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2022 Iowa State Football Preview IX: West Virginia

our entire kingdom for a functioning offense

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

Iowa State (3-5, 0-5) vs. West Virginia (3-5, 1-4)

Date: November 5, 2022

Time: 2:30 PM

Place: Jack Trice Stadium

Capacity: 61,500

Line: Iowa State -7


When we last left off...

Iowa State turned in maybe its most frustrating performance of the season in a 27-13 game. The defense turned in yet another outstanding performance and the special teams were actually not bad! However, the offense was absolutely horrible. Hunter Dekkers finished the day 37/57 passing for 308 yards (57 ATTEMPTS!!), but threw three interceptions to only one touchdown pass.

The running also continued to struggle, as Cartevious Norton and Jirehl Brock combined for just 49 yards rushing on 22 carries. In fact, Hunter Dekkers picked up nearly half of the team’s rushing yards on a single 28-yard scramble.

West Virginia Tidbits

Our Riot Bretheren are enduring their own disappointing season, as the addition of JT Daniels has done little to spark the offense, and the Mountaineer defense is in shambles. Last week they did lead TCU for much of the game, but ultimately fell 41-31. Playing TCU close has buoyed Neal Brown for at least one more week, but one has to wonder if he’s one bad loss away from being given his walking papers out of Morgantown.

The Series

West Virginia holds the all-time series lead at 6-4, but the Cyclones have won three of the last four.

Iowa State Offense

What’s really left to say here that hasn’t already been said? Hunter Dekkers is beginning to look at least a little more competent, but he still makes a lot of “freshman” mistakes and still doesn’t seem comfortable knowing when to check it down and when to scramble.

The running game is still bad. The offensive line gets very little push up front, and the scheme itself is extremely predictable, leading to almost no room for Cartevious Norton and Jirehl Brock to make something happen. At this point most fans can watch a game, look at the personnel, and immediately have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen. On rare occasions, they do toss in a play action just for fun, but if you see Jared Rus in with Sean Shaw, most people know that you’re going to see some sort of run between the tackles on that play.

And if fans can take a pretty solid guess at what the play call is just based on personnel and alignment, you’d better believe that college defenses that spend hundreds of hours watching film specifically to identify and exploit weaknesses can figure it out too.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Iowa State at Texas Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

West Virginia Defense

This Mountaineer defense is bad. Maybe worse than Oklahoma’s defense. They rank 115th or worse in scoring, total defense, points per play, yards per play, third down conversion rate, fourth down conversion rate, pass yards per game, and interception rate. The strongest stat this WVU defense has produced this season is 62nd rank in opponent completion percentage.

This 3-3 stack defense is similar to Iowa State’s in terms of personnel, but is much worse in basically every imaginable way, routinely giving up explosive plays in the passing game and getting gashed in the running game.

TCU v West Virginia Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images
TCU v West Virginia Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Verdict - No idea

Given how bad West Virginia’s defense is, you’d think this should be an easy Iowa State lean, but alas, that is not the case. The problem is that Iowa State’s offense is every bit as bad as the WVU defense. We all know they can connect on explosive passing plays and hurt opponents downfield, but there are two questions that need to be answered:

  1. Will they try to connect on some explosive plays?
  2. Will Iowa State still stubbornly keep going back to an ineffective interior running game after big plays?

If Iowa State plays with tempo and plays to their strengths with a vertical passing game, this could be a huge day for the offense.

Yeah, I couldn’t make it through that with a straight face either.

In reality, this offense will continue to struggle as long as the running game continues to be a big steaming pile of nothing and the playcalling for the passing game continues to be excessively conservative. Will they finally figure something out and get some sort of momentum going on that side of the ball?

Your guess is as good as mine, but I wouldn’t bet your house on it.

Iowa State Defense

Boy, howdy is this defense good. Aside from one busted play, this defense was absolutely lights-out, holding the Sooners under 100 yards of offense in the second half and making multiple critical stops to give the offense a chance to fizzle out in a more advantageous part of the field with the game on the line. Maybe that was excessively sarcastic, but what else is really left to say about this defense?

Anthony Johnson continues to play at an All-Conference, or even All-American, level. I haven’t been keeping extremely close tabs on the rest of the defenders in the conference, but I’d have to imagine he’s got a case for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. His transition to safety has been a revelation and has allowed for a guy like Jeremiah Cooper to have tons of success as a true freshman by playing with a seasoned vet like Ant.

MJ Anderson was his typical outstanding self again last Saturday, picking up another sack. Amazingly he’s been better than Will McDonald this season, and those two have formed a formidable pass-rushing tandem.

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

West Virginia Offense

Georgia-transfer JT Daniels came into the season with outside expectations of supercharging the Mountaineer offense and propelling them to a solid season that would help Neal Brown keep his job. The results so far have been...fine.

West Virginia is a very middle-of-the-road team ranking between 40th and 70th in basically every meaningful offensive category. One notable caveat to their attack this Saturday is that they’ll be without leading rusher CJ Donaldson for the rest of the season. For a team that’ll likely be relying on their running to help create some stability and not allow Iowa State to sit on the passing game, this is a significant blow.

The passing targets are fairly well-distributed, with Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James, and Kaden Prather eating up the vast majority of targets. Ford-Wheaton and James have both connected on deep plays this season, so that’ll be something to keep an eye on. Prather is their slot guy that gets lots of short receptions.

JT Daniels likes to take some chances, having thrown seven picks on the season, so there could be some opportunities for a very talented Cyclone secondary to grab a takeway or two.

TCU v West Virginia Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Verdict - Iowa State

This is a pretty clear-cut lean for the Cyclones. Iowa State’s defense is one of the best in college football, while a mediocre West Virginia offense is now missing its leading rusher.

Special Teams

Last week, Iowa State’s special teams were actually probably a slight net positive, with Sam Perkins able to do some damage in the punting game. A third blocker was added to punt protection, and that proved to be just the ticket.

The Mountaineer special teams are very solid. Punter Oliver Straw is averaging 42 yards per punt on the season and has stuck eight of them inside the 20. Meanwhile, Casey Legg is perfect on the season at 12/12 on field goals, though he hasn’t attempted a kick beyond 40 yards, and eight of those attempts have come inside 30 yards. Take the perfect record with a grain of salt, but it's impressive nonetheless.

The Verdict - Slight West Virginia Lean

It seems like Iowa State finally got a plan together to avoid the catastrophic mistakes in the punt game, which shores up easily the biggest weakness on special teams. However, West Virginia having a kicker that’s basically automatic inside 40 yards is notable, given how salty the Cyclone defense is in the red zone.

Winning Scale from 1 to 10

On a scale from Nickelback to Queen, I’m going to give this game an Eagles chance of winning. This game will probably be closer than any of us would like, and Iowa State’s offense will probably make us all very mad, but West Virginia’s defense is incredibly bad and their offense will probably have a bad day. I’ll give the Cyclones a slightly better-than-average chance of winning this one.

Final Analysis

This a strength-on-not-a-weakness-I-guess matchup when the Cyclone defense is on the field, but this game will almost assuredly come down to what the Iowa State offense looks like against another terrible defense. If the guys in red take a step forward and show improvement, they can do some damage. If we get the same offense we saw last week, it’s gonna be real ugly.

I’m happy to be proven wrong about the offense, but the beatings must continue until morale improves.

Final Score

Iowa State - 13

West Virginia - 9