After a slight step back against the Longhorns in Morgantown this past Saturday, the Mountaineers look to continue their climb this weekend. On Saturday, West Virginia hosts Iowa State at Milan Puskar Stadium. The teams kick off at 4:00. ESPN will televise the matchup.
Mountaineers Look To Continue Their Climb
Looking Back To Texas
The inexperienced Mountaineers fought hard against the 11th-ranked Texas Longhorns last weekend. While they came up short, the blue-collar mentality Head Coach Neal Brown preaches showed up on the field. After surrendering several straight 3rd down plays on the Longhorns’ opening drive, the Mountaineer defense stiffened. Texas missed a field goal on the 52-yard drive, and West Virginia took the ball back up 7-0. Momentum favored the Mountaineers. But Austin Kendall threw his first of four interceptions, and Texas used two plays to knot the game at seven.
In the next two drives, however, West Virginia’s defense looked stout. Texas lost fifteen yards in those two drives combined. But the Mountaineers’ offense looked sluggish punting twice to end the quarter. But West Virginia retook the lead on a five-play, 60-yard drive in the second. Texas scored on two straight drives to head into halftime with a seven-point lead.
In the third quarter, the Mountaineers’ defense played its best football of the season. In five drives for the quarter, the Longhorns punted four times and Sam Ehlinger threw one interception. But, again, the Mountaineers could not capitalize, only narrowing the Texas lead by a field goal.
Texas took command in the fourth when Kendall threw his third and fourth interceptions on two consecutive drives. Texas made the Mountaineers pay, scoring twice to build a 35-17 lead. Ultimately, the Longhorns went home with a 42-31 lead.
Despite the interceptions, however, Kendall tallied 390 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. T.J. Simmons racked up seven receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown. Indeed, Simmons looked like the leader the staff though he could be. The turnovers, however, did not help the defense, as they surrendered 21 points on drives of 27, 18, and 33 yards after three of the four sudden changes.
Despite losing the turnover battle by a significant margin (West Virginia only forced a single interception), the Mountaineers lost by only two scores. They fought hard, and VanDarius Cowan, playing in his first game in two seasons, showed why he has been so anticipated for the West Virginia defense.
Unfortunately, West Virginia could not overcome losses in the turnover and time-of-possession battles (Texas had the ball for 36 minutes). They played well enough to hang in with the Longhorns, who could easily finish in the top ten at the end of the season, for three quarters. But the Mountaineers simply could not close.
Continuing The Climb
The path up for the Mountaineers, however, does not get easier. This weekend, Iowa State visits. The Cyclones are coming off an impressive 49-24 win over TCU. Brock Purdy commanded the offense, piling up 349 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, with two through the air and two on the ground. Senior receiver Deshaunte Jones hauled in ten receptions for 110 yards.
Iowa State’s defense held TCU to only 329 total yards (over 120 below their average) and 24 points (13 below their average). In fact, the Cyclones have surrendered an average of only 22 points per game. Their worst performance came in the season opener, where they surrendered 26 to Northern Iowa in triple overtime.
The Cyclones return several defensive playmakers who made various of our preseason Big XII top-5 lists. JaQuan Bailey and Ray Lima both made our list of top five returning defensive linemen. Mike Rose and Marcel Spears Jr. made our list of top five returning linebackers. Finally, Braxton Lewis and Greg Eisworth joined our list of top five returning safeties. Bailey, however, will be out for an extended period with an ankle injury.
The five healthy players, however, have combined for 131 tackles, thirteen-and-a-half tackles for loss, and two sacks. Linebacker O’Rien Vance has added 34 tackles and six-and-a-half sacks. Needless to say, the Cyclones defense remains stout.
Perhaps more surprisingly, though, Iowa State currently sits 20th in the nation in scoring offense despite the loss of David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler. Matt Campbell indeed has the Cyclones playing solid football into early October.
As a result, the Mountaineers face another stiff test. The game has definite bowl implications for the Mountaineers, who travel to Oklahoma next week. With a win, West Virginia jumps to a 4-2 start, needing only two more wins to become bowl-eligible. With a loss, however, West Virginia will start 3-3 with a looming trip to Norman against a team they have not beaten since joining the Big XII.
Reviewing the last three games in particular, it is hard to overlook the deftness with which Coach Brown develops his game plan. Mistakes in execution, due to injuries, lack of depth, and lack of experience, however, derailed Brown’s grand plans last weekend. The Mountaineers look to continue their climb against the Cyclones and pull off the upset win at home. 28-20 West Virginia.