Date: October 13, 2018
Time: 7:00pm EST
Venue: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
How to Watch/Listen
Streaming: FoxSports 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 IMGon TuneIn Radio.
Spread: WVU -6.5
Love it. White vs black. Good vs evil. At the very least, the match-up should look fantastic.
Know Your Enemy
Series History: (5-1). Iowa State has always played us tough, but their lone win against us came during our worst season of this century. We've now taken 4 in a row from them, including last year's 20-16 nailbiter in Morgantown.
2018 Record: 2-3. The Cyclones record may not be overly impressive to this point, but they’ve been right there in every game they’ve played. What’s more, they appear to be trending in the right direction after last week’s 48-42 win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
Head Coach: Matt Campbell. Campbell in now in his third year at Iowa State after a successful stint in Toledo. He's seen as one of college football's rising stars - a guy who regularly does more with less.
Defensive Coordinator: John Heacock. Heacock followed Campbell from Toledo to Ames, and is now in his 5th year as his head coach's defensive coordinator. Much like his boss, Heacock is one of those guys who's units regularly outperform expectations.
By the Numbers
Welcome to “By the Numbers”!
First, the weekly caveat: Google Sheets mobile limits my radar chart options so all numbers are displayed in terms of percentiles. Obviously the higher the better.
Second, definitions for the uninitiated:
Big Play Differential = (Big Plays For - Big Plays Against)
Toxic Differential = Big Play Differential + Turnover Margin
NFP, Net Field Position = Average Starting Field Position - Opponent Average Starting Field Position
The fact that we're just 6-point favorites despite the stark contrast in our radars tells you everything you need to know about Jack Trice and the challenge that we face Saturday night. Iowa State is one of those teams that isn't overwhelmingly good at anything in particular, and yet they somehow manage to be in every game that they play. A couple things to keep an eye on tomorrow night: 3rd downs when we have the rock, and turnovers.
Starting with the former, one of the best things about these radar charts is that they make it easy to identify things that we do well that our opponents do poorly, and I see no bigger disparity than the one between our 4th-ranked 3rd down offense and their 118th-ranked 3rd down defense. We’ve been a machine on 3rd downs so far this year, and if Iowa State can’t get off the field against us they’re in for a long night.
The latter doesn’t require as much explanation - we’re a better team than they are, and upsets are tough to pull off without turnovers. We’ve been extremely careless with the football so far this year, and if that continues this weekend it’s going to be a lot closer than we’d like.
When we have the ball..
Players to watch: DL JaQuan Bailey, LB Willie Harvey, LB Marcel Spears, NB Braxton Lewis, SS Greg Eisworth, CB Brian Peavy
Defining success: Take. Care. Of. The. Damn. Ball. And attack downfield.
Iowa State’s defense has been the force that’s kept them in games this year, surrendering just 350 yards and 24 points per game. Fortunately for our sakes, they don’t force a ton of turnovers, but they still get into the backfield and create plenty of chaos.
From a talent standpoint they appear to have good players all over the field. JaQuan Bailey is back at defensive end and leads one of the more disruptive groups in the conference, but the real strength of the unit is the back seven. Willie Harvey, Marcel Spears, and Mike Rose are all somewhere between good and very good at linebacker, and on the back end, Greg Eisworth, Lawrence White, and Braxton Lewis are all extremely active against both the run and the pass. Brian Peavy is also still around and holding things down on the outside after a 2nd team All-Conference campaign a year ago.
As for the best way to attack them, a quick glance at their radar profile doesn’t seem to show an obvious weakness. However, if you get a bit more granular you can see that despite ranking 28th nationally against the run and 70th against the pass, they do give up a fair amount of big plays, especially through the air, which obviously plays right into what we do offensively. We’ll need to be humming on our short-to-intermediate stuff, as well, but if we pick our spots well they’re definitely getable down the field.
When they have the ball...
Players to watch: QB Brock Purdy, RB David Montgomery, WR Hakeem Butler
Defining success: Stop the QB run
Iowa State’s offense averaged just over 17.5 points per game through their first four games of the season, but you have to think they’ve turned a corner after exploding for 48 last week in Brock Purdy’s debut.
Prior to last week, their two main playmakers have again been running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler. Montgomery was arguably the most underrated back in the country a year ago and appears to be a wrecking ball again this year, averaging 83 hard-earned yards per game on just over 4 yards per carry despite running behind a mediocre offensive line. At 6’6, Butler provides an equally imposing physical presence in the passing game, and is especially good in jump ball situations down the field. They have a couple other guys who will make plays in the passing game, but previously, if we could slow down Montgomery and Butler, we could feel pretty good about slowing down their whole offense.
However, as I mentioned above, Brock Purdy changes things. We obviously don’t have too much to go on, but make no mistake - the lad has skills, and he poses some some unique challenges compared to the statue Kempt. I got some Sam Ehlinger-y vibes with maybe a whiff or two of Skylar Howard from his performance last week, both in the way he plays and in the way Matt Campbell used him. He flashed a strong arm by completing 18 of his 23 passes for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns, but also carried 19 times for 84 yards and another score, and considering the trouble that we sometimes have with running quarterbacks, that’s where I expect our focus to be. Montgomery doing Montgomery things is a given (provided he’s healthy enough to play), but we can’t let Purdy get going on the ground, because if he does it opens up all of the play action things that they like to do to attack down the field.
Defining success: Hold them to FG’s if they get to the red zone
Much like our opponent’s last week, Iowa State struggles to finish drives. If we can consistently hold them to 3’s instead of 6’s, I think we’ll eventually be able to run away from them.
Let’s get this out of the way - we’re a better football team than Iowa State. Simple as. However, they’re also one of “those” teams, and Jack Trice is one of “those” places. We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves tomorrow, and whether or not we’re a team to be taken seriously. I think that we are.
West Virginia 41 Iowa State 20