Challenge Accepted, Surpassed By Mountaineer Defense

WVU Matches Seaason Low For Points Allowed Versus No. 14 Iowa State

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Tony Gibson had two words for his defense before the game against Iowa State: Play hard.

West Virginia has been grind down by injuries, and suffered another in this game when Mike Daniels went down in the first half. But that’s been the pattern this season, a pieced together unit whose ups and downs have become both exasperating and exhilarating. Against the No. 14 team in the country, it was the latter as the Mountaineers put together the sort of hard-nosed, physical effort that was the very fabric of the program for years.

“That was my only message,” Gibson said. “You try to dissect it during the week and here’s the keys to victory, here is what we want to do. The thing I told them at the walk through this morning was play hard. That’s all I’m telling you. Play hard. I thought they did that.”

It manifested itself in this game to the tune of just 16 points for ISU, the Cyclones being held to just 101 yards on the ground and getting off the field on nine of 15 third and fourth downs. That limited possessions, allowed the offense to wear down the opponent with the run game and essentially morphed the Mountaineers into a mirror image of Iowa State’s approach.

West Virginia defensive lineman Lamonte McDougle (49) beats a block for a tackle

“Feels good to finally get those guys out and make plays,” Gibson said. “They shouldn’t have scored 16 though.”

Ever searching for improvement, Gibson didn’t have to look far in this game. True freshman Kenny Robinson was all over the field from his safety spot, and made two huge plays in stuffing a third and goal run by David Montgomery to force a field goal before ending the contest with a pass break-up that turned the ball over on downs.

Shoved into increased snaps after the injury to starter Mike Daniels, fellow freshman Hakeem Bailey was effective on the outside, helping limit the passing game and not giving up the big play as he had in past outings. Bailey led the team in tackles with 10, all solo, with three deflections while being flagged for two questionable pass interference penalties.

“He made big plays,” Gibson said of Bailey. “That was the first time I have seen him compete like that. Saw signs earlier in camp. Now he has hit feet under him. I told him to keep playing (after the penalties). I thought they were B.S. calls. Forget about it. Move on. Make a play. He did.”

So did the line, which controlled scrimmage and kept Iowa State’s running game from getting on track. Ezekiel Rose had a sack, and Reese Donahue was solid at end while flushing rushing plays to the outside where there was help. Lamonte McDougle held down the point of attack, and even linebacker Dylan Tonkery, who started on the strongside, triggered an interception on ISU’s first drive when he tipped a pass to the flats. It landed in the arms of a diving Al-Rasheed Benton, and eventually led to a 10-0 lead when the offense – unlike  last week – turned the turnover into points.

“Hey, I enjoyed it,” Benton said of his third career pick. “We have had that same situation in a couple games and couldn’t capitalize. We had the opportunity to go out and put the game on our shoulders as a defense. It was about making sure we played together as a team. We came out and did that today.”

West Virginia stifled Iowa State early, holding the Cyclones to just three points through the opening half. ISU found the end zone just once, and were slowed inside the red zone for a foursome of field goals. The touchdown was actually the first one Iowa State has scored on WVU’s defense in three series games, while the 16-point total is the ties for the fewest the Mountaineers have allowed this season with the Delaware State contest.

“Keep doing what we had been doing,” Gibson said of his halftime advice. “Keep straining and make sure we get off blocks. I thought we did that. It’s hard to hold offenses down in this league. I’m proud of our guys. That’s the first offensive touchdown they have scored on us in three years, so I’m pretty happy. The good thing was we played together.”