West Virginia Rush Offense vs. Iowa State Rush Defense
If Tavon Austin lines up back there for the Mountaineers, look out. Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said he made good players miss against Oklahoma. He did. Notably, celebrated defensive back Tony Jefferson, a likely early round NFL Draft pick. If Austin simply plays receiver, that’s not necessarily any better. Advantage: West Virginia
West Virginia Pass Offense vs. Iowa State Pass Defense
Geno Smith for Heisman has gone the way of “Vote for Pedro,” but he’s still compiling impressive numbers. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes for 35 touchdowns and five interceptions. All of the picks have come in conference play. ISU is tied for 25th nationally in interceptions with 13. Advantage: West Virginia
Iowa State Rush Offense vs. West Virginia Rush Defense
Everything worked on the ground for the Cyclones’ in last week’s whitewash of Kansas. Jeff Woody rushed for a career-high 89 yards on nine carries. James White averaged 9.5 yards. Shontrelle Johnson ran at a 5.7-yard clip. But the Mountaineers are best against the run (29th in FBS). (Slight) advantage: Iowa State
Iowa State Pass Offense vs. West Virginia Pass Defense
Sam Richardson’s emergence surprised Cyclone faithful and Fox Sports Net commentators alike. ‘Didn’t see it coming’ was a common refrain. Mountaineers are 120th against the pass — and ISU coach Paul Rhoads has been coy, vowing to reveal his starting QB “at 2:34 p.m.” today. Advantage: Iowa State
With Kirby Van Der Kamp at punter, the Cyclones have become a near lock to get the edge in this category. But kicker Edwin Arceo’s been climbing the charts, as well. He cranked up three field goals of 47 or more yards in the Kansas win and is 7-of-10 this season from 40-plus yards. (Slight) advantage: Iowa State
So far, the most vocal proponent — albeit tongue-in-cheek — of this becoming a geography-based Big 12 “rivalry” is Mountaineers hoops coach Bob Huggins. It’s the first meeting between the programs, so any bad blood will need to start flowing today in Ames. West Virginia needs a win to become bowl eligible, so there’s that. There’s also a Kansas in the hole next week for senior day in Morgantown. The weather forecast has been downgraded for game day, so that could dampen the Mountaineers’ spirits. ISU has senior day going for it — so it’s the last time star players such as Jake Knott (injured), A.J. Klein and Josh Lenz will patrol the Jack Trice Stadium field. Senior Cyclones uniformly said it would be both an exciting and sad day. To accentuate the excitement, another high-end crowd is expected despite it being Black Friday. The Cyclones have attracted 54,000-plus fans to each home game this season, one of many records set on the attendance front.
(Slight) advantage: Iowa State
West Virginia will win if … Tavon Austin runs wild and free — and the Cyclones can’t wrap him up. Geno Smith must go over 300 yards through the air for the third straight game and avoid interceptions (he threw two in 50-49 loss to Oklahoma last week). Run defense needs to prove it’s as good as its ranking.
Iowa State will win if … Sam Richardson can follow up his bravura performance at Lawrence with another poised, pinpoint effort against a bottom-feeder Mountaineers’ pass defense. Now, it’s possible he won’t start, though … Defense must maintain its red zone stinginess (tie, 29th nationally, 77 percent).
Prediction: Iowa State 35, West Virginia 30
Three things to watch
ISU tight end Ernst Brun. The former hoops star from Georgia has become a fixture here for good reason. He caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season at Kansas, which ties him for second all-time in school history at the position (Keith Krepfle also had five touchdown passes in 1973).
The Cyclones’ offensive line. Stalwart left tackle Brayden Burris out with a leg injury. Jacob Gannon filled in ably as Carter Bykowski shifted to Burris’s spot against Kansas, but can the group continue to thrive down a starter? ISU is tied for 24th nationally in sacks allowed (1.27 per game).
West Virginia wideout Stedman Bailey. Wow comes to mind when assessing Bailey’s career. The Fred Biletnikoff Award finalist has 12 career 100-plus yard games and 36 overall touchdown catches, a school record. He’s caught 27 passes for 430 yards the past two games, with five touchdowns.
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