2020 Game X: #12 Iowa State (7-2, 7-1) vs. West Virginia (5-3, 4-3)
Date: Saturday, December 5, 2020
Time: 2:30 P.M. CST
Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Capacity: 61,500, (15,000 fans are allowed)
Line: Iowa State -6.5
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
SB Nation Website – Our Gentlemen Riot Brothers “Smoking Musket”
I don’t know about you Cyclone fans – but we have been in for one helluva ride! While last week’s game against Texas was a heart-throbbing, pull-your-hair-out, white-knuckle affair, it was finally good to see a field goal attempt go the way of Cyclone Nation.
Speaking of you - the fans, I echo all the sentimental and emotional ride this has been up the mountain-top. We are Cyclone fans for a reason, and I hope you have enjoyed every second of this 2020 season! If Matthias’s video didn’t pull at your heart strings, then I don’t know what will.
All I can say is – Iowa State has continued to stare adversity in the face, and beaten it. Last week, we went 1-0. Take it one game at a time.
Now, on to West Virginia.
When we last left off….
Going down 0-10 to Texas right off the bat, I wasn’t worried. In fact, I even jumped online and made a bet on Iowa State. That’s how confident I was that the Cyclones could make in-game adjustments and eventually they would pull through.
You noticed it on the field too. No let downs. No frantic adversity. Just “Trusting the Process.” Texas played the game like they were a desperate drunk who found out the bartender shut him off, unable to convert on 4th-and-1 in the red zone, and even trying a fake punt in ISU territory. I don’t know about you, but I could make a case for a game ball to Rory Walling for that tackle.
Texas punched Iowa State in the mouth, and we punched right back. That last touchdown-leading drive was a dandy, and will go down as one of the greatest moments in history.
On paper, it was about as even as identical twins, but the Matt Campbell coaching prowess won out over Tom Herman.
West Virginia Tidbits
The Mountaineers were picked by the media in the preseason to finish 8th under 2nd year coach Neal Brown, and while they have had their ups and downs, I am incredibly impressed on tape by a smothering defense. They are 5-3 on the year, and have won all their games at home, and lost all on the road.
They lost a few key contributors in the offseason, namely the running back room, the majority of offensive line, and even three of their top cornerbacks. To add more salt in the wound, defensive coordinator Vic Koennig “mutually parted ways” in the offseason, after allegations of mistreating players and making racist remarks.
While coach Brown comes from the Hal Mumme “air raid” coaching tree, he has maintained a balanced attack, with very efficient quarterback play, and the 2nd leading rusher in the Big 12 in Leddie Brown.
But the offense has been this 2020 Mountaineers’ worst enemy, as they have not nearly lived up to the prowess of the defense. That unit “came out of the shadows”, and has over-exceeded all expectations, as they lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, and the entire country in pass defense.
West Virginia is a solid 5-3, but in 20 games of the Neal Brown era, have only WON ONE GAME over a team with a winning record (K-State in 2019).
West Virginia leads this short-lived series 5 games to 3, yet the Cyclones have won the last two. In fact, Iowa State has held the Mountaineers to less than 200 yards of total offense in both of those wins.
You may remember when a certain Heisman-contending quarterback came to Ames with a #6 ranking a few years ago….
Iowa State Offense
This last 2.5 game stretch for Brock Purdy has been one of his best in a Cyclone uniform. I thought he showed great poise against Texas, and with both Xavier Hutchinson and Breece Hall taken out by the Longhorns, he calmly took the reins, and led us to Victory.
First Key to Victory – Gotta Start Fast out of the Gate
Iowa State can ill afford to play from behind in this one. In games where WVU takes an early lead, their defense dictates the tempo and can wreak havoc. West Virginia has to limit possessions and play old school, physical football. I think the first few scripted plays by Tom Manning will go a long way in how this battle will be won.
Breece Hall just kept chugging along in Austin, and while he made most of his mark on that last drive, he still ended up with a 4.5 yard-per-carry average, and was the main reason why our tight ends had a freakin’ hey-day. Look for Breece to squeeze through holes against a 3-man front of WVU, but don’t expect many breakaways, as the ‘Eers are fantastic at open-field tackling.
I’m expecting Charlie Kolar to continue his dominance down the seams, and boy oh boy was it good to see Sean Shaw, Jr. step up! I have been waiting for “Robin” to step up and help X’s “Batman” all year. This will be a very physical matchup for our outside receivers, so look for Xavier Hutchinson to get back on track and be Brock’s go-to man.
I see a tough day for our offensive linemen, as WVU can create pressure with just four, and it will be important to communicate effectively in pass-protection. Look for the Mountaineers to load the box, and make our receivers create their own separation. One very under-rated player in the Texas game was Tarique Milton. Having him back changes the landscape of this offense with his down-field speed and ability to keep the safeties honest.
West Virginia Defense
This may be the best defense in the Big 12 folks. The Mountaineers simply don’t have a weakness on this side of the ball, as they lead the conference in interceptions, can force pressure, and only allow 3.3 yards per carry on the ground.
They run a very similar style of defense to Iowa State’s with a 3-man front, but also have a stand-up defensive-end/outside-linebacker (they call it BANDIT). They carry three safeties on the field, and have a tremendous amount of talent throughout.
Big 12 Defensive Preseason Player of the Year Darius Stills starts it all up front. The defensive tackle went off against Baylor, with 7 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and 2.5 sacks earlier this year. His counterpart on the end Jeffrey Pooler is solid, and another up-and-coming freshman - Akheem Mesidor is waiting in the wings. He comes in on passing downs ala Will McDonald, and leads the team with 5 sacks.
The linebacking corps is fast, and is led by Big-12 leading tackler Tony Fields II, who came over as a grad transfer from Arizona. This defense may not be as exotic as ISU’s, but they are just as multiple. Quite possibly the best athlete on the team, their nickel-back (SPEAR) Tykee Smith has made a name for himself. After being selected to the Freshman All-American Team by FWAA last year, the sophomore has been all over the field, as he is second on the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss and first in picks.
While the front six is good, the back end is better. Coach Brown brought in a few transfers, and have some ball-hawks in the secondary. This unit is led by free safety Alonzo Addae, who, according to our friends over at The Smoking Musket, rattles bones when he tackles.
All in all, this defense has yet to give up more than 27 points, and have slowly been improving every week. In their last three games, they have given up 10, 17, and 6 points respectively, and no, Kansas was not one of them. They lead the Conference in total defense, scoring defense, and most impressively the nation in pass defense (162 yards per game).
The Verdict – WVU
This is going to be an absolute dog-fight. I hope you brought your hard hats. We are going to see physicality at its finest, as Iowa State will play their game, but also have a few wrinkles up their sleeve. I don’t expect many big gainers, but we all know that Iowa State doesn’t need explosive plays to score.
Look for a heavy dose of Breece, mixed in with a lot of underneath throws and Brock running the ball more than we have asked him all year. Efficient plays on first down will be key in maintaining drives.
Iowa State Defense
This ISU defense has been one of the most consistent units all year. They continue to hold their ground, and there is no one, probably in the country, better at in-game adjustments than Professor Jon Heacock.
West Virginia will not beat you with downfield passes, but they will also not turn the ball over. They have a very talented running back, and this offense goes wherever Leddie Brown takes them. It was unfortunate to not have Isaiah Lee at nose tackle last week, as he was out with injury. He has been an unsung hero for this defense, and his ability to maintain control at the line of scrimmage does not go unnoticed.
While Joshua Bailey got the start over Lee, I thought Latrell Bankston played his best game in Cardinal and Gold. He deservedly earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors, and adds another dimension with aggressive vertical penetration.
Look for our linebackers to roam all over the field, as WVU likes to throw to their running backs in space. It will be nice to get Mike Rose back at 100%, but you know as well as I do, he is strapping on the jersey regardless. He would have to break a bone to get taken out!
West Virginia has a plethora of speedy and athletic receivers, but have yet to take the top off the defense. Their claim to fame has been yards-after-catch, so it will be important for the likes of Greg Eisworth, Datrone Young and Tayvonn Kyle to wrap up in the open field.
I love this defense. They play so well as a team, and even with the backups in, we don’t lose a step. If Lee can’t go, look for maybe Enyi Uwazurike to slide over inside a bit. I expect the patented 3-safety look with a cloud zone coverage all day, and with a quarterback and 11 starts to his name, some very timely-played blitz packages.
West Virginia Offense
Jarret Doege played a few games last year for the Mountaineers, but he has taken the keys from OU transfer Austin Kendall and never looked back. Doege never wows you with his arm, nor his legs, but has been uber-efficient thus far in 2020. In fact, he completes 65% of his throws, and passes for the 2nd most yards per game in the Big 12 (277).
Second Key to Victory – Slow Down Leddie Brown
It’s actually quite simple, as the kryptonite to WVU’s offense is stopping their run game. In all games where they rush for 100 yards or more, they have won. In games where they are held below 100, they lose. Easier said than done with this talented back, but Iowa State has shown that they can shut down any rushing attack in 2020.
Brown is built like a brick shit-house, and does not wear down as the game goes along. In 8 games (and 897 yards) he has already single-handedly surpassed all of 2019 WVU’s rushing yards, and can break one the distance. He has been battling a hamstring and quad injury, but with two weeks off, should be fresh for Saturday.
The offensive line he runs behind has been average, as they had to replace quite a few starters, but have been serviceable at pass protection. This team thrives on ball control and winning the time of possession (their 33 minutes per game is only behind OU). Look for a long-sustaining drives, but it all starts in the early downs, as their quarterback struggles behind the sticks on 3rd-and-long.
The receivers are led by possession-type receiver Winston Wright, who has 42 grabs on the year. Sam James is another big target, but they have two monster yard-after-the-catch weapons in TJ Simmons and Bryce Ford-Wheaton. The former averages 20.6 yards per catch, while the latter is at 15.9.
The Verdict – ISU
This matchup plays right into the hands of Iowa State, as they thrive on inexperienced quarterback play, and can slow down just about anybody in the run game.
The Mountaineers already lost their starting kicker to season-ending injury, but his replacement Casey Legg has been a solid 5-for-6 on field goals since the K-State contest. While WVU rarely kicks deep for touchbacks, they are tops in the Big 12 at kick coverage. Sorry Kene, you will have to save your 2020 kickoff return TD for the Big 12 Championship game!
I was proud of Connor Assalley, shaking off that missed field goal before the half, and coming right back to make two pivotal kicks later in the game. We will definitely need his services in this game, as possessions will be limited, and he will be called upon.
WVU’s return game is nothing to get crazy about, but they have blocked a kick this year. It will be important for Iowa State to limit the miscues in this one department.
Verdict – WVU
I mean, was there ever a doubt?
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
The work is not done. And while it is Senior Day, I am so glad that fans are able to attend this contest. Speaking of the seniors, their leadership has allowed this program to fight off the outside noise, and collectively pursue one goal – A Big 12 Championship!
With that being said, this a very difficult matchup, as West Virginia is as physical as they come. On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being Kansas (the worst team in all of college football), and 10 being Alabama (of course they are), I give Iowa State a Matt-Campbell-like-program of Toledo shot at winning.
ESPN odds say ISU has a 65% chance at winning, and I think that number is right on point.
This Mountaineer team is no slouch. And as I’ve written in previous articles, Iowa State struggles against teams that play with physicality and tough man-to-man defense. I expect a similar score to last week, with both teams trying to pound the ball down each other’s throat, and a defensive slugfest.
Third Key To Victory – Stay the Course, and “Trust the Process”
After an emotional road victory in Austin, TX, it is easy for a let-down. But I am confident our coaching staff will have this team ready to play. As much as we’ve all gotten caught up in the media attention, this team needs to take each day, each play, each possession, one at a time. And so far, they have come through in flying colors.
Stats are one thing, and while I’ve probably bored you with all of West Virginia’s, this game will come down to coaching.
Just be happy we have Matt Campbell, and you don’t.
Let’s go 1-0 this week.
Iowa State 24
West Virginia 21
Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comment section below!