The Climb is BACK! Perhaps the most encouraging thing in a Saturday rife with encouraging things was the way our Mountaineers fought back after getting off to the worst start imaginable. That resilience in the face of adversity is something this team can hang its hat on going forward and offers the best argument that we can actually right this ship and turn the 2021 season into something positive. In any case, kicking TCU's ass off a bye week when we absolutely had to was a welcome change of pace from the previous month, and if nothing else it should ensure a packed out and locked in Mountaineer Field for Iowa State this Saturday. LFG.
Date: October 30th, 2021
Kickoff: 2:00PM ET
Where: Mountaineer Field at Mylan Puskar Stadium - Morgantown, WV
Tickets: General Public
Channel: N/A - ESPN+
Online Streaming: ESPN app with a valid ESPN+ subscription
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Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)
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Spread: WVU +7
The Mountaineers open as 7-point home dogs with the point total set at 49.5. Our last few games against these guys have all been within about 5 points of that number making an over/under bet a stay away for me, but if we can replicate last week's energy level then I think we should be able to cover those 7 points at home.
Rainy - high 54/48 low - Wind 7 mph
We may be getting our first bad weather game of the year, gang - Saturday's forecast looks chilly and overcast with plenty of rain in the area. Not ideal conditions, but somehow that suits this matchup just fine.
Where are they from? The Cyclones are our closest geographical conference rival with their home in Ames sitting a mere 733 miles northwest of Morgantown.
All-time series record: 5-4. The good guys still hold a slim advantage, but Iowa State has stormed back recently with three straight beatdowns going back to 2018.
Last game: State put us to the sword last year in Ames, winning 42-6. Revenge is a dish best served at 54 degrees with a side of rain.
Head coach: Matt Campbell. (6th season, 36-29). Campbell has completely transformed the Iowa State program since taking over in 2016 and recently extended his contract through 2028. There aren't many coaches in America with a cooler seat right now.
2021 record: 5-2. The Cyclones have won three straight and look like a contender in the conference after dropping two early contests against Iowa and Baylor.
NUMBERS THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
.106/7.36 - Iowa State’s EPA (expected points added) margin per play and per 60 plays, both of which rank 14th nationally. EPA measures how often a team creates positive value as well as how much positive value they create, and Iowa State’s number is the best of any team on our schedule. Translation - these guys are likely even better than their 5-2 record.
26.3/33.3 - The Cyclones' average starting field position for and against this year, good for 103rd and 123rd nationally, respectively. Iowa State's special teams have already cost them one game this year and I feel like they're going to have to play a role on Saturday if an upset is in the cards.
51 - Missed tackles forced by Iowa State running back Breece Hall this year. That ranks 5th nationally and is 20 more than we've forced as a team. I don't think he's quite the death machine that David Montgomery was but man is he doing a hell of an impression.
41% - The Cyclones use play action on 41% of their dropbacks and Purdy's passing grade is an outstanding 90.9 on those throws, averaging 10.5 yards per attempt with 7 touchdowns. His 73.5/7.4/4 splits on non-play action throws are much more pedestrian. More on this in a second.
122 - Combined targets for wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson (55), tight end Charlie Kolar (42), and Breece Hall (25) through 7 games this year. That's more than 17 targets per game and accounts for 63% of Brock Purdy's passing volume. They have other weapons, but these guys are the guys they want to get the ball to.
262 - Yards per game allowed by the Iowa State defense, which is best in the conference by a wide margin and ranks 3rd nationally. Night and day from the unit we saw last weekend in Fort Worth, and a much better litmus test for whether our offensive improvements are sustainable.
KEYS TO THE GAME
WIN ON FIRST DOWN
Iowa State is pretty good at most of what they do offensively, but the one area where they're exceptional is the play action passing game. Brock Purdy's 41.4% play action rate ranks 20th nationally among quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks and he's been elite on those plays, completing 75% of his passes at 10.5 yards per attempt with 7 touchdowns and just 1 turnover worthy play. I think we need to try to limit those opportunities this weekend, and the key to doing that is winning against the run on first down.
The 'Clones have run the ball 63% of the time on first down this year (compared to 42% and 40% on second and third) and if you let them gash you and consistently get into second and third and manageable it opens up that play action game and brings out the best version of their offense. However, if you can knock them off schedule on first down and take play action off the table they're much less dangerous. It's actually fairly similar to what we were tasked with last weekend at TCU, and if we're as successful against the Cyclones as we were against the Frogs (they put up decent numbers but we held them to their season low in yardage and over a yard less per carry than their season average) then I expect our defense to keep us in the game.
TAKE WHAT THEY GIVE US, AVOID DOEGSASTERS
Earlier I mentioned Iowa State's impressive defensive record. Here are the offenses they've played so far this year:
Baylor (431 ypg vs FBS, 37th nationally)
Oklahoma State (378, 78th)
Kansas State (357, 93rd)
Kansas (349, 99th)
Iowa (311, 116th)
UNLV (290, 123rd)
Aside from Baylor, who hung 21 first half points on them before going into a shell, it's not exactly a murderer's row, right? I don't want to take anything away from the 'Clones because they certainly contributed to those numbers being what they are, but I really don't think they're ungettable in the way that somebody like Georgia is. Objectively bad offenses have found ways to move the ball and score points against them, and if Doege can just manage the game and avoid making any of his trademark errors I think we’ll have our opportunities to score some points, as well.
SPLASH PLAYS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
We're all adults who can handle the truth here, right? The truth is that Iowa State is probably sliiiiiightly better than us on both offense and defense. At the very least they've been more consistent in those phases than we have to this point. However, as I mentioned above they've struggled a bit on special teams this year which makes me think we need to win that phase soundly to win this game. A big return, a field-flipping punt, a blocked FG - we need to produce those kinds of splash plays on special teams to make life easier for our other two units.
HOW AFRAID SHOULD WE BE?
8 out of 10. Depending on your advanced analytics subscription package, Iowa State is the best team we've played so far this year. They have a great defense, a veteran quarterback, and quality skill players that fit what they try to do offensively. We're going to have to play at least as well as we did against TCU to have a shot.
The only thing I know for certain about Saturday is that Mountaineer Field is going to be loud. Home dog bad weather games low-key produce some my favorite crowds - no frontrunners or fair weather fans asking you to sit down, just 55,000 die hards ready to ride or die with the old gold and blue. Toss in the Iowa State revenge factor, a fan-friendly 2pm kickoff, and a Mountaineer Nation back on board with the climb after TCU and you have all the makings of a rockin' atmosphere.
On the field things are less certain. Can our defense maintain its TCU energy level for four more quarters? Can our offense pick up where it left off and give the defense the support it deserves against a much tougher opponent? If the answer to one or both of those questions is yes then I think we're in with a fair shout to pull off the upset. If the answer to those questions is no then we're probably looking at our fourth straight ass-whipping from these jokers.
Me personally, I'm a homerific optimist who sees the former as much more likely. I think the defense comes out on fire, feasting on the crowd's energy en route to negative plays, third and longs, and Brock Purdy running for his life. I expect the offense to start a bit slower, but as long as they don't give away any early possessions I think they'll eventually find their feet. Keep them in the 20's and I like our chances. See you in the Blue Lot.
West Virginia 24-20 Iowa State