MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – After a much-needed win against TCU 29-17, the Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3) are on the hunt for another conference success. The team is also looking to rebound from an embarrassing meeting with the Iowa State Cyclones last season, 42-6 in Ames.
Even with 2020’s loss, WVU still leads the series 5-4. When WVU joined the Big 12 in 2011 with TCU, the Cyclones were already a tried and true conference staple. Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were all founding members of the conference since its inception in 1996, and the first meeting of the Mountaineers and Cyclones, in 2012, kicked off the series fueled by two dominant win streaks.
The Mountaineers, under then-head coach Dana Holgorsen, met the Cyclones, under then-head coach Paul Rhoads, for the first time at Jack Trice Stadium that season. The newly-minted Big 12 West Virginia team had gone 2-5 in conference heading into the Iowa State match-up, and Holgorsen was preparing for yet another smacking. Fortunately, it didn’t come. The Mountaineers beat the Cyclones 31-24, taking the first series W on the road.
That win streak was short lived, though, when the Cyclones came to Morgantown in 2013. In a triple overtime stunner, Iowa State pulled out the program’s first series win 52-44. The Mountaineers allowed a 31-7 lead to evaporate over the course of the final three quarters, omitting a scoreless third, and Cyclones kicker Cole Netten’s extra point pulled Iowa State even at 38 with one minute to play in regulation. Overtime turned into a field goal kicking competition, as Netten and WVU’s Josh Lambert put up six points each before Cyclone quarterback Grant Rohach found wide out Justin Coleman for a 25-yard touchdown pass to seal the deal. A successful two-point conversion was the cherry on top of the program’s first win against the Mountaineers. As with this series, this win too was over in the blink of an eye.
WVU won the next four straight in no-content performances, rebounding with a similar Ames showing, 37-24 in 2014. Complete with three lead changes, the Mountaineers and Cyclones battled the entire game, but the difference became three Lambert field goals that pushed WVU out ahead just enough to seal the deal. Now ahead in the series 2-1, WVU kept the ball rolling.
An even more dominant showing brought the series back to Milan Puskar Stadium in 2015. The Mountaineers, lead by quarterback Skyler Howard, pummeled the Cyclones 30-6. In a game almost entirely scored by field goals, the Cyclones couldn’t even penetrate the WVU red zone. Netten took 33- and 49-yard attempts to put the team’s only points on the board, and a mixture of Lambert’s leg, a Skyler Howard 32-yard QB keep, and long balls to Shelton Gibson and Rushel Shell claimed the third West Virginia victory.
In 2016, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers stormed into Ames ranked No. 19. A nearly flawless conference slate down and another win in the near future, the Cyclones were simply no match. Scoring paralleled, but West Virginia never surrendered the lead. Howard threw five touchdowns, going 12-21 for 330 yards and added 48 yards rushing on nine attempts. The WVU defense didn’t allow a single touchdown, holding Iowa State to four field goals and a 97-yard kickoff return. The final: a 49-19 West Virginia winner.
Now up in the series 4-1, the Mountaineers were riding high when the 2017 match-up came back to Milan Puskar. Iowa State entered Morgantown ranked No. 14, but the WVU defense, one which ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 at the time, put an end to the pressure. They held Iowa State to a scoreless opening quarter, while quarterback Will Grier’s offense pounded 20 first half points. Grier finished the game 20-25 for 316 yards and two touchdowns. When the Mountaineer units emerged from halftime, it was a significantly difficult time for the offense. Zero second half points were scored into the Iowa State end zone; while the Cyclones put up a touchdown and three field goals in the remainder of the game, their 16 points paled to the two dozen WVU had already posted. The series’ smallest margin of victory, it still became a W in West Virginia’s record book, 20-16.
When West Virginia traveled back to Iowa in 2018, Holgorsen’s team was ranked No. 6 in the country. Iowa State’s Brock Purdy got his first career start in the match-up, completing 18 of his 25 attempts for 254 yards. Going into halftime, Grier’s Mountaineer offense was still within striking distance, only trailing 20-14 after Derrek Pitts brought back a 72-yard blocked field goal for the second Mountaineer touchdown. WVU couldn’t get the job done though, leaving two major, second-half goose eggs on the scoreboard in the second half. Meanwhile, Purdy tacked on a 32-yard touchdown pass and the Cyclones added a safety to solidify the win, 30-14, in the fourth quarter. This was the beginning of a momentum swing in Iowa State’s series luck.
2019, under new Mountaineer leadership, brought the series back to Morgantown. It was a lackluster game, at best, for WVU and head coach Neal Brown. Quarterback Austin Kendall left the game’s first drive with a shoulder injury after getting rocked by Cyclone Anthony Johnson. It was suddenly Jack Allison’s time to shine… but the backup fell flat. He scored a single touchdown off a nine-yard ball to TJ Simmons, but that exhausted the Mountaineer scoring. In a mirror of the 2018 debacle, the score was tied at 14 going into halftime, but the Cyclones once again held West Virginia scoreless in the second half; Purdy’s offense notched two rushing touchdowns, a field goal, and a Purdy to Joe Scates 18-yard touchdown pass in the second half to seal the team’s second straight series success, 38-14.
Last season’s meeting of the two conference foes faired equally as well as the last two years, and it’s a game that Brown hopes is totally forgotten to the record books. Even still, the sting of a 42-6 loss warrants papering the box score around the Milan Puskar Center, which is exactly what happened this week. Around every turn, players were confronted with the irritation of last season’s mediocrity, and Brown is determined to not repeat. In Ames, the Cyclones held WVU to three scoreless quarters while adding five touchdowns in the same time period. Purdy and his running back corps put on a clinic, scoring on 23-, 10-, and 47-yard rushes and tacking on 2-, 16-, and 28-yard passing touchdowns for Purdy. WVU’s Tyler Sumpter, when he was still delineating between punting and kicking, drilled two field goals, a 32- and a 36-yard score, but the WVU showing fell completely flat. WVU quarterback Jarret Doege was sacked three times, while completing 21-of-41 for 209 middle-of-the-field yards and only 16 first downs. Unfortunately, nearly every single Cyclone who put up points last season will be returning for this season’s match-up.
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell is 3-2, and his 2021 Cyclone team enters Morgantown on Oct. 30 ranked No. 4 in the Big 12 and No. 22 in the nation. WVU is seeking a second conference win and another confidence boost to inch the program closer to bowl game contention. The 5-2 Cyclones will meet the 3-4 Mountaineers at 2 p.m. on Saturday for the series’ 10th rendezvous.