Mutcherson suspended, Cotton starts
There was a sudden new face start among Iowa State’s defensive backs Saturday when it trudged onto the field at Jack Trice Stadium.
Replacing safety T.J. Mutcherson was Darian Cotton, and when Cotton was forced to exit for multiple plays in the second half, Kamari Syrie filled his spot. Paul Rhoads provided reasoning after the Cyclones’ 37-24 loss to West Virginia.
“T.J. didn’t live up to the culture and philosophy of the program this week, so we chose not to play him in the game,” Rhoads said.
Rhoads wasn’t certain if Mutcherson would play in the season finale Saturday against TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. Cotton, who played in 11 games last season on special teams, had five tackles in the loss.
The redshirt junior learned he would start Sunday leading into game week and took advice from many directions leading into his start.
“All the defensive coaches got me ready and focused for the game and everything like that,” Cotton said. “I talked to my older brother and my dad, also. They gave me some motivation to get out there. [They told me] just play hard like you always do. The coaches gave you this opportunity, so you have to take it.”
Defense makes gains after halftime
For a defense that has at times struggled in recent weeks while battling injuries and trying to find the right mix of players, there has been no brighter spot in recent memory than the third quarter in Saturday’s loss.
After West Virginia scored 27 points in the first half — including 20 in the second quarter to take a lead to the break — the Iowa State defense stepped up in the third quarter. The Mountaineers managed only 42 total yards in the third quarter on 10 players to keep the game manageable for the offense.
“The defensive staff made good adjustments,” coach Paul Rhoads said. “Most of the adjustments were designed to stop the run at halftime. We had to fix some blitzes because of some formational things that they were doing, but I think Wally and his staff did a nice job and the kids understood it, came out and fit some things better than they had in the first half and tackled well in the third quarter.”
The defense was helped by the offense, which started the second half with a drive of nearly six minutes. West Virginia had only two possessions in the third quarter, running seven plays on one before punting and going three-and-out on the other.
“I think we came out ready to play,” defensive lineman Dale Pierson said. “Unfortunately it just started slipping away from us shortly [after] the third quarter and through the rest of the game.”
West Virginia scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to cap a 37-24 win.
Punting on fourth-and-one
Trailing by three with 1:20 remaining in the first half, Iowa State faced fourth-and-one at its own 46. The offense immediately stayed on the field, but following a West Virginia timeout, the Cyclones sent punter Colin Downing onto the field and some boos emanated from the crowd.
West Virginia ultimately drove down the field and settled for a field goal and six-point lead at halftime. Afterward, Paul Rhoads offered reasoning behind his thinking of punting rather than attempting to keep the drive going.
“It’s 24-21 and we’d been struggling after scoring 21-striaght,” Rhoads said. “We just had an opportunity from third-and-one and we failed. That was our opportunity to get the first down. Did I have confidence in our guys that they could have run a play and moved the sticks? Certainly, I did. But, a slip, an errant exchange, a stunt that maybe is not expected doesn’t get picked up and we turn the ball over there and go to the locker room down 31-21, that’s a whole different momentum swing.
“After we got stopped on third down, there was really no hesitation in my mind how to play defensive football at that point and give our kids a chance to win as opposed to put them in a position to lose.”