West Virginia travels to Jack Trice Stadium to take on a suddenly competitive Iowa State team in the latest edition of the Riot Bowl.
IOWA STATE PROFILE
Record: (3-8). Iowa State redditors like to joke that they’re the best 3-8 team in the country, but honestly they’re probably right. The Cyclones have been on the wrong side of several close games this year, and with a few more bounces they could easily be sitting at 5-6 or even 6-5. They played Oklahoma and Oklahoma State closer than we did and will be flying high after hammering Texas Tech last weekend, so I expect we’re going to have our hands full with a team trying to end their season on a high note.
HC: Matt Campbell. Campbell is in his first year in Ames after spending the previous 4 in the same role at Toledo. He compiled a 35-15 record over that period, and despite his 3-8 record this year there are signs that the program is heading in the right direction. Campbell has a nice core of skill players to build around moving forward, and under his leadership you’d expect it’s only a matter of time until the Cyclones are consistently relevant in the Big 12.
OC: Tom Manning. Manning, a former teammate of Campbell’s at DIII powerhouse Mount Union, is in his first year as an offensive coordinator after following Campbell over from Toledo.
DC: Jon Heacock. Heacock is the most experienced member of the staff with over 32 years of experience. He’s in his 3rd year with Campbell after filling the same role at Toledo in 2014 and 2015.
OUR OFFENSE VS THEIR DEFENSE
Players to watch: LB Willie Harvey, FS Kamari Cotton-Moya, CB Brian Peavy
The Cyclones return 8 starters and like to throw a variety of looks at you defensively, but most will consist of an even 4-man front. The changes come in the second and third levels, where linebackers Willie Harvey and Kane Seeley and safety Kamari Cotton-Moya fly around and make plays.
Their statistical profile isn’t overly impressive. They rank 74th nationally in scoring defense, 98th in run defense, and 90th in total defense. The one area where they’re strong is in the passing game. They rank just 61st nationally, but the 225 yards they’re allowing per game is pretty damn good considering their membership in the pass-happy Big XII. They also rank 18th nationally with 59 passes defended, so you can see that their guys are doing a good job on the outside. The ring-leader of that group is undoubtedly Cotton-Moya, but sophomore Brian Peavy and senior Jomol Wiltz have been excellent as well and are both in the Top 5 in the conference in PBUs.
They’re pretty solid up front as well, with the main man being Demond Tucker. They’ve actually been even worse than we have at generating sacks with just 17 through 11 games, but are good at generating push in general, with 70 TFL compared to our 43. However, they’re also giving up almost 5 yards per carry, which is spared only by Kansas and Texas Tech from being the worst in the conference.
In light of that, the key to this game will be establishing the run. We were excellent in that regard against a marginally better defense a week ago, and while I hate that we’re rolling with just one of our three guys at full-health, I still feel good about our ability to gash them. I’d like to see both Crawford and Howard over 15 carries, and expect our line to give them plenty of room to work.
I actually think our line gives us the advantage in the passing game, as well. Skyler made mistakes even when he wasn’t under pressure last week, but considering their lack of a pass rush, he should have plenty of time to find guys open in situations where we do throw it.
OUR DEFENSE VS THEIR OFFENSE
Players to watch: QB Joel Lanning, QB Jacob Park, RB Mike Warren, WR Allen Lazard, WR Deshaunte Jones, RB David Montgomery
It doesn’t take much more than a glance through the Cyclones depth chart to get an idea of Matt Campbell’s vision for this offense. That group at the top includes two freshmen, two sophomores, and two juniors, and the 6 of them are have combined for 96% of their offensive production this season. The good news for West Virginia is that personnel-wise it’s a lot of the same guys we held to 6 points at home last year. The bad news is that the Cyclones have a bit of a different look about them under first-year coordinator Tom Manning.
The biggest change is how they’re using their quarterbacks. They still spend the majority of their time in the spread, but they’re splitting time between Joel Lanning and Jacob Park (the starter) and are using them in the running game much more than they did last year. Lanning in particular is much more involved this year (up 2.5 attempts per game from a year ago), and has actually been much more effective, too (yards per carry are up almost a full yard, as well).
This isn’t to say that their running backs have been ineffective either; Mike Warren is still Mike Warren, while freshman David Montgomery has been excellent and has actually usurped the lion’s share of the carries over the past few weeks. Overall their ground attack ranks just 84th nationally in yards per game, but they do have good players and make you prepare for a variety of looks.
The passing game has been more effective, though it’s definitely a bit more predictable based on who’s playing quarterback. I don’t have the exact numbers on the total number of snaps each has played, but as far as their personal numbers go, Lanning has thrown 169 passes and run 121 times while Park has thrown 192 times and run it just 36. Obviously this doesn’t include the number of times they’ve been in the game and handed off to one of the running backs, but in general they’re much more likely to pass it when Park is in, while Lanning is more of a threat to run it.
Regardless of who’s taking snaps though, the main target in the passing game has again been Allen Lazard. Lazard has caught 65 balls for just a shade under 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season, all of which are good for top 10 in the Big XII, so we’ll need to be aware of where he is at all times. He’s been complimented nicely by slot men Deshaunte Jones and Trevor Ryen, as well, who have combined to catch 65 passes of their own for another 800 yards and 8 touchdowns. The running backs aren’t involved much in the passing game, but those other three have more than enough ability to hurt us if we lose focus.
The key to the game defensively will be our ability to diagnose and react to their personnel groupings. The roles in their two-QB system have become more defined as the season has worn on, with Park attempting 108 passes to Lanning’s 16 over the past 4 games. We need to play those percentages. They look like a bit like Kansas State with Lanning out there, so I expect us to play aggressively and run blitz often with him in the game. How we play Park will obviously be dictated by how well we handle the run, but in general I’m expecting a lot of press man coverage with safety help over the top. Neither of the QBs are great at pushing the ball downfield, so if we can disrupt their timing at the line then I’m confident we’ll be able to stop them.
Iowa State’s special teams are above average in just about every category. They rank 48th nationally in punt returns, 29th in kick returns, 22nd in punt coverage, 54th in yards per punt, and 7th in FG%, where they’ve made 12 out of 13 attempts. The only area where they’re a bit sloppy is in covering kick returns, where they rank all the way down in 81st. Coincidentally, that’s one of the only areas where we are pretty good, and I know I’ve been begging for this all year, but if we could go ahead and hit a big play on special teams this week, that would be greaaaat.
Teams can respond to ass-whippings like the one Oklahoma laid on us in one of two ways: you can feel sorry for yourself and crumble, or you can refocus and move forward. We have enough experience and enough left to play for that I’m expecting the latter.
West Virginia 33 Iowa State 20