Date: October 12, 2019
Time: 4:00pm EST
Venue: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium - Morgantown, WV
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
Streaming: ESPN 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 +10.5
The Cyclones are 0-1 on the road.
KNOW THE ENEMY
Series History: (5-2). The Riot Bowl has always been one of the more fun dates on the schedule, but with Iowa State's ascendance under Matt Campbell it's become one of the more dangerous, as well. The Mountaineers will look to rebound after last year's 30-14 demolition in Ames.
2019 Record: (3-2). The opening day aberration against Northern Iowa aside, the Cyclones' 2019 season has progressed very much the way you'd expect. They were unfortunate to come out on the wrong side of coin flip games against Iowa and Baylor, but they look to be finding themselves after putting TCU to the sword last weekend. That's bad news for us, but an 0-1 record on the road should give us some glimmer of hope.
Head Coach: Matt Campbell. There are few guys in the country who've done a better job than Matt Campbell has over the last 3 years at Iowa State, and even fewer who've done more with less. With back-to-back 8-win seasons and a contract that was recently extended through 2024, Campbell definitely has the Cyclones on the rise.
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Manning. Campbell's college teammate returns to Iowa State as offensive coordinator after a one year stint with the Indianapolis Colts. He was previously Campbell's OC both at Iowa State (2016-17) and Toledo (2012-15).
Defensive Coordinator: Jon Heacock. Heacock is in his fourth year in Ames after following Campbell over from Toledo. He was one of the pioneers of Star position that's now so prevalent hroughout the conference.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL...
WVU players to watch: QB Austin Kendall, RB Kennedy McKoy, RB Leddie Brown, RB Martell Pettaway, WR Sam James
Iowa State players to watch: NT Ray Lima, S Lawrence White, STAR Greg Eisworth, LB Mike Rose, LB Marcel Spears, O'Rien Vance
The Cyclones lost some important pieces from last year's unit that led the Big 12 in scoring defense and ranked 2nd in total, but enough of the core returned intact that they're definitely dangerous again this year. They haven't been quite as good statistically in 2019, but they still do all the same things that gave us so much trouble a year ago.
Schematically we'll see plenty of both 3 and 4-man fronts, which will again be anchored by senior Ray Lima at the nose while Matt Leo and Eyioma Uwazurike hold it down at defensive end. These guys don't make a ton of tackles, but they're good at standing their ground and occupying blockers for long enough to allow the linebackers and safeties to fly to the ball and make plays.
Speaking of which, those linebackers are probably the strength of the defense with returning starters Mike Rose and Marcel Spears lining up on either side of explosive newcomer O'Rien Vance. All three average over 6 tackles per game, and Vance actually leads the conference with 6.5 sacks.
The secondary is led by STAR Greg Eisworth, who will line up all over the place and is one of the very best defenders in the whole conference. He put in a 1st team All-Conference shift and led the team in tackles in 2018, and through 5 games seems on pace to do the same again this year. As for his sidekicks, safeties Braxton Lewis and especially Lawrence White are both solid players. Corners Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young are somewhat less well-known, but both got playing time last year as freshmen. Overall it's a group that probably tackles even better than they cover, which allows the Cyclones to be stout against the run without having to commit to a heavy box.
Defining success: Stay on schedule
You'll remember that we threw the ball a lot on early downs last year. A lot of times it worked, but unfortunately for us, it didn't against Iowa State. It felt like we'd get the ball and then 3 seconds later it was already 3rd down and Grier was running for his life and nobody had any idea what to do about it. That's why the key for me this weekend is to stay on schedule and sustain some drives. The shot plays will still be there, but I expect us to play much more conservatively on early downs than we did a year ago and really pick our spots regarding when to be aggressive. Keep it simple, take what's there, and when we do get to 3rd down, try to make it 3rd and manageable.
WHEN THEY HAVE THE BALL...
WVU players to watch: DT Dante Stills, NT Darius Stills, LB Josh Chandler, BANDIT VanDarius Cowan, SPEAR Kwantel Raines, FS Tykee Smith
Iowa State players to watch: QB Brock Purdy, RB Johnnie Lang, WR Tarique Milton, WR Deshaunte Jones, TE Charlie Kolar
Iowa State comes into this weekend ranked 21st nationally in scoring, 15th in total offense, and 18th in explosive passing plays despite losing arguably their two best players from a year ago in David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler. Predictably, the loss of the former (thank god he's gone) has made them much more balanced than they were a year ago, but it's a testament to coordinator Tom Manning that they're still as effective as ever. Aesthetically they'll remind you a lot of the group we saw last week - lots of QB run and RPO mixed in with some shots down the field - which obviously means that everything starts with the quarterback.
I was still a bit skeptical about Brock Purdy coming into this season, but through 5 games I have to admit that like Montgomery before him, he's become one of the best in the country at his position even though nobody outside of our conference seems to know about him. He's completing 71% of his passes this year and has a clean 10:2 touchdown-to-int ratio. That's a full 5% improvement from where he was a year ago, which is even more impressive considering that he's throwing about 12 more passes per game. He's also extremely dangerous as a runner, evidenced by the fact that he leads them in yards, attempts, and touchdowns on the ground.
The skill positions have taken a small steps backwards in star power, but it's tough to score 38 points per game without somebody to give the ball to. Chief among them are running back Johnnie Lang, who plays second fiddle to Purdy in the running game, wide receivers Tarique Milton and Deshaunte Jones, and tight end Charlie Kolar. Kolar and Jones are the primary chain movers in their passing game, while Milton has taken over as the big play guy and is averaging 22 yards per reception.
Up front they have a veteran group that returns 4 starters from a year ago, and through 5 games they've allowed just 7 sacks and 16 TFL (3rd nationally). Should be another good test for our underappreciated defensive front.
Defining success: Limit explosive plays in the passing game; get off the field
Given the similarities described above between Texas and Iowa State, I think we have to stick to the M.O. that had us in position to steal it from the Longhorns until our QB threw his 3rd and 4th interceptions of the game. Simply put, we can't let them break our backs with big plays in the passing game. Purdy QB power is obviously a concern, but we can't let the RPO and play-action stuff that builds off of that kill us. We did a great job of limiting Texas last weekend, and I expect a similar effort tomorrow will yield similar results. However, one thing we really need to improve on from last weekend is finishing drives and getting ourselves off the field when we have them backed up in 3rd and long. I think a reasonable goal there would be to hold them to 40% conversions - we do that, we'll be right in it.
This weekend should be fun - two teams who are starting to feel pretty good about who they are and are ready to start building some momentum for the stretch run. The Cyclones are rightly favored, but we gave #11 Texas absolutely everything they wanted last week before the blood lost from a series of self-inflicted became too much to overcome. I expect both the team and the crowd to be extremely locked in, and if the former can replicate last week's performance then we should again be in with a shout heading into the 4th quarter. Let's bring it home this time.
West Virginia 34-30 Iowa State