Game Preview: WVU looks to bounce back vs. No. 15 ISU - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Game Preview: WVU looks to bounce back vs. No. 15 ISU

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Will Grier leads the nation with 21 touchdown passes through six games for WVU this season. (PHOTO: Scott Lituchy) Will Grier leads the nation with 21 touchdown passes through six games for WVU this season. (PHOTO: Scott Lituchy)

By Ryan Decker

West Virginia (5-3, 3-2) was expected to have a winning record this late in the year. No. 15 Iowa State (6-2, 4-1) was not.

The Cyclones have been one of the biggest surprises of the college football season, and enter Saturday’s matchup with the Mountaineers playing some of its best football of the season.

West Virginia is looking to bounce back from last week’s loss and will aim to get its second win of the year over a ranked team.

“Nothing like facing another Top 15 opponent,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday.

Both WVU and Iowa State took on ranked opponents a week ago, with Iowa State pulling out the victory over then-No. 4 TCU. It was ISU’s second win in a month’s time over a Top 5 team, doubling its program win total against such opponents.

The Cyclones are also 3-0 on the road this year and have won four-straight road contests dating back to last season. Iowa State’s last five-game road winning streak was in 1960-1961.

West Virginia owns a 4-1 series lead against the Cyclones dating back to the first meeting between the two in 2012. Iowa State’s lone win against WVU came in November 2013 in Morgantown in a 3OT game late in the year.

In last season’s meeting, running back David Montgomery ran for 141 yards but was outdone by West Virginia’s Martell Pettaway’s 181, as he led a banged up WVU ground game en route to a 49-19 win in Ames.

WVU would love to see one or more of its running backs have big days, as the ground game has been sluggish over the last few weeks. However, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said Tuesday that Justin Crawford is getting close to being 100 percent again.

Iowa State’s rushing attack has also been up and down.

Montgomery leads the way with over 700 rushing yards this year, but like the Mountaineers, the Cyclones have been held under 100 yards rushing as a team twice in the last four games.

Balance has been key for the Cyclones on offense.

Since making the switch from Jacob Park to Kyle Kempt at quarterback, Iowa State has become a very balanced offense when it comes to play calling.

Over that time Kempt has attempted no more than 35 passes in a game, while Montgomery has gotten a healthy dose of carries out of the backfield.

Part of what has helped Kempt succeed this season has been that he’s throwing to large targets on the outside. Holgorsen and other coaches mentioned on Tuesday that Iowa State’s wide receiving corps has the height advantage.

Six of Iowa State’s receivers and tight ends are listed at 6-foot-4 and above. Eight out of 10 are listed at 6 feet or taller.

This includes senior Allen Lazard, who is ISU’s career receptions leader (209) and paces this year’s team in catches (39), receiving yards (477) and touchdown catches (5). Lazard stands at 6-foot-5, which is at least two inches taller than any of listed WVU defensive backs on that side of the field.

West Virginia’s pass defense, though, is coming off one of its better performances, when it limited Mason Rudolph to just 216 passing yards. A lot of the credit can be given to linebacker David Long.

Speaking of linebackers, Iowa State’s Joel Lanning does a little bit of everything for the Cyclones, suiting up as the starting linebacker but also getting involved in the offense. Lanning leads Iowa State with 87 tackles.

The Iowa State defense has been playing some of the best football in the conference as of late.

In its last 14 quarters played, ISU has surrendered just 27 total points, seven of which came on a kickoff returned for a touchdown last Saturday.

The Cyclones have been especially good after halftime in Big 12 play, giving up just 24 combined points in the second half during its five conference games. Iowa State leads the Big 12 in scoring defense since conference play began, holding every offense its played to at least 10 points below its season average.

Iowa State has also forced 17 turnovers this season. WVU is coming off a five-turnover performance.

That was uncharacteristic of this year’s team, though, so a repeat performance shouldn’t be expected.

Kickoff between West Virginia and Iowa State is set for 3:30 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium. Fans can listen to pregame coverage on u92.wvu.edu starting at 12:30.

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