Devising Mode Of Attack Key For WVU Vs. Iowa State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While the glare of the spotlight shines upon Iowa State’s dangerous young quarterback Brock Purdy, the heart and soul of the Cyclone team that invades Mountaineer Field late this afternoon is a defense that can be stifling.
Kickoff between the two 3-2 teams, each 1-1 in Big 12 play, is scheduled for 4 p.m. with the nation looking in via ESPN as the Mountaineers debut their new gray uniforms with blue helmets.
Think of the Iowa State defense in these terms. A year ago, West Virginia went to Ames with a quarterback thought to be a Heisman Trophy candidate in Will Grier, with a pair of wide receivers thought to be contenders for the Biletnikoff Award in David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr. and with a left tackle thought to be one of the best in the nation in Yodny Cajuste.
Yet, when the day was done the Mountaineers had managed just one offensive touchdown in a game they would lose, 30-14, recording just nine first downs while gaining only 152 TOTAL yards, 100 of them through the air.
Now the cast has changed in Morgantown from top to bottom and the Mountaineers come in with an offense ranked 88th nationally in scoring, with a nearly non-existent running game and with a quarterback in Austin Kendall who threw four interceptions the last time out while the Iowa State defense maintains many of the same players who were on hand a year ago.
The big difference is whether new WVU coach Neal Brown can figure away to attack the defense better than Dana Holgorsen did last year. It’s quite a challenge.
“They have been unique,” Brown said of the Iowa State defense this week.
But in recent times, you are seeing the concepts they use spreading across football.
“We are such a copycat society, you see it spread it out,” Brown noted. “Texas used some of it last week. Baylor has used some of it, I know, because I’ve seen them when they played Iowa State. I see Clemson doing some of it, as well.”
Much of it comes from the former Mississippi and Mississippi State coach Joe Lee Dunn, who was known for inventive defensive schemes. Dunn, in fact, is credited with inventing a defense Mountaineer fans are quite familiar with, the 3-3-5 scheme that Tony Gibson used until Brown came in.
Brown says he remembers playing against the defense when he was at Kentucky.
What Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has done is come with an umbrella effect with initial high deep defensive backs while disguising the looks.
“They are playing a light box,” Brown explained. “At time it looks like a four or five man box but when the ball goes into the belly of the running there is really six or seven in the box, so it is really a false read.
“Then they are playing three high safeties a lot so they can get to every single coverage you can imagine from that. It’s really multiple. They do a good job of confusing the quarterback, so credit goes to them.”
What they have done has “changed the league a little bit,” according to Brown.
The result is that Iowa State seems to always be games with a chance to win, being one of only three teams in the nation to not have suffered a loss of more than 14 points in the past three years.
The others are Oklahoma and Washington.
What’s more, it takes a while for teams to adjust to the defense, the result being that Iowa State has not given up a touchdown in the first quarter this season. In fact the only first quarter score against the Cyclones is one field goal.
The defense has proven to be tough to run against, which could force WVU into having to pass, allowing just three rushing touchdowns all year and only 3.2 yards an attempt.
But this is not only a defensive team, for Purdy has them purring like a finely tuned engine.
“It all starts with Purdy,” Brown said. “He’s special. He’s playing at a high level. He won’t be under the radar much longer. He’s a dual threat. He runs with power, he runs with speed.”
He is the team’s leading rusher and also averages better tha 300 yards passing a game.
The result is that all season Iowa State has been forced to go three and out just twice while averaging 7.1 yards a play.
The Mountaineers did get one bit of good news during the week when wide receiver Sam James, the budding freshman star who leads the team in receiving, was cleared to play after suffering what was believed to be a head injury against Texas.