With Yet Another Top 15 Foe, WVU Must Establish Its Physicality & Fundamentals
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s inability to play hard in its last outing contrasts sharply with its next opponent in Iowa State.
The No. 14 Cyclones, off to their best Big 12 start in school history at 4-1, have already won at then-No. 3 Oklahoma and on the road at Texas Tech to go with home victories over Kansas via shutout and then-No. 4 TCU in a 14-7 dogfight in which the defense allowed zero points. Head coach Matt Campbell has brought his old-school approach to Ames with ISU among the most disciplined, physical and intelligent teams in the country.
“They are playing mistake-free, smart football,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “No. 1 in the league in penalties, lack of turnovers, turnover margin. Very sound, very smart, very tough. Overall a really good football team.”
That’s quite the disparity when compared to West Virginia’s last game, a 50-39 loss to Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers had mistakes of the mental and physical kind, and were outhustled and outcoached. WVU has, in the past, played with an edge, but that was blunted in the defeat – making that aspect the primary concern heading into this weekend.
“I would think determined,” Holgorsen said of WVU’s mindset. “If you can’t be determined to get out there and coach harder, play harder, practice harder, then why do you do it? We got beat. My assessment of not having the right mentality, there were examples everywhere, at every position. If you don’t have that then you will have a hard time being successful. We didn’t play as hard as we needed to, bottom line.”
Holgorsen repeatedly hit on the idea that West Virginia must display more physical play. But there were miscues in execution, alignment and basic fundamentals like tackling in the open field with a numbers edge around the ball. It was discouraging, but might have offered the wake-up slap the Mountaineers needed. With just four games left, WVU’s season is teetering between success and failure with a closing stretch as difficult as anybody’s.
“We got some work to do,” Holgorsen said. “We have to play well and improve on the things we didn’t do well last week if we want to win this game. Our guys will be motivated to play, to practice to get a couple things fixed to where we can go out there and compete hard and get a victory this Saturday, which we fully expect to do.”
That’ll prove doggedly difficult against an Iowa State team in a four-way tie for first in the conference and off to its best start in five seasons at 6-2. ISU is 3-0 on the road this season and has allowed just 13 points in defense in the last three games combined. Six of those points came on a seven-yard scoring dive by Texas Tech after a turnover, and the ‘Clones have held each of their Big 12 foes thus far to 10-plus points below their season average in leading the league in conference-game scoring defense.
On offense, the Cyclones have switched to quarterback Kyle Kemp after former starting QB Jacob Park took a leave of absence from football in early October due to undisclosed medical issues. Kemp, a 6-foot-5 senior, has shown the patience and savvy to play methodical football and lead ISU to a 4-0 mark as a starter. He has completed 66.7 percent of his passes (74-of-111) while throwing for 859 yards and nine touchdowns.
“They are playing well,” Holgorsen said. “It’s very well-documented. Everybody understands what they have done the last month. They were sitting there at 2-2 and had the quarterback change headed to Oklahoma and they’ve done nothing but have success since then. Now sitting here at 6-2 and 14th in the country. Playing well as a whole team, not just one side. Offensively nobody takes care of the ball better since they made the switch to Kemp. We recruited him. Big tall guy who can throw it well. Got some 6-3, 6-4 wideouts who high point the ball.
It starts with their running back. (David) Montgomery is as good as I have seen. Has made more people miss, broke more tackles then I have seen yet and we have played a lot of good backs. They give it to him 20 times a game. Big up front. They play hard. They are well-coached. Have a lot of older guys who have bought into what they are doing. They’re disciplined. Add that to a bunch of fifth-year seniors and you have a good football team.”