A year ago, the Iowa State Cyclones traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia, and beat down the hometown Mountaineers by 24 points. This weekend, WVU will look to return the favor on the Cyclones' home turf. In addition to hoping for revenge, the Mountaineers are trying to throw a potential wrench into top-10 (College Football Playoff rankings) ISU's aspirations for a Big 12 championship.
The matchup features two of the best defenses in the Big 12. In fact, all signs point to a slugfest in Ames as temperatures fall into the 30s on Saturday over the course of the contest.
Here's what to watch on Saturday when WVU and ISU square off.
West Virginia at No. 9 Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa State -7
When West Virginia Has the Ball
WVU doesn't have any trouble rolling up the yardage. The Mountaineers are gaining 442.6 yards per game this season, second only to Oklahoma in the Big 12.
On the other hand, they don't get much bang for their buck. The Eers run nearly 80 plays per game, the highest rate in the conference. Meanwhile, they rank fifth in the league in scoring offense at 29.4 points per game.
Head coach Neal Brown has to figure out how to block Iowa State's productive defensive line for his team to have a chance at upsetting the Cyclones. ISU has three defensive linemen who rank in the top 13 in the Big 12 in tackles for a loss — senior JaQuan Bailey, sophomore Will McDonald IV, and Eyioma Uwazurike. WVU QB Jarret Doege won't have a chance to do much damage if ISU pass rushers spend the entire game in his face.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
Quarterback Brock Purdy isn't living up to expectations this season. His passer rating has dipped from 151.1 in 2019 to 139.3 this year. The Mountaineers are defending better against the pass than any other team in the Big 12 in 2020, which suggests the ISU signal-caller could be in for a rough day.
As is the case for the Cyclones, WVU's pass D benefits a solid defensive front. The big story in Morgantown is the play of brothers Dante and Darius Stills in the trenches. Don't overlook the contributions of Akheem Mesidor, though. The freshman defensive lineman has tallied 6.5 tackles for a loss, five of which are sacks.
Iowa State can't count on All-American candidate Breece Hall and the ground attack to bail out the offense if Purdy and company can't get anything going through the air. The Mountaineers are allowing just 3.4 yards per carry this season.
The psychology of these teams could play a big role in the outcome of this game. The Cyclones are coming off a thrilling win over the Texas Longhorns a week ago that cemented their spot atop the Big 12 standings. WVU got an unexpected off week after COVID-19 issues at Oklahoma forced a postponement of their matchup.
Will that little bit of extra rest and preparation time matter for the Mountaineers? Will the Cyclones have to fight an emotional hangover?
With ISU on the cusp of grabbing the Big 12 regular-season crown, it's tough to see head coach Matt Campbell failing to get his team ready to play. Even so, WVU's salty defense will keep the visitors competitive late into the fourth quarter. This should come down to the final possession, which seems fitting for this ISU squad.
Prediction: Iowa State 27, West Virginia 21
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— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.