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2021 Game VIII: #22 Iowa State vs West Virginia Football Game Preview

The Riot Bowl is upon us!

Oklahoma State v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

2021 Game VIII: #22 Iowa State (5-2, 3-1) vs. West Virginia (3-4, 1-3)

Date: Saturday, October 30th, 2021

Time: 1:00PM CST

Location: Milan Puskar Stadium

Capacity: 63,500

Line: ISU (-7)

Television: ESPN+

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

West Virginia Notes

SB Nation Website - The Smoking Musket

When we last left off...

The Iowa State defense came up with some timely stops at the end of the game and Brock Purdy put the team on his back en route to a 24-21 victory over Oklahoma State.

Purdy, in true “Brocktober” fashion, looked like one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Purdy went 27-33 for 307 yards and two touchdowns. Breece Hall was a main key for the Cowboy defense and was held to 70 yards and one touchdown.

It was a big win for the Cyclones that put them back into the top 25, but the main talking point following the game has been the absolute travesty of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was called on Xavier Hutchinson.

Normally that is the type of penalty that sinks Iowa State in a game. Ultimately it didn’t matter in the outcome and Iowa State was able to pull together and find a way to win.

West Virginia Tidbits

West Virginia comes into the Riot Bowl with a 3-4 record. The Mountaineers have wins over LIU Post (Long Island University), Virginia Tech, and TCU. West Virginia broke a seven-game, regular-season, road losing streak with the 29-17 win over TCU.

The 2021 year marks the 42nd season of competition for West Virginia at Milan Puskar Stadium. The Mountaineers 187-71-4 all-time at Milan Puskar since it opened in 1980. Fun fact: Milan Puskar Stadium’s architecture was modeled after Jack Trice Stadium.

Since 1980, West Virginia is 203-22-1 when scoring 30 or more points in a game. So I guess the point of this random tidbit is to keep West Virginia under 30 points. Especially on the road.

The Series

This will be the 10th meeting between Iowa State and West Virginia. Currently, the Mountaineers hold the series lead at 5-4. Iowa State currently holds a 3 game winning streaking.

Iowa State Offense

The Iowa State offense was able to find a way to be efficient without Breece Hall having a typical workman-like day. Earlier in the year, Iowa State struggled offensively when Breece Hall failed to reach 100 yards rushing. Brock Purdy was able to answer the bell to carry the offense with the help of a big day from Xavier Hutchinson.

Iowa State’s offense is now top 15 in yards per play and top 30 in yards per pass and rush. While it has taken some time for this group to find their footing in 2021, they surely seem ready to make a major impact for the rest of the season.

Oklahoma State v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

While Oklahoma State was able to be effective defensively against Iowa State’s rushing attack, it will be imperative that Iowa State gets Breece Hall back over the century mark on the road. Iowa State was able to set the tone last time on the road in Manhattan by running the ball and being balanced with the passing attack. This game is going to need another dose of that

First Key To Victory - Release The Breece

I don’t mean to make it sound like Breece Hall was completely out of the picture last Saturday, because he wasn’t. Oklahoma State just did that good of a job of keeping him from making a big splash play. Last season, the Mountaineer defense help Breece Hall to 97 yards rushing, but the Cyclones found other ways to put up 42 points. On the Cyclones' last road trip to Morgantown, Breece Hall had his breakout performance rushing for 132 yards and 3 touchdowns. I think we would be down for another round of that.

West Virginia Defense

The Mountaineer defense came alive against TCU holding the Horned Frogs to 10 offensive points and below their season average in total yards. West Virginia picked off TCU quarterback Max Duggan two times all on their way to a 29-17 victory in Fort Worth on Saturday night.

The Mountaineers sit middle of the road when you look at them from a total defense perspective. Though if you really had to pinpoint their strength it is their rushing defense. West Virginia only allows 3.4 yards per rush which sits 27th best in the country. Iowa State will have to battle a rush defense similar to Kansas State. While there may be opportunities, they will have to be patient with their approach.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 West Virginia at TCU Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the flips side, the West Virginia defense is struggling in the passing game. The Mountaineers are giving up over 8 yards per passing play. Opponents are completing over 66% of their passes while being fairly balanced with the run and the pass.

The West Virginia defense has registered 49 tackles for loss, ranking 1st in the Big 12 and 6th nationally in tackles for loss. The Mountaineers also have registered 18 sacks this season, averaging 2.6 per game. That number is 2nd best in the Big 12.

The Verdict - Iowa State

This one feels like the Kansas State game to me. Iowa State can be balanced and take their time in this one and not really have a worry. While West Virginia will look to stop Breece Hall, we have now seen Iowa State win a game with Hall limited. This will be another “bring your hardhat game” the Cyclones are going to have to grind out to get the win.

Iowa State Defense

Last week, Iowa State held Oklahoma State to three touchdowns, two of which were scored in the first half. However, the second touchdown came on a virtual Hail Mary to Brennan Pressly where Greg Eisworth and Isheem both made catastrophic mistakes in coverage on the jump ball, so it’s not a play that’s particularly easy for teams to duplicate.

Spencer Sanders had a decent game, finishing 15-of-24 passing for 225 yards and all three of those touchdowns with no interceptions. It was probably Sanders’ most complete game as a passer this season (and arguably his career). Jaylen Warren (who I warned you about last week), was held somewhat in check with 18 carries for 76 yards (4.2 ypc average), but earned those yards the hard way with lots of broken tackles.

In fact, he broke enough tackles to inflate Iowa State’s defensive broken + missed tackle rate from 7.6% to 9.2%. It’s hard to put a ton of stock into that increase because most of those broken tackles were immediately followed by another Cyclone tackler that finished off the play immediately after the broken tackle. It’s something to potentially keep an eye on, but I have no reason to suspect that Iowa State has suddenly regressed as a fundamental tackling team.

West Virginia Offense

This season, West Virginia has been solid, but largely unspectacular on offense. Per typical, they love to run lots of inside zone with their running backs, and Leddie Brown does a solid job in that scheme, though their overall rushing numbers are basically just fine. They average 3.8 yards per carry as a team, but there’s one fatal flaw that really sticks out here. Their broken + missed tackle forced rate (BT+MT%) is just 11%. For reference, Iowa State’s BT+MT% is 23%.

What does the mean? If Iowa State stays gap sound against the Mountaineers, they should be able to bottle up the Mountaineer running game fairly easily, as they don’t force many missed tackles, and the Cyclones are a very good tackling team that doesn’t miss many to begin with.

In the passing game, Jarret Doege is actually leading the conference in passing yards per game at 243 ypg, 7.6 more than second-place Brock Purdy, but isn’t nearly as efficient as the latter. He’s completing 66.4% of his passes on the season with a 72.4% on-target rate, (compared to 72.8% and 79.3% for Brock Purdy, respectively). Interception rates are pretty similar between the two, but Doege gets sacked twice as much as Purdy (6.7% to 3.3%).

If you saw that Hail Mary TD for Oklahoma State and were worried about what West Virginia can do in the deep passing game, you can probably rest a little easier. West Virginia’s big-play rate is even smaller than Iowa State’s (which famously doesn’t throw it deep basically ever), sitting at 25.6%. That’s not to say they can’t hit a deep play, but it’s certainly not something they build their offense around like they did with Will Grier at the helm under Dana Holgorsen.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 West Virginia at TCU Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Winston Wright leads the way for the Mountaineer pass-catchers, as he’s been targeted 49 times on the season (7 targets per game) for a 73.5% completion percentage. He hasn’t caught a touchdown yet this season, but he’s the guy West Virginia likes to use in the middle of the field on shorter routes. Interestingly, almost half of his receiving yards have come after the catch, so he’s a guy Iowa State will want to make sure they wrap up right after the catch.

Sam James is their most productive receiver from a Points Earned* perspective, and sits at third on the team in targets with 33. He leads the team in touchdown receptions. He’s really elusive after the catch, so he’s a guy to keep an eye on.

*Note: PE measures an individual’s contribution to each play he was involved in, expressed in terms of Expected Points and scaled to match the league scoring average. In short, it measures how valuable a player is to an offense.

Second Key to Victory - Force a Turnover

As our good friends at Smoking Musket have pointed out, Jarrett Doege is typically solid until something bad happens, at which point it goes downhill quickly.

As great as the Cyclone defense has been for the last handful of seasons, the biggest shortcoming has always been their ability to force turnovers. For the most part, Iowa State relies on inaccurate throws and fumbles (both forced and unforced) to get the ball back. A lot of that has to do with the scheme which I obviously do not want to give up for the sake of maybe getting an extra turnover or two if it means giving up more big completions.

If Iowa State can pick off Doege, they can make life absolute hell for West Virginia on offense. That said, a strip-sack by Will McDonald or Isheem Young forcing a fumble via him being a human artillery shell would be perfectly acceptable as well.

The Verdict - Iowa State

As has been the case in virtually every game they’ve played this season, Iowa State matches up well defensively with the team on the opposing sideline. In most places West Virginia shows a weakness, Iowa State presents a strength they can apply to that pressure point.

West Virginia struggles to protect the QB. And not only do they struggle at times in pass blocking, but Jarret Doege’s efficiency plummets when he’s under pressure. Enter Will McDonald, one of the best pass rushers in America. The ‘Eers struggle breaking tackles? Iowa State is one of the best tackling teams in college football.

The defense will already make life difficult for the Mountaineers and are almost always a turnover or two away from total suffocation.

Special Teams

Iowa State had another solid special teams performance on Saturday. Andrew Mevis has become a special teams star as of late, and took over the punting duties on Saturday as well. The man can just do it all. Might as well have him drive the team bus and fly the plane to Morgantown on Friday. Mevis punted five times for an average of 38 yards, including a long of 50 yards which flipped the field position early in the first half.

West Virginia kicker Casey Legg has made 13 consecutive field goals to begin the season. The Mountaineers also rank 4th in the Big 12 and 12th nationally in kickoff returns, with an average of 28.59 yards on 17 returns.

The Verdict- Iowa State

Iowa State has won the special teams battle two weeks in a row now, and they seem to be finding some stability in the punting game with Mevis taking over, so we’ll give them some credit here.

Winning Scale from 1 to 10

Country roads is a stupid song.

On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being country roads and 10 being paved roads. I give the Cyclones a brick road chance of winning this game. Suck it John Denver.

Editor’s Note: I’m assuming this scale works on a scale of least to most paved roads, but I’m not going to pretend to understand Matthias.

Final Analysis

West Virginia is a tough environment to try to win a game in. Iowa State has handled themselves well there in the past, but this is a pivotal one for Iowa State. The Mountaineers are hungry and feeling good after their win last week and hope to catch Iowa State napping. Let’s hope they are fully awake.

Final Score

Iowa State - 27

West Virginia - 17

Let us know your predictions in the comments below!