When West Virginia joined the Big 12, there were two nearly automatic wins on the schedule: Kansas Jayhawks and Iowa St. Cyclones. [Yes, 2013 happened but the point remains.] Former head coach Paul Rhodes was let go at the end of the 2015 season and Iowa State raided Toledo for head coach Matt Campbell. Campbell has quickly put his stamp on the program. Going into 2018, fans knew the Cyclones could be dangerous but no one could expect what happened in Ames. The offense was out of sync and the Cyclones started freshman Brock Purdy who proved to be lightning in a bottle.
GET TO KNOW THE ENEMY
Where are they from?: Ames, IA
#BRAND Slogan: #ProveIt (an interesting slogan and one that seems totally ISU)
Recommended Blog: Wide Right & Natty Lite (If you read any other SB Nation site, make it this one)
Famous Alumni: George Washington Carver, 33th Vice President Henry Wallace and Seneca Wallace (no relation)
Conference: Big 12
THE HEAD COACH
Matt Campbell came to Iowa State from Toledo. In his three seasons at Iowa State, Campbell has already turned a perennial loser (Iowa State has a school record of 527-636-46) into a dangerous team. In his three seasons at ISU, Campbell has compiled a 19-19 record which may not seem impressive but if ISU finishes over .500 this season, you would have to go back to Charles Mayser who coached from 1915-1919 to find someone who coached more than 4 seasons with a record above .500.
SCOUTIN’ THE CYCLONES
In 2017, Campbell seemed to turn the corner with the Cyclones, going 8-5 following a 3-9 year in his first year. Coming into 2018, there were higher expectations of a team that has not always been competitive in the Big 12. 2018 started poorly with the Cyclones losing in-state rival Iowa 13-3 and then losing to #5 Oklahoma 37-27. The game was more competitive than it seemed as Iowa State kept it within one-score most of the second half. A win against Akron but another loss to TCU forced Campbell to switch quarterbacks. Third-string QB Brock Purdy came in against Oklahoma State and ignited a 5-game winning streak. The Texas Longhorns finally broke the streak with a 24-10 win but the Cyclones finished the regular season with wins over K-State and Drake. In the Alamo Bowl against Washington State Cougars, Purdy nearly tied the game at 28 but his 2-point attempt failed.
Who did they lose?
David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler. Montgomery led the league in missed/broken tackles and nearly half of them seemed to come against the Mountaineers. Hakeem Butler proved to be a matchup nightmare for teams and he averaged 22 yards per catch in his senior season, one that saw him record 1,319 yards and 9 TDs.
Who do they return?
Brock Purdy. I can make an argument that Sam Ehlinger, the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year is a poor man’s Brock Purdy. Purdy averaged more yards per attempt (10.2 vs 7.7) than Ehlinger, more yards per carry (3.1 vs 2.9) and threw a touchdown every 13 passes vs 17 for Ehlinger. Burdy was a spark plug for the Cyclones. He took over for Zeb Noland who started the first four games but went 1-3. Purdy came in the second series of the fifth game and never let go of the job.
On the defensive side, the Cyclones return Ray Lima who is a force in the middle of the defensive line along with sack-leader JaQuan Bailey. Bailey had 8 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2018, not to mention 5 pass knockdowns and a forced fumble/fumble recovery. Bailey is a monster at end.
Why should West Virginia be worried?
With the most talented offense, the Mountaineers laid a huge egg in Ames last year. They were ambushed and the game plan and player mentality was a total loss. Even in 2017, as the Cyclones went 8-5, the Mountaineers barely beat Iowa State. Now, armed with a talented offense and defense, Matt Campbell will be looking to take his program to the next step.
Why should West Virginia not be worried?
Teams have tape on Purdy and West Virginia will be armed with a new defense. Iowa State has to replace two of their very best players ever and that is not an easy transition. Can the new running backs slip tackles like Montgomery or will they be stopped at 3 yards? Can a new receiver catch those 50/50 jump balls like Butler? If some new faces don’t step up on offense, it could give the Mountaineers just enough to slip past the Cyclones.