THE LOSING STREAK IS OVER! Finally…
After weeks of offensive track meets, the Mountaineers were involved in a slow-paced, run-heavy, defensive slug match. Both ISU and WVU kept the ball on the ground predominantly due to the cold, windy climate in Ames, IA.
Early on, the Mountaineers defense played very well. Iowa State attempted to establish the run early to take the pressure off of freshman quarterback Sam Richardson. The defensive front, led by Josh Francis, kept the ISU running game bottled up. The Mountaineers would build an early 10-0 lead.
In the second half, the Mountaineers played close to the line of scrimmage to keep Richardson and the Cyclones rushing attack in check, leaving their weak secondary on islands. Richardson was able to start picking apart the WVU secondary, putting the Mountaineers in a 21-20 hole in the 3rd quarter.
Richardson became the primary source of offense for the Cyclones, rushing the ball well in scramble situations, helping Iowa State to move the ball down the field all afternoon. His scrambling ability opened up some holes in the secondary, allowing him to throw 3 touchdowns against the Mountaineers. Without the dual threat Richardson, Iowa State might have gotten steamrolled early on. Richardson finished the night with 162 yards passing, 119 yards rushing, and 3 total touchdowns. He accounted for 281 of the 396 offensive yards for the Cyclones and 18 of their 24 points.
Not to be outdone by Richardson, the WVU offense put together a pretty coherent attack that featured a decent mix of run and pass. Shawne Alston paired with Tavon Austin to give the Mountaineers a thunder and lightning tandem. Alston came back with a vengeance after missing the majority of the Oklahoma game. Alston pummeled the Iowa State defensive front.
Shawne Alston ran the ball 19 times for 130 yards and a touchdown against a tough ISU defense. Alston made the vast majority of his yardage after first contact, showing the form he had late last season. With Iowa State expecting to see more of Austin, it looked as though they were unprepared to face the physical downhill rusher like Alston.
Alston was instrumental in keeping the Mountaineers offense on track, as Tavon Austin was very well contained by the Cyclones defense for most of the game. One week after racking up 572 all-purpose yards against #12 Oklahoma, Austin was held to 261 all-purpose yards against the Cyclones. In the rushing attack, ISU’s defense did a great job of stretching out plays, keeping Austin from finding any creases to take the ball up the field.
Austin was having a really poor afternoon until he took a 75-yard “pass” to the endzone late in the 4th quarter. That is Tavon’s 3rd 70-yard plus play from scrimmage in two weeks. That pass was the biggest play for Austin in a performance that featured 99 yards receiving, 74 yards rushing, and 88 yards in special teams returns.
The biggest issue for the offense today was the mental focus of the offensive line. WVU took way too many unnecessary false start and holding penalties. Those penalties threw the Mountaineers offense out of rhythm, forcing WVU to settle for field goal attempts instead of touchdowns.
Even with the penalty struggles of his line, Smith showed poise in the pocket, able to deliver the football under pressure without forcing the ball like he has in previous weeks. Smith was able to move the ball effectively against a weaker ISU secondary. Geno completed 22 of 31 passes for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. Geno also ran the ball once for a 17 yard carry. A solid performance from the senior quarterback.
West Virginia’s defense turned in a tremendous performance after weeks of getting blasted. The Mountaineers defense held firm in the face of a run-heavy zone read attack. Iowa State was able to rack up 234 yards on the ground against the Mountaineers, far in excess of their 131 yards per game average. The 29th ranked rush defense kept the running backs to 115 yards. Richardson got 119 yards on designed pass plays when the containment broke down.
What was most impressive in the Mountaineers defensive play was the fact that WVU kept Iowa State to 162 yards, much better than their 365 yards per game given up. The Mountaineers secondary, after giving up two early touchdowns on play action passes in the first half, kept Richardson from completing hardly any passes in the second half. The WVU secondary only gave up 57 yards of passing in the second half. Amazing resilience on the part of Darwin Cook, Karl Joseph, Pat Miller, Ricky Rumph, Terrell Chestnut, and the other Mountaineer defensive backs.
With all that being said, the defense did have their issues. The biggest boneheaded play of the game came from Josh Francis. On a third and long situation late in the 4th quarter, Francis stops Richardson short of the first down. As the play is whistled dead, Francis decides the rip up on the face mask of Richardson for a 15-yard penalty. That ridiculous move cost the Mountaineers a big defensive stop to salt the game away.
Fortunately for Francis, his poor decision did not lead to a Cyclones touchdown to tie the game. Fullback Woody fumbled the football on first down and goal to go. Darwin Cook was able to get a shoulder on the football to jar it free for a Mountaineers fumble recovery in the endzone by Karl Joseph.
West Virginia would take control of the game from that turnover, running out the clock to end their 5-game losing streak. The win gets West Virginia to bowl eligibility at 6-5. The Mountaineers can improve their bowl positioning with a final win next Saturday in Morgantown against the Kansas Jayhawks.