2019 Game VI: Iowa State (3-2, 1-1) vs. West Virginia University (3-2, 1-1)
Date: Saturday, October 12, 2019
Time: 3:00 P.M. CST
Location: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, WV
Line: ISU -10
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
SB Nation Website – Our Riot Brothers at “The Smoking Musket”
The Iowa State football hype train is back on the tracks! I don’t think it mattered what team was facing the Cyclones last Saturday – they were going to beat anyone regardless. TCU was just in the way.
The football team’s effort, attitude and focus was top notch for Matt Campbell’s crew. It is BROCKtober and this Train is ROLLING!
All that stands in the path are three winnable Big 12 games before OU and Texas. I know, I know, take it one game at a time. But first, let me shotgun this kool-aid real quick.
Brock Purdy continues to impress, as he ranks FIFTH nationally in total offense, and even leads the Big 12 in passing yards per game. Hold on to your butts!
When we last left off….
Iowa State started off HOT, scoring on the first drive of the game, and never looked back. Purdy looked decisive in the pocket, finding open receivers, especially his favorite target Deshaunte Jones, who hauled in 10 grabs. We’ve been waiting for a running back to emerge, and it appears that man for the job is Johnnie Lang, who ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
The defense shut down TCU’s vaunted running attack, holding a program coming in with 275 yards per game to only 108. Defensive end Zach Petersen popped his cherry for his first start, and was a one-man wrecking crew. While there were a few lapses on downfield throws, the defensive unit held its own and did their job. Greg Eisworth continues to ail with a stinging shoulder injury, and is listed as questionable for Saturday. #12 is one of our key cogs in the defense, so it will be important to get him back to 100%.
Our favorite Red-Bull drinking machine Dana Holgerson left the Mountaineers at the altar in the offseason, bolting for Houston. He left the cupboard bare, as WVU only returned three starters on offense, losing their quarterback and top three receivers.
In comes Neal Brown, former coach at Troy who compiled a 35-16 record in four seasons. He hails from the Mike Leach and Hal Mumme “Air-Raid” tree, and by most media pundits was tabbed as a home-run hire, as Troy had the highest winning percentage amongst all non-power 5 schools since 2016.
Brown calls the plays, and with the depth chart lean, decided to go the transfer route. WVU brought in 7 transfers, most notably quarterback Austin Kendall from OU, as well as student-athletes from Florida State, Michigan and LSU. While they took a few steps forward, they took more back, losing as many as TEN players, including All Big-12 safety Kenny Robinson to the transfer portal. So far, WVU has played 14 freshmen in 2019, including 6 true freshmen.
West Virginia came into 2019 with a tough non-conference slate, losing to SEC (and Big 12 runaway) Missouri and barely escaping FCS-powerhouse James Madison. Their most impressive win to date is against NC State, who the Mountaineers beat handily 44-27. Thus far on the year, WVU is 3-2, and are coming off a loss at home to Texas by 11.
We all remember the game last year vividly, as #6 WVU came into Ames and got throttled 30-14. The final score didn’t even do it justice, as ISU held Heisman hopeful Will Grier to 100 passing yards and sacked him SEVEN times.
Overall in the short-lived series, WVU leads 5-2, with the last matchup in Morgantown a 20-16 nail-biter in favor of the ‘Eers.
Iowa State Offense
The Iowa State offense broke out of their Baylor slump and hit its stride yet again. Overall, this unit is averaging 7.6 yards per play (good for 4th nationally), and still only has two three-and-outs on the season. I was really watching to see if the Cyclones could finish drives versus TCU, and they did - going 5-for-5 with touchdowns in the red zone. Purdy has four straight games of 300 or more passing yards, and has been uber efficient, completing 71% of his passes. But it is his legs that have transformed the offense.
First Key to Victory – Run the Damn Ball
While this is not ISU’s strength, the opponent they are facing is quite awful, as WVU allows over 180 yards per game and a 4.2 yard per carry clip. Johnnie Lang has come into his own, and Matt Campbell may have found his workhorse tailback. Still look to see others get touches – especially true freshmen Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock. If Iowa State wants to control the clock on the road, the boys up front will have to pave holes for this running game.
Texas receiver Devin Duvernay was running open in the West Virginia secondary last week, and look for Deshaunte Jones to do the same. Jones is 2nd in the Big 12 (behind Duvernay) with 7.4 grabs per game, and continues to shine, especially on third downs. Look for Tarique Milton to get back on track, and tight end Charlie Kolar to find wide open spaces. Both outside cornerbacks are experienced ballhawks, but the middle of the field should find solace for offensive coordinator Tom Manning to attack.
Surprisingly, while this defense is as porous as a sponge, they still have held all opponents in 2019 to under 300 yards passing. If I were a betting man (and I am), I would guess Brock Purdy breaks that streak on Saturday.
While the Mountaineer offense lost almost their entire roster, while the defense brought back six starters. They carry with them two wrecking balls in brothers Darius and Dante Stills, who are EACH in the top-3 of the Big 12 in sacks (with 4 apiece). Darius is the nose tackle, while the better of the two, Dante, plays in a 3-technique lined up outside.
Second Key to Victory - Contain the Pass Rush
Both Stills brothers are tremendous at getting vertical penetration, and can shut down a drive in an instant. Their sacks mostly come by way of brute force and bull rush, so it will be important for our interior linemen to communicate effectively if they want to keep Purdy’s jersey clean.
WVU runs a 3-4 to 3-3-5 look, and carry a stand-up defensive end who can also play linebacker at times in Quondarius Qualls (say that name five times fast). They run wider splits and the linebackers aren’t afraid to cover if needed. This has invited teams to run the ball in this bend-but-don’t-break style.
The Mountaineers’ best linebacker is Josh Chandler, who leads the team with 40 tackles. Not far behind him is veteran Dylan Tonkery with 30 stops as he has 19 starts to his name.
Probably the strongest unit are the cornerbacks, as seniors Keith Washington II and Hakeem Bailey man the outside. Both came in from community colleges, as Washington leads the Big 12 in passes defensed (nine), and has three interceptions on the year.
In fact, I noticed a bevy of JUCO and transfers on defense, with seven on the two-deep. The safeties are inexperienced, especially as true freshman Tykee Smith made his first start against Texas in the SPEAR role (ISU’s equivalent to STAR). He supplanted previous starter Jovanni Stewart who literally quit on the team and is now planning to transfer…
The Verdict – ISU
On paper this isn’t even a contest, as Iowa State in the Big 12 is ahead of ALL FOUR Texas schools in total offense. I expect them to continue to convert on third downs and utilize our skill positions in short to intermediate-routes, but what I will be watching the most is if the offensive line can get a push and gain traction for the running game to emerge.
Iowa State Defense
Iowa State’s defense took a few hits to the mouth last week, but all in all, they did their job of containing TCU’s ground attack. That won’t be a problem on Saturday, as WVU averages an abysmal 105 yards and 3.4 yards per carry.
Now that we have that out of the way, lets get to the passing attack. The Mountaineers run an up-tempo throw-it-all-over the field type of game, with gadget plays, jail-break screens and short routes. The Cyclone secondary has yet to really be exposed outside of a couple deep balls on blown coverages.
Third Key to Victory – Alleviate the Broken Tackles (Especially if Eisworth is Out)
Think back to the Alamo Bowl where Mike Leach’s crew dinked and dunked their way down the field. Iowa State did a great job of containing any downfield throws, and their zone scheme allowed the secondary to play on their toes. Same will be said for this game – as West Virginia tries to tinker their way with short passes, waiting for the defense to slip or miss tackles. The Cyclones best open field tackler is nursing a sore shoulder, and if Eisworth can’t go, the next man up has to play flawless.
Look for Lawrence White to move over to the STAR/Nickel role (if needed), and Braxton Lewis and Justin Bickham to man the safety spots. Arnold Azunna and DJ Miller could also see time, but again – they need to break down and tackle in space.
Same can be said for the linebackers, as I expect the Clones to drop eight in coverage and dare the Mountaineers to run. Marcel Spears, Jr. is one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 at coverage, and look for a multitude of subs to come in for fresh legs.
The defensive line will hold its own, and look for a coming out party for Will McDonald, as he will get plenty of snaps with Jaquan Bailey out for an extended period of time. Not enough can be said about the play of O’Rien Vance, who continues to lead the conference in sacks, and forced a huge fumble for a TD last week.
This Mountaineer offense has only three speeds – fast, faster, and fastest. And while they have yet to have a breakout game, they have the tools in their toolbox to do so. Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall is very comparable to former Oklahoma State QB Taylor Cornelius – tall, slender build, with a cannon for an arm, and decent downhill speed. He has yet to be very accurate on deep ball throws, but has still completed 66% of his passes. Back to the Mike Leach air-raid, as Kendall has the most completions per game in the Big 12 (25 per), but only averages 6.5 yards per attempt (worst in the league). He did throw for a career-high 367 yards last week, but also threw FOUR costly interceptions.
His best receiver is redshirt freshman Sam James, who exploded for 155 yards on 15 targets in the NC State game. He leads the team with 329 yards, and can make any catch on the field. Keep an eye on the injury report though – as James left last week with an undisclosed injury. At 6-foot-2, TJ Simmons plays in the slot, and Florida State transfer George Campbell is the deep man – with 4 catches for 100 yards, and 3 of those hitting pay dirt.
The offensive line is decent, only allowing eight sacks on the year, but has been unable to get any push for rushing yards, especially between the tackles. They are led by the man on the left side – Colton McKivitz, who has a team-best 40 starts and was named preseason All-Big 12.
Those running backs who are starving for yards are led by senior Kennedy McKoy, who won’t dazzle you with his speed, but has great vision and patience. Keeping in tune to the air raid, the tailbacks are used quite frequently in the passing game, collecting 27 catches amongst the top-3 runners.
Verdict – ISU
Another solid matchup for one of the Big 12’s best in Iowa State. The great thing about this 3-3-5 defense is it can morph into so many different designs and schemes, and with WVU’s pass-happy attack, coordinator Jon Heacock will be sure to cook up another great recipe for success. As far as blitzes go, I’m not so sure if Iowa State just sits back and keeps everything in front of them. WVU has proven they can’t throw deep, and also can’t run the ball – huge advantage for the Clones in this department.
Solid performance last week by the Cyclones special teams. It will be important for them to continue to play flawless, especially on the road in redneck country.
Get this for a stat – the Cyclones have returned FOUR punts on the year, and only allowed their opponents to return THREE! The one-man kick return crew of Kene Nwangwu nearly broke one last week, and look for him to continue his success against West Virginia.
Mountaineers kicker Even Staley missed his first two field goals last week (one from 36), and is 7-for-12 on the year. Their punter is one of the Big 12’s best in native Australian (and LSU transfer) Josh Growden, who averages nearly 41 yards per boot, and has a long of 60.
ISU’s kickers did their job against TCU, namely punter Joe Rivera who kept the ball away from scary Jalen Reagor. Connor Assalley is still a solid 7-for-10 on the year, and will be called upon for duties on Saturday.
Verdict – EVEN, if not a slight edge towards WVU
I’m still in the prove me wrong camp here…
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the speed of a sloth, and 10 a cheetah, I give the Clones a gazelle’s shot at winning. But aren’t sloths fun to look at?
The only way that West Virginia keeps this game close is if ISU gets in their own way. That means no turnovers, huge mistakes, or failure to finish drives. Campbell has not been afraid to go for it on fourth down – but so far has failed miserably, as ISU is an abysmal 1 for 6 on the year.
The defense has the horses and leadership to keep their focus on the road, and the offense is clicking on all cylinders. I’m excited to watch conductor Brock Purdy keep that train moving full steam ahead. Cyclones win handily.
Iowa State 31
West Virginia 17
Hit us up with your predictions in the comment section below!