not sell Brock short as a passer. He’s aggressive, and always has his eyes downfield looking for an open receiver. Once he finds that target, he delivers a well-timed, accurate, and catchable ball to the open man, usually resulting in happy fun times for everyone. I mean, this throw on the long touchdown catch by Deshaunte Jones, which was absolutely insane, by the way, was an exceptionally good throw in its own right. He lofts it just over the top of two defenders, in a place where only Jones could catch it.

The Aggressive Defense

Jon Heacock’s wizardry on defense has never been more apparent than it was last Saturday. Previously, the defense was stout against the pass, but usually relied on its coverage to make the plays downfield to slow down passing attacks by forcing difficult throws and batting down passes. In each of the last two games, the Cyclones have recorded 7 team sacks by at least 6 different players, when the team only had 6 total sacks going into the Oklahoma State game. What changed? Jon Heacock and the defense have started bringing pressure significantly more frequently, blitzing safeties, cornerbacks, and/or linebackers with regular frequency to create and disguise pressure at odd angles and force the quarterback to rush the throw or scramble out of the pocket. Grier almost always chose to scramble out of the pocket, much to his dismay.

Going forward, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the defense continue to apply pressure through blitzing. Texas Tech’s Alan Bowman will likely see a significant amount of pressure in order to force him out of the pocket and make a difficult throw on the run. Bowman is not particularly mobile, so his day could like a lot like Grier’s if the Cyclones are able to collapse the pocket as consistently as they did against West Virginia.

The Return of David Montgomery

Without a doubt, one of the biggest boosts to the offense this past weekend was the return of a healthy or almost healthy David Montgomery. At his best, he’s basically impossible to bring down one-on-one, and that stiff arm could kill a bear. Given that his primary injury was a deep bruise in that right arm, it stands to reason that possibly his most effective weapon (the stiff arm) was taken away from him. Last weekend, it was pretty easy to see that the pain was either manageable enough to fully utilize his stiff arm, or the pain has subsided pretty significantly. Finally, he’s looking like himself.

When at 100%, David Montgomery is the best running back in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. With an offensive line that’s made pretty significant strides in the last few weeks, and the emergence of Purdy as a run threat, he should have more space than ever to do his damage over the second half of the season. Tech, Kansas, Baylor, and Kansas State all have defenses that range from “meh” to unspeakably bad, so Montgomery could be on the verge of having a really, really nice stretch of games coming up.

The Safeties

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise on the defense has been the play of Greg Eisworth and Braxton Lewis at the safety spots. Eisworth was expected to be solid, but JUCO players tend to take some time to fully transition to major college football. Instead Eisworth has been nothing short of outstanding both in run support and pass coverage, and has even become an effective blitzer in the last few games. Braxton Lewis has also surprised everyone with his play as a walk-on, though he’ll have a scholarship at the first available opportunity. He recorded an interception in three consecutive games leading up to the West Virginia game, where he recorded a sack in lieu of recording his 4th interception in four games. Given the play of those two, and the continued effectiveness of Lawrence White, the safety position has gone from a position of weakness on the defense, to one of the greatest strengths on a defense with strengths at every position group.

Honorable Mention Things That Went Right (in no particular order)

  1. The continued emergence and contributions of freshmen. - Mike Rose, Colin Newell, and Anthony Johnson Jr. have already burned their redshirt by playing in more than four games, and a handful of other true and redshirt freshmen have made significant contributions on either side of the ball. It remains to be seen who will be done playing after four games and who else will have their redshirt burned, but we can expect more freshmen to play in over the second stretch of the season that haven’t seen the field yet.
  2. The black uniforms. - The new black uniforms are slick, and a great change of pace from the normal red or white.
  3. The game atmosphere. - The crowd was absolutely incredible throughout the entire game, and the cell phone light show in the fourth quarter was super cool. Hopefully we do that at every night game in the future.
  4. The offensive line. - I mentioned this earlier and Matthias brought this up in the Three Things We Learned for this week, but the offensive line has made some tremendous strides in run blocking over the last few weeks. With a healthy David Montgomery and a run threat at the quarterback position, the improvement on the offensive line is coming at exactly the right time.
  5. JaQuan Bailey - That guy keeps getting better and better, and is turning into one of the best pass rush forces in the Big 12.
  6. Hakeem Butler - Butler is becoming the most dominating receiver in a conference full of dominant receivers. He may not pile up a ton of catches, but there isn’t a player in the Big 12 (maybe the country) better at going up Mossing people.
  7. Deshaunte Jones - After seeing a significant downtick in production in 2017, Jones has reemerged as a primary receiving threat for the offense, and we’re all glad to see it.
  8. Tight ends being badasses - We now have TWO tight end touchdowns in the last three weeks. Finish any drink you have and have ever thought about having.
  9. DINOSAURS

What Went Wrong

Field Goals

I’m not going to throw the entire special teams unit under the bus here, since punting and kickoff teams were actually pretty good. However, between a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown, and a Connor Assalley field goal attempt that didn’t even get close, it was not a great day for the Iowa State field goal team. Worth noting: on the blocked field goal, West Virginia probably should have been flagged for a lineman jumping over the blockers, which is illegal. The blocked field goal then likely led to Assalley trying to put some extra air under it on the next attempt, which cause it to not have near enough distance. Still not great, but at least you have some context.

Penalties

Normally a fairly disciplined team, the Cyclones committed ten penalties for 95 yards on Saturday, a couple of which killed drives or negated big plays. Luckily, bye weeks are perfect for fixing these types of things, and we just happen to be on a bye week. Lucky us. I wouldn’t expect to see this trend continue going forward.

Report Card

Offense: A-

Defense: A+ x 69,000,000

Special Teams: C+

Ass Alley: Not good, Bob

Atmosphere: 11

Dana Holgerson blaming literally everyone but himself: