Iowa State Lookahead: Five Items to Track For WVU
MORGANTOWN — A vastly improved Iowa State team comes to Milan Puskar Stadium with a national ranking and chip on its shoulder, looking to aid to the Mountaineers’ woes that include three losses to four of the ranked teams they have played.
Here are five things to look for on Saturday.
1. Toughness from WVU: That is the theme this week from everyone … the offense, the defense, the special teams.
He was asked if the team had lost an edge as the season went on.
“I don’t have those answers, honestly,” he said. “It’s not like we quit talking about it. I don’t think we’ve practiced a whole lot different. We have some inexperienced guys that need to grow up and do a little better.
“It’s an excuse that nobody wants to hear, but it hurts losing probably six fifth-year seniors that are (offensive) line guys, (defensive) line guys, especially over the course of the season. It probably showed last week for the first time.”
And, as the coaches and players vowed, it would change this week.
Look for it because they are playing a tough team in Iowa State.
2. Iowa State linebacker/quarterback Joel Lanning: You read that right. The man plays linebacker and quarterback.
He’s good at both.
He leads the team with 87 tackles, is third in rushing with 78 yards (OK, David Montgomery has 156 of the team’s 257 carries) and he has completed 2-of-3 passes for 25 yards.
Some people, noting WVU middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton’s football intelligence, call him the quarterback of the defense, but he draws the line at playing the position.
“I would say as to how the quarterback tries to make sure everyone understands what to do each play, that’s what I try to do,” Lanning said, but added with a sly smile “but I got a different mentality than a quarterback. A quarterback doesn’t like contact.”
This one does.
Had Holgorsen ever had a quarterback who could play linebacker?
“Well, it wouldn’t be Clint (Trickett),” he said. “I haven’t had many, I think Skyler (Howard) had that mentality. He was tough and physical and smart and could run.
“But the Lanning kid is a different breed. He’s tough at quarterback; if you’re not tough at quarterback, then I doubt you could have a chance at being tough at linebacker. Everything I’m saying about the mentality that needs to exist, he clearly has it.
“I don’t know him, but I’m assuming he’s a pretty smart kid as well. He sees a lot. We’ve talked a lot about (junior wide receiver) David Sills (V) and his quarterback background allows him to be able to do some smart things in running routes. I’m sure that helps him as well, just seeing things and studying film. He see things happen probably before they happen, which I think (redshirt senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton) has a lot of those qualities as well. High football IQ.”
The nation first heard of Lanning after Iowa State stunned No. 3 Oklahoma, 38-31, in Norman on Oct. 7.
Lanning played 78 snaps, including 57 on defense, 13 on offense and eight on special teams. He finished with 25 yards passing, 35 yards rushing, eight tackles, a sack and a critical fumble recovery that killed an Oklahoma scoring opportunity while keying Iowa State’s second-half comeback.
“I do mean this, I think he’s one of the absolute best stories in college football, and hopefully people start to find out after what happened,” Cyclones’ coach Matt Campbell said. “There are a lot of good players in college football, but I don’t know if there’s someone that does more for their team.
“I think he’s absolutely incredible.”
3. Stop the Iowa State running game: Iowa State ranks last in the Big 12 in rushing offense, just 112.9 yards a game, but WVU ranks next to last in rushing defense, giving up 204.6 yards a game.
That means this defense that has stopped no one must stop David Montgomery, and that’s no easy chore for a defense that ranks 106th among the nation’s 129 teams in rushing defense.
Montgomery, as noted, is the Iowa State running game and his 716 rushing yards rank second in the conference to the 836 put up by Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill. That’s kind of scary, considering Hill had 86 yards on just 12 carries against WVU last week before missing most of the game with a head injury, turning matters over to freshman J.D. King, who carried 36 times for 142 yards.
Teams are averaging 4.8 yards per rush against WVU, which makes you wonder why they ever throw it.
“It starts with their running back. Montgomery is as good as I’ve seen; he’s made more people miss and has broken more tackles than I’ve seen yet this year and we’ve played a lot of good backs,” Holgorsen said.
“They give it to him about 20 times a game, and then they have (Mike) Warren backing him up, which everybody would like to have him as well. They’re big up front, they play hard.”
4. Can WVU force some mistakes from Iowa State?: Not likely.
Since Iowa State’s season turned around, it has been mistake free — and remember, two of the teams the Cyclones beat were Oklahoma and TCU.
Iowa State has the top turnover margin in the conference at plus-10, with seven fumbles recovered and none lost while most of the interceptions they threw were early. As it is they have 10 interceptions to their credit.
WVU, on the other hands, is even in turnover margin with 13 takeaways and 13 giveaways.
As for penalties, Iowa State is the least penalized team in the Big 12 with 31 in eight games for 291 yards, an average of 36.4 yards a game while WVU is eighth in the 10-team Big 12 with 51 penalties for 531 yards, 66.4 per game.
“They’re well-coached, they have a lot of older guys that have bought into what they’re doing and they’re playing very mistake-free, very smart football. They don’t get penalized; they’re No. 1 in the league in penalties, No. 1 in the league in lack of turnovers, turnover margin, that sort of thing,” Holgorsen noted.
5. WVU has to get back on the same page in its passing game: Maybe it was the weather that had the receivers going to their special rain gloves which they didn’t like and finally just ditching glove for their bare hands … but there were eight drops against Oklahoma State.
Holgorsen goes back to the tough mentality in this area, too.
“It’s the same mentality I’ve been talking about,” Holgorsen said. “If you think for a minute about having a mentally and physically tough football player, they run routes fast, they break off resistance, they attack the ball, they’re fast.
“Then, you have up front guys having to lock things down and create space to be able to make that throw. We put a lot on (redshirt junior quarterback) Will (Grier), there’s no question about that. But there’s a toughness that needs to exist with the quarterback in the pocket of setting your feet and being mentally tough and working the pocket like he’s done great at all year and setting the feet with proper technique and throwing the ball like he knows how to throw it. It’s everybody.”