Talk about two ships passing in the night. Iowa State-West Virginia is a tale of two teams going in opposite directions. The Cyclones are at an all-time high, coming off wins vs. the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the country over the last few weeks. In that same span, the Mountaineers have gone 2-2 and have given up 152 points in the process. Oof!
And a by-product of all that? While the ISU fans are dreaming big about a New Year’s Day bowl game, coach Matt Campbell is proving to be a hot commodity on the coaching carousel. And of course, big-money teams like Florida, Nebraska and Tennessee are sure to be talking about bringing him in to re-energize their football programs.
WVU is not without hope to turn its ship around. The receiving corps of David Sills, Gary Jennings and Ka’Raun White (150 catches combined) is still one of the best in the country, giving quarterback Will Grier plenty of weapons to keep the Mountaineers in any game. The defense has also gotten opportunistic, getting a pick-six, blocking a punt for another score and getting four turnovers against OSU last week.
ISU’s Kyle Kempt, who started the season fourth on the QB depth chart, is now 4-0 as a starter. His steady play has skyrocketed the Cyclones into the top 15 of the rankings and on the inside track toward the Big 12 title game.
Iowa State at West Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: West Virginia -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Non-destructive Cyclones
For Iowa State, it’s been pretty simple: This team just doesn’t beat itself. Believe it or not, the Cyclones have yet to lose a fumble in 2017. In fact, they are eighth nationally in turnover margin, having lost seven interceptions while the defense has gained 17 turnovers. They are also one of the more disciplined teams in college football, ranking fifth in penalties (31 in eight games).
Few turnovers. Few penalties. Good defense. That’s a formula that will win you a lot of football games. If they can keep their discipline in Morgantown, that’s going to be a huge factor in getting another big road W.
2. Running game redux
I mentioned this very same topic in last week’s Oklahoma State-West Virginia preview, but it has to be addressed here again. The Mountaineers had zero efficiency in running the ball against the Cowboys, and because of that they found themselves in numerous third-and-long situations, which led to a 2-for-15 performance on third down, as well as four interceptions from quarterback Will Grier. The Cyclones will bring a much nastier defense to town, so that WVU O-Line will have to get Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy more than just the 75 yards on the ground that they got last week if the Mountaineers hope to open up the passing game and keep the ball moving.
3. Deep six
Both teams have wildly talented receivers who can be huge difference-makers. But there have been varying degrees of success for each unit. ISU has rising stars in 6’5” Allen Lazard (39 catches, 477 yards) and 6’6" Hakeem Butler (26 catches, 405 yards), who make a tough matchup problem for any cornerback unit. On the other side, WVU’s vertical game was completely stifled last week, as Will Grier was just 2-for-10 downfield with three of his four interceptions coming on throws of more than 10 yards. That must change this week. But ISU’s backfield defense was stout against Kenny Hill, holding the senior Frog flinger to just 135 yards on 12 completions out of 25 attempts.
Last week, Iowa State became the first program since 2011 to beat a pair of top-5 teams in the same month, downing TCU in suffocating fashion, 14-7. Meanwhile, West Virginia saw its Big 12 Championship Game hopes probably disappear with that 50-39 loss to Oklahoma State.
But the Mountaineers have a chance to pull the upset here if they can rejuvenate that receiving corps, establish some running lanes and get the Milan Puskar Stadium crowd energized from the get-go. The other thing that sticks out: ISU is coming off a huge, emotional win over a top-5 team, and everybody this side of Dubuque is patting them on the back. After last week’s monumental upset, this stands as a legitimate trap game for the Cyclones' Big 12 title hopes. Under Dana Holgorsen (above, right), WVU has seven wins vs. top-25 teams. So the Mountaineers are used to pulling off big wins when it matters.
Prediction: West Virginia 31, Iowa State 30
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.