The gauntlet of Big 12 offenses doesn’t let up this week for Iowa State. No. 6 West Virginia comes to Ames on Saturday at 6 p.m. with Will Grier, a Heisman Trophy front-runner at the helm.
1. Grier is the exotic engine that allows the West Virginia sports car to move up and down the field with relative ease. He’s completing more than 71 percent of his passes while throwing the ball more than 35 times a game. He also has 1,819 passing yards and 21 touchdowns.
But an overlooked part of West Virginia is its rushing attack. The Mountaineers have three running backs with more than 200 yards rushing, led by Leddie Brown with 305 and three touchdowns.
“The most impressive thing about (Grier’s) video is the offensive line has really grown up,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said.
West Virginia returned four of its five starters along the line from last season.
“They were a young group a year ago, and you can see this year they are doing a great job running the football,” Campbell said. “Running the ball has allowed Will to pick and choose his points where he wants to throw.”
2. The Big 12 is known for its offenses, but conference defenses are sneaky good so far. Oklahoma State leads the nation in sacks with 28, Iowa State has held every opponent below its scoring average — including four of the five to at least 10 points below. Kansas leads the nation in turnovers forced with 18 and TCU, of course, is leading the way, allowing just 300 yards per game, best in the Big 12.
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West Virginia has decided to join in the defensive fun. The Mountaineers are allowing a league-low 18.6 points per game.
“I think some really, really good defense is getting played in this conference right now and I think everybody’s gone to that mindset and understanding that if you want to be an upper-tier program in college football you have to play defense,” Campbell said. “I think the old adage of defense still wins championships, that hasn’t removed itself from any situation in any sport at any level. I think obviously (TCU Coach) Gary Patterson has been setting the tone for that for a long time, not only in this conference but nationally.
“What (Iowa State defensive coordinator) coach (Jon) Heacock’s been able to do and West Virginia’s been that way for a long time, too. I think that’s why they’ve always been so successful, because their foundation has been revolved around the defensive side of the football. I think it’s a good time if you’re talking good defensive play in this conference and what’s going on.”
1. Iowa State already has played three quarterbacks this season and both of the backups have a win. Zeb Noland beat Akron and true freshman Brock Purdy upset then-No. 21 Oklahoma State.
Iowa State first-year quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon should get some credit for getting all of the quarterbacks ready to go.
“Joel has done in incredible job, not only with that quarterback room,” Campbell said. “In five games you’ve played three quarterbacks and trying to get three guys ready to play. I think we would all say, if you look at it statistically, they’ve been extremely efficient. None of those guys, even back to the TCU game, there wasn’t a lack of efficiency in the game. Now maybe some execution, but (not) efficiency. I think the reality of it is, is credit goes to the coach and coach Gordon’s done a great job preparing those guys.
» Read more: Brock Purdy mature 'beyond his years'
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“We’ve got to continue to make sure we develop a game plan that allows those guys to be as successful as they can be. Kind of intertwining that with getting a game plan that allows our football team to be as successful as we can be. I think he’s done a great job. Joel’s one of the rising stars in our profession in a lot of ways. I think his ability to handle this from an adversity standpoint in his first year as the full-time coach shows you what a great job he’s doing right now for our program.”
2. Iowa State’s offense still is a bit dinged up. Campbell said on Tuesday quarterback Kyle Kempt would be doubtful to play on Saturday as he still is recovering from his knee injury.
Running back David Montgomery is day-to-day.
“He looks healthy,” Campbell said. “He looks ready to go. Again, he’s looked that way for the last week or so. It’s not the look, it’s the feel. I think just where he’s at in terms of that pain and some of those things that he’s dealing with right now, so I think we’ll have a better idea (later in the week).”
Iowa State’s running backs did an admirable job filling in for Montgomery last week, led by redshirt sophomore Kene Nwangwu. Nwangwu ran the ball 10 times for 49 yards.
“Kene is a guy that we said at the beginning of the year, ‘We have to find ways to get him involved,’” Campbell said. “Saturday, watching that evolve, just reminded all of us why he’s a guy that in his carries in the football game maximized every possession that he had. He has to be a guy that has to continue to be a factor for us.
“I’m really proud of Kene. Every time he’s touched the ball, whether it’s been a kickoff or certainly on the offensive side, he’s been a factor this year.”
West Virginia 38, Iowa State 31
West Virginia has film on Purdy, which will make things hard as the true freshman tries to adjust to the Mountaineer defense and what they're giving him.
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