ISU’s Campbell Impressed With Grier, Says WVU Flashes Solid Balance
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Matt Campbell relates the challenges of West Virginia’s offense to a sly game of chess.
Move too quickly, show your intent, and the opponent seizes the power of prediction. But integrate strategy with a bit of cloak and dagger, and opportunities open.
“We have to continue to be very calculating in choosing what we do and how we mix and match in this game,” said Campbell, whose Iowa State defense has limited Texas Tech and TCU to just 13 offensive points the last two weeks.
“It starts on offense with their quarterback. I don’t know if I could be more impressed with a guy getting into that system, getting comfortable in that system and executing within that system at such a high rate. He has great athleticism, and the ability to run the football which can make it tricky as to where you want to put those extra hats because of that in terms of their passing game.”
Despite a career-high four interceptions last week – at least two of which were blamed on the receivers and chalked up to missed timing – WVU quarterback Will Grier remains second in the Big 12 and fourth nationally in passing yards while leading an offense that averages 42.8 points per game. That’s good for seventh at the FBS level, and the Mountaineers also rate in the top 10 in passing (5th/354.1 ypg) and total offense (8th/515.4 ypg).
Yet it’s the balance which concerns Campbell, who noted the depth of the backfield in Justin Crawford, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway, along with the blocking ability of Eli Wellman. While the Mountaineers have ran successfully in stretches this season, they rank 69th nationally at 161.3 yards per game with an average that has fallen over the last four contests to just 100 yards.
That’s a concern this week, especially with the Cyclones preferring to utilize eight players in coverage and dare teams to run in advantageous downs and distances.
“When you see a great offense at the college level it usually has balance,” said Campbell, in his second season in Ames after four-year stint at Toledo in which he amassed a 35-15 record with a trio of nine-win seasons. “That’s where their growth has been. They have a great fullback as a lead blocker, one of the best in our conference. I really like their offensive line and they have a plethora of tailbacks who can make things happen. You have to have a great flow to how you call the game defensively and have some great adjustments. Good challenge for us in situational football.”
Iowa State, conversely, is first in the Big 12 in turnover margin and tackles for loss and second in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. The Cyclones have made plays on the ball, with 10 interceptions, while also not penalizing itself to provide opposing teams breaks.
That’s allowed it to be surprisingly successful away from home this year. Iowa State is 3-0 on the road this season and has won four straight road games for the first time in 47 seasons. Against West Virginia, it’ll try for a fifth consecutive road win for the first time since 1960-61. They key, according to Campbell, is a roster brimming with older players; the Cyclones start five seniors on offense and six on defense to go with three juniors.
“I think you have to have a veteran football team,” Campbell said of having success on the road. “There has to be great player buy-in. Our seniors have done a great job of that. You have to have maturity. I’ve been round those young teams and it gets to be a flaky situation. We have so many veteran guys who have been places we haven’t as a coaching staff. Whether we are at home or on the road I don’t see a different mentality in this team.”
ISU’s pair of victories over ranked foes in Oklahoma and TCU ties the school record and marked first time any FBS program has beaten two top five teams in the same month since LSU did so in 2011. Now, Iowa State tries to remain tied atop the Big 12 standings with just three games left while WVU attempts to avoid a third loss in five games which could put its postseason status in jeopardy.
“We talked about humility before honor and that when you have to go up the rough side of the mountain, you learn that along the way,” Campbell said of building a program. “You understand the positive things and why they happen and how that process allows you to have success. That humility is something our society is not real good at. You instill that and you give yourself a chance to have success.
“You are constantly growing in this profession. It’s constantly learning and growing and trying to put your team and program in the best possible situation.”