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West Virginia Football First Look: Iowa State Cyclones

The surprise team in 2017 now has to deal with something worse than increased competition: expectations

West Virginia v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

Gameday: Saturday, October 13, 2018

Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa

Opponent: Iowa St. Cyclones

Predicted Season: 6-6, Offense - 78th ; Defense - 34th

Streak: West Virginia has won the last five

Iowa State is what Kansas is trying to achieve. For the past few years, the Big 12 has been defined with Iowa State near the bottom of the rankings. Last year, under second year head coach Matt Campbell, the Cyclones won 8 games, their most wins in a season since a 9-3 campaign in 2000! The Cyclones were what you expect a young team that comes out of nowhere to be: inefficient on offense but efficient and opportunistic on defense.

Now as they enter the 2018 season, Iowa State isn’t projected to be the team that finishes ahead of Kansas. With a host of playmakers back, teams certainly won’t overlook ISU this year but the Cyclones have a legitimate shot to play in back-to-back bowl games since the 2011-2012 seasons.

Offense

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

Quarterback Kyle Kempt did the impossible, he got his first start against the best team in the league and played like a MVP candidate. For one game he was everything you want out of a QB. Outside of that one game however, he was safe. Now, after being granted a sixth year of eligibility, can he develop the necessary downfield throws to get teams to choose between stacking the box and defending the pass.

If Kempt is able to make teams back off the line of scrimmage, running back David Montgomery will be able to build on his 1,100 yard, 11 TD sophomore season. Behind Montgomery is senior Mike Warren, who rushed for 1,300 yards as a freshman in 2015. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Montgomery forced 104 missed tackles last year. A little bit of help from his QB and his OL could result in a special season for David.

What may make it difficult for the Iowa State offense is the loss of Allen Lazard, the best receiver in ISU history. Lazard caught 241 passes for 3,360 yards and 26 touchdowns in his career. Now Campbell will have to ask Hakeem Butler to improve significantly on his 41 catch sophomore campaign while Deshaunte Jones mans the slot. A little help from the receivers coupled with improvement from Kempt could take the offense to top 40-50 rankings and be the difference between 8 wins and 6 wins.

Campbell has to be excited to get three of his starting linemen back. Julian Good-Jones, Josh Knipfel and Bryce Meeker all return while Colin Newell has the staff raving. Newell is a versatile interior linemen who gives the staff a chance to tinker with the best possible lineup.

Defense

The Cyclones defensive strategy was straight out of Bill Snyder’s backyard. The Cyclones sacrificed completion percentage for yards. You were allowed to complete the pass but it would be for a short gain and there would be no run after the catch. The Cyclones ranked near the bottom in completion percentage but near the top in yards per completion. The Cyclones buoyed this with a strong run defense and viola! you have a defense capable of winning more games than it loses.

TCU v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

Ray Lima, a 300-pound mountain of a man in the center of the defense returns to help anchor a stout run defense. He’ll be teamed up with JaQuan Bailey who finished the season with 11 TFL and 7 sacks, the latter of which led the team. Those two will be tasked with keeping Big 12 offenses behind the chains.

Behind those two will be the man who has to replace Joel Lanning. The story of Lanning is fascinating. The former starting quarterback for the Cyclones switched to middle linebacker when it became apparent the staff was going to go in a different direction. Instead of pouting, Lanning asked what he could do to help the team win. What he could do, it turns out, is play middle linebacker. Lanning finished the season 11 TFL, 6 sacks, 1 INT and 16 stuffs. Lanning was a monster in the middle for the Cyclones.

Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey will try to help fill the void created by Lanning’s departure. Spears finished with 81.5 tackles last year, 1 behind Lanning while Harvey had 4 sacks and 5 pass blocks.

Campbell’s defense does get a shot in the arm with three senior cornerbacks, Brian Peavy, D’Andre Payne, and De’Monte Ruth, but now has to turn to sophomore Lawrence White, he of 13 tackles last year, as the elder statesmen of the safeties group. Ole Miss transfer Greg Eisworth will be in the mix as well.

Special Teams

Iowa State will be breaking in a new punter after Colin Downing graduated, along with placekicker Garret Owens. Downing will be replaced with an Australian import Corey Dunn.

Game Outlook

With the game in Iowa, this will be a tough battle for the Mountaineers and don’t be surprised if this is one of our lower scoring affairs this season. The Cyclones are based in the image of Kansas State with tough, hard-nosed, physical defense and hopefully efficient offense. This game has the chance to be a stumbling block for West Virginia.