Match-ups: WVU - Iowa State

WVU will try to keep it's running game going. Iowa State will respond with a more conventional defensive approach. Which will carry the day? Game Scorecard
Fri 11/23/12 3:30 PM

Ames, IA

Jack Trice Stadium
Record: 5-5
Last Game
Oklahoma 49-50 L
Radio: MSN
Record: 6-5
Last Game
Kansas 51-23 W
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

Series: First Meeting
First Meeting: 2012
Last Meeting: 2012.8
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule


WVU Running Back Tavon Austin vs. ISU Defensive Scheme

WVU's all-around star was stellar against Oklahoma's 4-1-6 defense, but it would be unfair to expect a similar explosion in numbers against the Cyclones. The Sooners actually played seven defensive backs on many snaps, with a safety acting as the "linebacker" in their alignment. With the rest of the DBs bailing out to cover pass routes, Austin had only to beat the safety one-on-one to find open space, which he did regularly. Even WVU's shaky offensive line was able to handle four defensive linemen in the running game, and the result was a performance for the ages.

Unfortunately, Iowa State isn't likely to repeat that mistake. The Cyclones run a standard 4-3 set on most snaps, and hold opponents to 3.9 yards per carry, although that number has been on the rise since losing linebacker Jake Knott for the season. The defense, constructed by head coach Paul Rhoads, is designed to clog running lanes, and it has succeeded reasonably well to date.

It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that more linebackers, who can't match Austin's moves or speed, would be successful in stopping him, but that's not the premise. Instead, ISU's front seven will try to fill every gap and prevent the cutbacks that made Austin so effective against the Sooners. WVU will try to get Austin untracked again on the ground, but if it does so it will be in a different manner than it did against OU, becasue he's not a power back that can take a pounding. Watch for more outside runs, and more screens and short passes in an attempt to get him into space.

Iowa State Tight Ends vs. WVU Linebackers

Iowa State tight end Erns Brun is a solid contributor to the Cyclones' attack, and against West Virginia's vulnerable pass defense, he figures to be an integral part of the game plan.

Click for full game report!
WVU has been caught in several blitz situations with linebackers and the occasional safety trying to cover tight ends on seam routes, and for the most part it's been a mismatch. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State both took advantage of those for scores and big plays. The Mountaineers have also struggled with covering underneath crossing routes, although Star linebacker Terence Garvin has improved in this area in the past few games.

WVU has made the strategic mistake of running zero coverage blitzes and putting linebackers on receivers running those deep routes at times, and it's simply not fair to them. Expecting a run-stopping backer to cover an athletic tight end thirty yards downfield just isn't realistic. So, WVU has to be judicious in its blitzes against the Cyclones, and not leave the deep middle of the field exposed for those big plays. In a game in which scoring is paramount (see more on this in the next section), West Virginia can't afford to give up cheap scores.


Through the first five games of the season, WVU quarterback Geno Smith was unerringly accurate. The route didn't matter -- Smith put the ball right on his receivers' hands almost unfailingly. Over the last five games, though, his accuracy has diminished. Even screen passes have been off the mark at times. What's been at fault?

The answer can't be found in just one area. Despite his denials, the wind certainly bothered him at Texas Tech. Increased pass rush pressure, tighter coverage on receivers and a general increase in the quality of competition have also been factors. Quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital echoed this idea, and noted that no one is harder on himself than Smith is, so the problem certainly isn't one of motivation or lack of effort.

Whatever the issue, Smith has to be on target with his throws if WVU is to break its losing streak. On screens and shorter routes, he has to deliver the ball on time and on target. That was missing early in the Oklahoma game, but in the second half he seemed to regain his touch, dropping several balls right into the hands of his receivers.

Watch Smith early in the game. Is he on-balance when he throws, and striding confidently into his motion? Is his follow through clean? Where is his release point? It's hard to say whether or not a physical or mechanical issue is in play, but the latter is a huge part of Smith's effectiveness. If he has all of his motion in sync, he delivers the ball with more accuracy than any passer in college. Unfair expectations or not, he has to do that throughout the game to give WVU a chance to win.

* * *

Scoring more than your opponent is obviously the name of any game, but in this contest that focus will be highlighted. Iowa State has a true dividing line when it comes to wins and losses under head coach Paul Rhoads. When foes score fewer than 24 points, the Cyclones are 21-1. When they meet or exceed that total, ISU's record falls to 3-24.

Can West Virginia exceed that mark? Most would say yes, with memories of record outputs against Oklahoma still fresh in their minds, but that shouldn't be an automatic assumption. And what of Iowa State's offense, which has been good (39 points against TCU, 35 against Baylor and 51 agaisnt Kansas) and bad (nine against Iowa, 13 vs. Texas Tech and 10 against Oklahoma State)? Will new QB sensation Sam Richardson be able to slice and dice West Virginia's bottom-rated defense as he did that of Kansas?

It wouldn't be a surprise to see ISU score in the upper 30s or even hit 40 against the Mountaineers. If they reach that number, it will be difficult for WVU to outscore them. If West Virginia can somehow hold the home team in the lower 30s, it has a real chance to get its bowl-clinching win.

* * *

Iowa State is being coy about which quarterback will start against WVU, but from this perspective it doesn't matter a great deal. West Virginia's defensive problems are pervasive that the focus continues to be on fundamentals and positioning. WVU's coaches don't have the luxury of tweaking their defense a great deal to respond to different attacks -- it's still just concerned with getting players in the right spots in base coverages.

The guess is that Richardson will get the start after his stellar performance against Kansas, in which he avoided the interceptions that have plagued the Cyclones in 2012. He excelled in throwing short and mid-range routes (his longest completion went for 30 yards), and his play fit in nicely with Rhoads' avoid-mistakes mantra for winning games. Given that ISU has no problem changing players at the position, however, and it won't be a surprise to see Steele Jantz get a call if Richardson isn't effective.

Mountaineers Daily Top Stories