Saturday’s game will be one between two teams with the same record and in similar situations. Both West Virginia and Iowa State are 3-5 and both are trying to salvage their disappointing seasons with at least a bowl appearance.
Unlike the Mountaineers who have been going through a roller coaster ride like season with highs and also embarrassing lows, the Cyclones are in the midst of a long losing streak after starting the season off with three straight wins.
What does WVU need to do to get the win, which at this point, is the most important thing for head coach Neal Brown and the program, no matter how it has to happen.
Take care of the football
Recently, West Virginia has faced teams with potent offenses. Several of WVU’s losses have even come at the hands of teams that could pour points on. This game is a bit different in that respect. Iowa State’s troubles this season have come due to their offense letting down their defense, arguably the reverse situation that’s been an issue for WVU. The Cyclones have only scored 20 or more points twice during their losing streak. They have only registered outputs of 11, 9 and 13 in the other games.
This means that one way for ISU to win this game is for their defense to come up with turnovers and for their defense to take advantage of mistakes by the Mountaineers. Their defense is just as much a driving force to scoring as any unit this year. While Iowa Sate’s defense does have the ability to impose their will, if WVU makes that task easier by being careless with the football, like say against Texas Tech, a winnable game could be lost.
Taking care of the football when you have the better offense is paramount for the Mountaineers.
Find a way to run the ball
Despite being led by a man labeled as part of the “Air Raid” tree, WVU has had a balanced offensive attack this season, even at times being led by the ground game. This is even something offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has discussed, going as far as to say he feels the “Air Raid” label doesn’t fully fit him. But the problem now becomes trying to keep that up without freshman sensation CJ Donaldson, who is out for the season, and being unsure what can be expected from Tony Mathis either.
WVU is a banged up team, but maybe no more than what drives the running game. James Gmiter and Doug Nester missed the loss to TCU. Losing key backs and the lineman who create the holes for them is a recipe for disaster and an offense that was once versatile and able to use the run to set up the pass to become one-dimensional.
Does West Virginia turn to quarterback Garrett Greene for rushing yards? That was actually brought up by Brown and Harrell this week. What does that look like? Can Justin Johnson Jr. handle a bigger work load if necessary? He’s been good when in, but his 3.6 yards per touch last week doesn’t exactly scream featured back. Is there anything else WVU can even do? Will short passes be used to serve as run type plays? Brown did bring up looking at screens, something may work or also appear too predictable.
We will likely get the answers to those questions in this game, but WVU needs to find some way to keep the defense honest or it will make the day tougher on JT Daniels though the air.
Create a pass rush
Creating a pass rush could make it impossible for Iowa State to do enough on offense to have a chance. Cyclones quarterback Hunter Dekker’s has thrown for 2,151 yards on the season and has had 300-yard passing games, including last Saturday in a loss to Oklahoma, but he also threw three picks against the Sooners. If Dante Stills, fresh off setting the WVU program record for tackles for a loss, and company can make Dekker sweat and reduce the time he has to get rid of the ball, there’s enough evidence to show he will make mistakes and turnovers will occur.
It hasn’t always been easy for the Mountaineers to generate turnovers in their favor this year, although they did end up leading to the win over Baylor, but this could be a game that a strong pass rush will allow the defense opportunities to turn over the possession and get the ball back in the hands of their offense.
No matter what goes on, West Virginia must beat Iowa State. Every member of Mountaineer Nation knows all too well that no win is guaranteed, but a loss requires winning out to secure bowl eligibility and it’s fair to say ISU is the worst opponent left on WVU’s tough schedule. Ames, Iowa is a tough place to play, which is likely why WVU will enter the game as an underdog, but nothing can be an excuse in this one and there is a clear path to victory for the Mountaineers.