Got a little scary at the end there, eh? I'm not sure what the record is for buttholes puckered per capita, but I'd imagine Mountainer Field was in the neighborhood at around 7pm Saturday. For the third time this year we let a team that was all but dead and buried make a game out of it, but fortunately we were able to hold off their rally to secure our fifth Top 15 victory in Dana's tenure.
Revisiting the Keys
Friday we talked about the need to stay patient offensively and swarm Montgomery on defense. I'd say we were 2/2. Montgomery gained 116 yards on 26 carries and added another 17 on 2 receptions, but aside from wriggling away once or twice he was never really able to get loose for a big play. More importantly, we were able to keep him out of the end zone, most notably on those three straight shots from inside our 5.
As for the offense, I thought we did an outstanding job of taking what they gave us, as evidenced by the changes we forced them into at halftime. If you read my preview, you know that's something that not too many teams can say they've done this year.
That was a little more like it
A big part of that success was our reinvigorated run game. I'm not sure if it was two weeks of Holgs preaching toughness finally sinking in, or if he literally had a come to Jesus moment with Spavs where he politely asked him to run the damn ball, but whatever it was, it worked. We ran the damn ball, and we ran it well. For the first time this year, we got all three of our backs involved, and they responded with a gritty 180 yards on 42 carries. Crawford and McKoy ran well, in particular, with the latter effectively sealing the game with his conversion of that 3rd and 17 late in the 4th quarter.
Hopefully this makes the lightbulb come on. We discussed last week how it felt a bit like our offense was floating without an identity, and was running the ball almost for the sake of it. This week it felt like we ran it with purpose, and the effects of that success were clear to see in the passing game, as well - it created space on the perimeter for quick hitters and improved our play-action game, allowing Will to have arguably his most efficienct game as a Mountaineer (20/25, 12.6 YPA, 204 rating). I don't want to go to crazy with praise here because we did get shut out in the second half, but we moved the ball consistently well against a good defense and only had one 3-and-out the entire game.
Simply put, the defense came to play. Down 4 starters, they set the tone early and did not let up, and with the exception of one drive in the second half, Iowa State didn't really do much for 60 minutes. It's hard to disagree with Gibby when he opined that they didn't even deserve 16.
Of particular note were the goalline stand, when we stuffed Montgomery so thoroughly on downs 1-3 that we dissuaded Matt Campbell from going for it on 4th, and the stands on 3rd and 4th and 7 on their final drive, when we closed on and knocked the ball away from those two big mothers who'd been wearing us down for much of the second half. Just an all-around great performance from our young defense, and one we can hopefully build on as we head to Manhattan next weekend.
Down with the Atmosphere Assassins
First, let me say that our Jumbotrons are incredible pieces of equipment that undoubtedly augment the in-stadium viewing experience. The HD screens are incredible for both in-game viewing and for capturing hilarious unscripted crowd moments such as Charles Hayes dancing against Texas Tech. Even some of the gimmicks can be fun, such as Saturday's Simba-Cam.
Having said that, I hate it when we feel the need to stuff Jumbotron garbage into situations that don't call for it. As my dad put it on Sunday morning, "They put that crap on and it just makes me sit down."
One such moment occured late in Saturday's game on Iowa State's final drive when we got rolling on one of the better LET'S GO! -> MOUNTAINEERS! chants in recent memory. It felt like 2 straight minutes of maximum participation shouting, and it was a powerful experience. Then, our video guys stepped in with one of those canned, atmopshere-manufacturing clips that we've seen 10,000 times, and within 15 seconds the chant had died out. Our video board guys mean well, but they need to realize that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.
Second half shutout aside, I thought this was a really good performance. That's a talented, physical football team that we just beat, and we beat them playing their way. Special credit to our lineman on both sides of the ball; they established the line of scrimmage and really set the tone for the rest of our guys.
I also thought this was maybe the best game our coaches have had all year, too. Excellent gameplans on both sides, and the guys executed it well, which I think is especially encouraging with Kansas State on the horizon - they play a similar brand of football and seeing it work so well this week should give our guys confidence heading into Saturday. See you then.