Date: November 4th, 2017
Time: 3:30pm EST
Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, West Virginia
Streaming: WatchESPN or the WatchESPN app
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG on TuneIn Radio.
Spread: West Virginia -2.5 (Oddshark)
The Mountaineers are rocking white-blue-white this weekend. In my opinion this is one of our better looks and should contrast beautifully with the Cyclones’ cardinal and white.
The Cyclones are wearing their cardinal-white-white combination. Nice and simple. I’m not gonna lie, I really like it.
Know the Enemy
Series History: The Mountaineers lead the all-time series 4-1 after winning the last three games on the trot, including a 49-19 win last year in Ames.
Record: (6-2). Iowa State has been one of the big surprises in college football this year, surging to an impressive 6-2 record with Top 5 wins against Oklahoma in Norman and home against TCU. They have a way of making teams play the way they want to play, and to this point it’s been very effective for them.
Head Coach: Matt Campbell. Campbell’s in his second year in Ames after holding the same position at Toledo from 2011-2015. His quick turnaround job at Iowa State has made him one of the hottest names in the country.
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Manning. Manning is in his second year at Iowa State after following Matt Campbell over from Toledo. The two were college teammates at Mount Union and are steadily getting the Cyclone offense where they want it to be.
Defensive Coordinator: Jon Heacock. Heacock is also in his second year at Iowa State after following Campbell from Toledo. He has 33 years of experience, including a stint as head coach at Youngstown State from 2001-2009.
By the Numbers
As a reminder, I define explosive plays as runs of 10+ yards and passes of 20+ yards based on data found on cfbstats.com.
- Explosive Play % is calculated by dividing the number of explosive plays generated (or allowed) by the total number of plays run (or faced).
- Big Play Differential is the number of explosive plays generated minus the number of explosive plays allowed.
- Toxic Differential is simply Big Play Differential plus Turnover Margin.
On paper this looks like it should be a fun match up. We have been better than them pretty much across the board offensively while they return the favor on the other side of the ball. Fortunately this is just a game and not a championship?
When we have the ball
Players to watch: LB Joel Lanning, LB Marcel Spears, LB Willie Harvey, SS Reggie Wilkerson, FS Kamari Cotton-Moya, DE J.D. Waggoner
Iowa State has a ton of experience on the defensive side of the ball, returning 9 starters from last year’s unit without even counting two of this year’s star performers. Small wonder then that they’ve been the driving force behind State’s 6-2 record. They come into Saturday ranked second in the conference in both scoring and total defense and are Top 20 nationally with 17 takeaways. Personnel-wise, almost all of the names will sound familiar, but they’ll line up a bit different this year than they have in years past. They still list their base as a 4-3 and certainly have the people to play that if they want, but their success in conference play has been spurred by a switch to a 3-3-5 look that’s not terribly dissimilar from our own.
They’re led up front by end JD Waggoner and nose guard Ray Lima, with JaQuan Bailey rotating in and playing what they call the “Leo”, which seems like a 3-4 outside linebacker type of role. Four starters return on the back end, as well, with Everett Edwards sliding over to the Star (similar to our Bandit) to accommodate the switch in formation. The strength of the unit though, and the group that allows them to play the way that they do, is at linebacker. Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey will play on either side of former QB Joel Lanning in the middle, and together the three of them fly around and clean up just about everything that happens within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, which allows them to commit most or all of their five defensive backs to stopping the pass.
Key to the game: Take what they give us, finish drives
Iowa State is statistically pretty good at preventing big plays and from what I've seen of them (parts of Oklahoma, most of TCU) they play pretty conservatively on defense. They're also good at creating turnovers when teams get impatient with nickling and diming them all game. We got impatient against a similar look last week and threw 4 picks into it, and with the weather looking crappy again this weekend we can't repeat those mistakes.
That’s why I think that it’s absolutely imperative that we stay patient and simply take what they give us. Us being us, you know that we’re still going to take our shots downfield, but we have to pick our spots better than we did a week ago, and we have to understand that punts are ok this weekend; forced throws and turnovers are not. If we hit enough of that short to intermediate stuff it’ll eventually open up the home run ball, but we can’t force it.
Another thing that’s crucial this weekend is putting an exclamation point on our drives with touchdowns. Allowing red zone TD’s is actually a relative weakness of theirs, and they make it too much of a grind to get down there to not reward ourselves when we do. I’m expecting this one to be a relatively low-scoring affair, and in situations like that, getting 6 instead of 3 is even more important.
When they have the ball
Players to watch: QB Kyle Kempt, RB David Montgomery, WR Allan Lazard, WR Hakeem Butler, WR Trever Ryen
Gibby this week said that watching tape of the Cyclones reminded him of the way we looked over the last few years. I honestly got a little bit more of a Kansas State vibe when watching them, but you can see the point he’s making. They’re going to come out in a bunch of tight formations and pound the ball like State would, but like ourselves over the years, a big part of why they do that is to set up shots downfield in the passing game. Statistically they’re not overly impressive, ranking just 6th in the conference in scoring and 8th in total offense, but they have an identity that works very well for them.
The main personnel change from a year ago is the insertion of Kyle Kempt at quarterback. Kempt took the reigns prior to the Oklahoma game and the Cyclones haven’t looked back. When you watch him play there’s not a whole lot that really jumps out at you, but in his case I mean that as a compliment, kind of like how you don’t really want to notice a cornerback. Honestly my first thought watching the TCU game was that he reminded me a little bit of Ken Dorsey - he’s not that athletic and has a bit of a noodle arm, but he takes really good care of the football and gets the it to his playmakers in positions to succeed. And man, do they have some playmakers.
Starting in the backfield, David Montgomery has ascended to become arguably the premier back in the Big 12, and is probably one of the better ones nationwide that nobody outside of our conference knows about. Montgomery only averages about 4.6 yards per carry and 90 yards per game, but he’s an absolute bull to bring down and his physicality sets the tone for the rest of the offense.
That physicality is present in their targets on the outside, as well, where Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler both go about 6’5 230. I’d like to think we match up better out there than most, but both of those guys are having good years and the chemistry they have with Kempt on those back shoulder jump balls has been really tough for teams to stop. Trever Ryen and Michael Murdock are the main operators out of the slot, with Ryen in particular being a pretty slick operator in the open field. Overall, the group is probably a step down talent-wise from what we saw last week, but again, they’re very good at what they do.
Key to the game: Wrap up Montgomery
If there’s one thing I wanted everyone to take away from the previous few paragraphs, it’s that regardless of what happens, Iowa State is going to stay true to themselves. They’re just going to do what they do, and unfortunately what they do is give the ball to David Montgomery. This worries me for a couple of reasons. First, we already watched him do work on us a year ago when he rang up 141 yards on us as a true freshman - he’s had a taste of Mountaineer, and I wouldn’t doubt that he liked it. Second, the guy is Top 3 nationally in forced missed tackles this year, and with the exception of David Long, Kyzir White, and maybe Al Benton, our tackling has been pretty shoddy. If I were them, I would run the ball until we give them a reason not to.
That’s why I think the key to this game will be slowing down Montgomery, and it has to be a group effort. The line has to stand their ground and keep our backers blocker-free and the back 8 has to fly to the ball and gang-tackle, because Montgomery has been destroying people 1-on-1 all year. However, if we can swarm him, particularly on early downs, and force Kempt to beat us then I like our chances. Kempt is a very effective passer when the threat of the run is present, but he’s much less so in obvious passing situations like 2nd or 3rd and long. He’s also not very mobile, so I think if we pick our spots correctly we can get to him with the blitz. Again, it’s going to take a group effort, but that’s the way we get the W tomorrow. If Montgomery runs wild you can forget about it.
Players to watch: PR Trever Ryen
The Cyclones have been pretty good on special teams this year, averaging over 12 yards per return on punts (20th nationally) and doing a really nice job covering them, as well. The kicker has missed a few field goals here and there but puts about two-thirds of his kickoffs into the endzone, so you know he’s got a good leg. However, one area where they seem vulnerable is covering those kickoffs if he doesn’t produce a touchback. They’re allowing nearly 25 yards per return and have already had one taken back for a touchdown on them, so I think that’s an area where we should look to exploit them if we get the chance.
We have to strap it on extra tight this week, gang. Iowa State is a big, physical football team and they do not do things to beat themselves. We have to have this one, though. Have to. The fans need it, the players need it, and Dana needs it. A win makes us bowl eligible, gets us a little bit of mojo back, and gives Dana a much-needed win over a Top 15 opponent. Let’s go get it.
West Virginia 31 Iowa State 21