WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

Gameday Live: WVU at Kansas State

The Mountaineers try to keep their momentum rolling against the Wildcats in Manhattan, a place where WVU has never won. Mitch Vingle is in the press box. Follow the action with him right here:

Injuries and other factors have led to this year’s Kansas State (5-4, 3-3) team not living up to the preseason praise it was getting, as the Wildcats were seen as a dark horse in the Big 12 before the start of the year. Now three-fourths of the way through the season, and Bill Snyder has been forced to play three different quarterbacks.

The quarterback spot is where this week’s edition of Scouting the Opponent will start ahead of No. 23 West Virginia’s (6-3, 4-2) game in Manhattan.

Quarterback Carousel

Senior Jesse Ertz was supposed to be leading the Wildcats to another successful season. Instead, his season came to a halt five games in due to a knee injury.

Snyder has listed Ertz as day-to-day, but his starting quarterback hasn’t strapped on the pads in a game since the injury occurred. In his place was sophomore Alex Delton, who’s had an up and down year, leading to just a 1-3 record in games he’s completed this season. The lone win came two weeks ago against Kansas when Delton attempted just seven passes on a day that K-State excelled on the ground.

Delton, however, was sidelined last week due to multiple hits to the head, causing concussion-like symptoms. That thrust third-string QB Skylar Thompson into action on the road against Texas Tech, in a game that was eventually won on a Thompson pass in overtime. Due to Snyder not disclosing injuries to the media, it’s unclear if Delton or Thompson will start Saturday.

Given his playing style, Delton – if healthy – could present problems for the WVU defense, as he’s a dual-threat QB that ran for 142 yards against Oklahoma earlier this year.

Balanced, but not Explosive

The quarterback changes have kept things balanced, offensively, for the Wildcats, who enter Saturday’s game averaging nearly the same amount of yardage from the pass as they are the run. However, K-State will run the ball nearly twice as much as it will throw, especially without its seasoned veteran Ertz taking snaps.

Kansas State is averaging 193 yards on the ground and nearly 185 through the air. The 378.1 yards of total offense per game is just twenty-nine yards more than what WVU quarterback Will Grier is averaging only passing the ball this season.

Carrying the Rock

Alex Barnes is the leading rusher for the Wildcats, though he’s averaging just 65.2 yards per contest. Delton can be a true run threat if he plays, and Thompson has shown the ability to run as well.

Runs can come from all over. Eight different non-quarterbacks have carried the ball this year for K-State, compared to the seven total players that have a recorded run for West Virginia.

Situational Football

Here are a few numbers that stick out that if they hold true Saturday, could greatly impact the outcome of the game:

Although nearly as efficient on third down as the Mountaineers ­(36% – 34%), the Wildcats have been nowhere near as successful on fourth down. K-State has converted just once all year on fourth down, while WVU has a 73 percent conversion rate.

Kansas State is also turning less than 60 percent of its trips to the red zone into touchdowns. WVU on the other hand is doing so 72 percent of the time.

Built to Stop the Run

Just like he likely drew it up, Snyder’s defense has been built to limit the opposing ground game.

Kansas State has been the third-best team in the Big 12 at stopping the run this season, giving up nearly 60 yards less per game on the ground than WVU. However, the Wildcats have the worst pass defense in the conference. Jayd Kirby leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss this year, followed by Will Geary with 7.5.

Return specialists

K-State is the best time in the Big 12 when it comes to returning kickoffs and is second to only TCU when it comes to returning punts.

The Wildcats have returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown this year. Switching sides, Kansas State has also given up the second-fewest yards on kick returns.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen asked Tuesday for the media to forgive him if he started talking about Iowa State instead of Kansas State this week. That’s how similar the two teams feel.

It’s Bill Snyder’s Wildcats that the Mountaineers are up against on the road on Saturday. Manhattan is a place that WVU has had trouble finding success in before, but as Holgorsen said, it’s a place lots of teams have had troubles in.

“We for sure got our work cut out for us this week,” Holgorsen said.

K-State QB Problems

Snyder may not like to talk about the health of his own players, but that doesn’t mean Holgorsen can’t address it.

Health at the quarterback position for the Wildcats is a big question mark.

First-string QB Jesse Ertz has been sidelined each of the last four weeks with a knee injury that, even though has Snyder listing him as “day-to-day,” has many around the Big 12 thinking is for sure a long-term injury.

Second-string quarterback Alex Delton had been playing well before getting knocked out of the game last week against Texas Tech with a concussion. His status for Saturday is unknown.

That leaves third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson as the probable starter.

“The four quarters that I studied more than anything, (Thompson) kept getting better and better and better and better, and led his team from being down at Texas Tech,” Holgorsen said. “They’re all three really good and really capable of running the offense.”

A little weaker at its strength

Switching sides of the ball, the head coach of the Mountaineers said that K-State isn’t as strong on defense as it has been in years past.

Though he cautioned that it’s still a Kansas State defensive unit that’s built to stop the run.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Last week a lot of talk surrounded the physicality of practice for the Mountaineers, who ramped things up during the week to answer the call from the head coach.

Asked what the approach would be this week, Holgorsen said there wouldn’t be too much of a difference.

“Our job this week is to continue to build on what we did last week, which is practice hard, prepare hard, be tough, give effort,” he said.

There is a line to walk, though, especially when dealing with the injuries that have come up on the WVU depth chart over the past few weeks.

“We cranked it up a little bit last week. I think it needed to be done,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t know if you can continue to do that.

“You’ve got to gauge it a little bit.”

Rain and cold, sun and warm, and anything in between

Favorite weather for the head coach is apparently sunny and 70 degrees. Sounds like something most people could get behind.

That came up when asked about practicing in the weather this week leading up to a Saturday kick where the weather is expected to be rainy.

“If the weather is bad there is a preparation aspect of it,” Holgorsen said. “We’re not scared to go outside in the elements.”

Holgorsen said the weather during the week can only become an issue if it interferes with the preparation in terms of teaching the players about the opponent and the game plan.

No. 23 West Virginia’s (6-3, 4-2) win over then-No. 15 Iowa State Saturday evening accomplished a couple of things.

It arguably kept the Mountaineer season on the rails. It officially made WVU bowl eligible for this season. And it kept West Virginia alive in the chase to play in the Big 12 Championship game.

Although it’s a slim chance that you’ll see the Old Gold and Blue playing in “Jerry World” on Dec. 2, it’s still a possibility as we enter the final three weeks of the season.

A number of things need to go the Mountaineers’ way for it to happen, and it all starts in house.

The first part of the path is simple: WVU needs to win out. That means defeating Texas at home in two weeks and doing two things West Virginia has not done since entering the Big 12 – winning at Kansas State and winning at Oklahoma.

In the meantime, WVU will need some help.

Big 12 Standings

The Mountaineers don’t own the tiebreaker against either TCU or Oklahoma State, but now obviously do against the Cyclones, and will need to against Oklahoma to play in the Big 12 title game.

West Virginia will also need the Sooners to lose at least one more game, the more likely option being this weekend against TCU. The Horned Frogs can’t provide much help other than beating Oklahoma, though that’s a tall enough task on its own given the game’s in Norman.

Oklahoma State’s loss in Bedlam helped some, but Gundy and company will have to go the extra mile to help the Mountaineers. That means losing this week in Ames – something that isn’t out of the question given previous meetings between the two, and the season that the Cyclones are having.

WVU also needs the Cowboys to fall to Kansas State or Kansas in the final two weeks of the season.

What WVU needs to happen

All of those outcomes would put Gary Patterson’s squad as the top team in the conference at 11-1, 8-1. West Virginia would then follow with a 9-3 overall record – the same as Oklahoma – but the Week 13 win in Norman gives the Mountaineers the better conference record (7-2 as opposed to 6-3) and the tiebreaker for good measure.

OU would then finish fourth behind Iowa State, meaning Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph, and others sit at home, while Kenny Hill and Will Grier duel it out in AT&T Stadium.

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Despite being a virtual home game for TCU, Mountaineer fans should want to see the Horned Frogs in the title game more so than other conference foes for a few reasons. Had WVU not gotten in its own way when the two teams played earlier this year, WVU may very well have won the meeting in Fort Worth. Not only that, but TCU’s offense is the least explosive of the teams atop the Big 12.

Also, much like how during basketball season it’s extremely tough to beat the same team three times, it’s tough during football season to beat the same opponent twice. That means OU comes back with a vengeance against the Mountaineers if that would be the title game, or WVU is the one getting payback against the Horned Frogs.

It’s a small chance, but there’s still a chance that West Virginia can play for the Big 12 title. A lot of things need to go the Mountaineers way, but as crazy as the Big 12, and college football in general, has been this year, it can’t be overlooked.

BLOG: WVU-Iowa State Report Card — A solid outing

A second win of the season over a Top 25 team isn’t something that often comes in Morgantown. It’s the first time that’s happened since 2012.

This is now just the fifth time in the last 16 seasons that the Mountaineers have picked up at least two wins over ranked teams in the regular season. And it’s a win that might not have happened had it not been for multiple defensive stops in big moments.

The defense rising to the occasion at the right times will help its grade, but what about the rest of the team?

Here is the WVU report card for this week.

Offense – C+

It was great seeing Justin Crawford running healthy in the first half. His explosiveness was back, he was making good cuts, and had it not been for multiple times he being dragged down by his jersey, Crawford could’ve been well on his way to a big day.

Will Grier was efficient, just throwing five incompletions, and once again eclipsing 300 passing yards against a stingy Iowa State defense.

Receivers had a bounce-back game after a disappointing performance against Oklahoma State.

Play calling was also much improved Saturday.

Things weren’t all great on the offensive side of the ball, though. West Virginia didn’t score in the second half. Not one point.

They also left some points on the field, having to settle for field goals three times in the first half, one of which was missed. Granted Iowa State’s defense has made a habit of being a much stronger team, defensively, after halftime than before, but WVU continuing to only be truly productive on offense for one half at a time is still an issue.

Defense – B+

A goal line stand early in the third quarter ultimately made the difference.

Stuffing the Cyclones twice inside the 3-yard line, and holding them to a field goal not only kept the lead at seven for the Mountaineers instead of three, but defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said that it kept momentum on WVU’s side.

To then hold the Cyclones to a field goal in the red zone in the fourth, and then force a turnover on downs later in the period proved to be the difference in the outcome of the game as well.

The defense played well for a majority of the game. A few of the committed penalties were unnecessary. However, the Mountaineers excelled most of the game at making Kyle Kempt uncomfortable, which coming in didn’t seem to be possible.

Some points were taken away for poor tackling that, at times, aided David Montgomery on a number of his runs, allowing him to gain more yardage than he should’ve.

Overall, though, it was a good day for the defense, especially since they were shorthanded due to injuries.

Special teams – B-

Another good performance out of the special teams unit.

Billy Kinney appears to be returning to form. Two of his three punts pinned the Cyclones inside the 20-yard line, including one that was downed at the three.

Evan Staley did a fairly good job once again filling in for the injured Mike Molina, making two of three field goals.

Kickoff coverage wasn’t as good as it’s been over the past two games, but punt coverage performed well.

Linemen – B

It wasn’t a great day, statistically, for the guys in the trenches, but they graded well on the eye test.

Starting with the offensive linemen, they did a much better job at keeping Grier upright. He did have to scramble some early on, but that lessened as the game progressed. Giving up six tackles for loss isn’t great, but that isn’t all on the O-line.

Switching to defense, they only registered one sack (a huge hit by Ezekiel Rose), and only four tackles for loss were collected on the day.

However, the defensive line performed well. They were physical and, even if they themselves weren’t getting to Kempt, they were creating holes for other players to do so.

The boys up front answered the call to be more physical.

Overall – B

West Virginia played well for the most part.

This wasn’t your average Iowa State team. The Cyclones were big, physical and also quicker than some may have expected.

WVU didn’t completely succumb to the second-half let down, and overall played one of its better games of the year despite the low score.

Saturday’s contest was one that many were saying was going to decide the rest of the season for the Mountaineers, who now have good vibes entering the final three games.

Good Sunday morn all. WVU sneaks back into my Top 25. My entire vote:
1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Wisconsin
4. Notre Dame
5. Miami
6. Oklahoma
7. Clemson
8. TCU
9. Washington
10. Ohio State
11. Auburn
12. Michigan State
13. Penn State
14. UCF
15. USC
16. Oklahoma State
17. Virginia Tech
18. Mississippi State
19. Memphis
20. Michigan
21. Washington State
22. LSU
23. North Carolina State
24. WVU
25. Iowa State

Gameday Live: Iowa State visits WVU

The Cyclones blow into Morgantown to take on the Mountaineers in a pivotal Big 12 matchup. Mitch Vingle is in the Puskar Stadium press box for the game and you can follow all the action with him right here:

“It’s about to get real uncomfortable around here.”

Dana Holgorsen uttered those words after his team watched Oklahoma State sprint away with a 50-39 win. And I’m sure that, if he didn’t use that word “uncomfortable” with the team before he talked to the media, or they didn’t hear it when he was talking to the media, the players definitely heard it plenty afterward.

Holgorsen needed to make things uncomfortable around the locker room this week, especially with some of the other things he had to say after that game, like “If you don’t play with toughness …” and “they dominated up front.” Coaches want to talk about their team as the dominant ones, not the dominated. Holgorsen had to discuss the latter. He wasn’t happy.

Something had to be done to shake things up, especially considering the next task, No. 14 Iowa State at Puskar Stadium. The Cyclones have one just one of five games they’ve played against WVU, but this crew is quite different. ISU has knocked off both Oklahoma and TCU in its last four games, and both the Sooners and Horned Frogs were in the nation’s top five when the Cyclones did it.

How much would a loss sting for WVU? Look at it like this: It took 13 games last season for the Mountaineers to suffer three losses. Fall against Iowa State, and they’ll have four losses in nine games. The last thing WVU wanted to do after last season was to start sliding backward.

And the worst place the Mountaineers would slide is in the Big 12 standings. Falling to 3-3 in the league would essentially eliminate them from contention for a spot in the conference title game. They’d play out the string as a spoiler looking to at least secure that bowl-clinching sixth win.

Now, if WVU can win, a 4-2 conference record keeps that door open, provided a couple more teams stumble. So this game, as is every game for the rest of the season, is crucial. Another loss, and the Mountaineers can find out just how much more uncomfortable the season can get.

Possibly one of the biggest surprises of this college football season has been the success of Iowa State (6-2, 4-1).

The Cyclones enter Saturday’s matchup with West Virginia (5-3, 3-2) as the No. 15 team in the College Football Playoff Rankings, one of four teams from the Big 12 ranked inside the Top 15. While Iowa State’s playing some of its best football of the season, the Mountaineers are coming off their third loss of the year to a ranked team.

Before kickoff comes, here’s a look at the Cyclones.

Record Year in the Making in Ames

Last weekend’s victory over then-No. 4 TCU was Iowa State’s second win of the year over a top-five team. That doubles its career win total against such opponents, who ISU was a combined 1-54-1 against entering the season. The Cyclones are also 3-0 on the road this year and have won four-straight road contests dating back to last year. Iowa State’s last five-game road winning streak was in 1960-1961. The 4-1 start to conference play is also the program’s best start against conference foes.

History versus the ‘Eers

West Virginia owns a 4-1 series lead against the Cyclones dating back to the first meeting between the two in 2012.

Iowa State’s lone win against WVU came in November 2013 in Morgantown in a triple-overtime game. In last season’s meeting, running back David Montgomery ran for 141 yards but was outdone by West Virginia’s Martell Pettaway’s 181, as he led a banged up WVU ground game en route to a 49-19 win in Ames.

Balanced game plan

Since making the switch from Jacob Park to Kyle Kempt at quarterback, the Cyclones have become a very balanced offense when it comes to play calling.

Over that time, Kempt has attempted no more than 35 passes in a game, while Montgomery has gotten a healthy dose of carries out of the backfield. However, this doesn’t mean the production has been balanced. Iowa State’s ground game has been held to under 100 yards in two of the last four games, while Kempt has eclipsed 200 passing yards in all but one game.

Tall on the Outside

Like WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen and other coaches mentioned on Tuesday, Iowa State’s wide receiving corps has a height advantage.

Looking at the depth chart, six of Iowa State’s pass catchers (receivers and tight ends) are listed at 6-foot-4 and above. Eight out of 10 are listed at 6 feet or taller. This includes senior Allen Lazard, who is ISU’s career receptions leader (209) and paces this year’s team in catches (39), receiving yards (477) and touchdown catches (5). Lazard stands at 6-foot-5, which is at least two inches taller than any of listed WVU defensive backs on that side of the field.

Joel Lanning factor

Much like Lazard, senior LB/QB Joel Lanning has been playing in Ames for a while.

Yes, you read the position correctly, Lanning not only is the starting linebacker for Jon Heacock’s defense, but he also has lined up as a quarterback and run the ball for the Cyclones offense this year. Lanning leads the team with 87 total tackles.

The senior played quarterback in high school, and given that he has some experience at the QB position in college, but performs very well at another position, some could make the comparison between him and David Sills V. Holgorsen himself drew that comparison earlier this week, talking about how Lanning can dissect offenses quicker than some defensive players based on his knowledge from playing that side of the ball.

Defense wins

The Iowa State defense has been playing some of the best football in the conference, as a unit, as of late.

In its last 14 quarters played, ISU has surrendered just 27 total points, seven of which came on a kickoff returned for a touchdown last Saturday. The Cyclones have been especially good after halftime in Big 12 play, giving up just 24 combined points in the second half during its five conference games. Iowa State leads the Big 12 in scoring defense since conference play began, holding every offense its played to at least 10 points below its season average.

On the year, the Cyclones have surrendered the second-fewest total points

Closer look at the ISU D

Lanning paces Iowa State’s defense in tackles, but no one in Ames is better at getting into the backfield than J.D. Waggoner. Waggoner’s 8.5 tackles for loss is a team-best, and his 2.5 sacks give him a total of 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Marcel Spears Jr. has been around the ball plenty this season. He ranks second on the team in tackles and is among the team leaders in tackles for loss. The linebacker also a pair of interceptions, and three pass-breakups.

As a unit, the Iowa State defense has picked off ten passes and picked up seven fumbles. The 17 turnovers created is part of the best turnover margin (+10) in the Big 12.

BLOG: Holgorsen talks toughness

Mental and physical toughness dominated the talking points for West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen on Tuesday at his weekly media session.

Holgorsen has been on record for several weeks, saying that his team hasn’t been physical enough at times. That came to a head on Saturday when after the game he said Oklahoma State was simply more physical than the Mountaineers.

Tuesday, though, mental toughness was also a sticking point. Holgorsen took ownership, saying, “If the whole team was not in the right frame of mind, mentally, that’s 100 percent on me.”

Here are some other news and notes from Tuesday.

Determination factor

Along with the physical and mental toughness, Holgorsen talked about the determination he hopes he sees in his team this week, both from players and coaches.

“I’m as anxious as anybody to see the determination of our team.”

Another Top 15 team

Saturday’s game against No. 14 Iowa State will be West Virginia’s fourth game against an opponent that’s spent at least one week ranked inside the Top 15, and fifth total game against a ranked foe.

“Nothing like facing another Top 15 opponent,” Holgorsen said.

Change in QB, Change in success

Four weeks into the season Iowa State was sitting at 2-2 after a tough loss to Texas in which it had opportunities to win.

Since then, as Holgorsen stated, the Cyclones made a quarterback change – inserting Kyle Kempt into the starting role – and, “since then they’ve been playing so good.”

“(Iowa State’s) playing well as a full team.”

Tall on the outside

One challenge that will be presented for West Virginia on Saturday will be the height of the Cyclones’ wide receivers.

Looking at the depth chart, six of Iowa State’s pass catchers (receivers and tight ends) are listed at 6-foot-4 and taller. Eight out of 10 are listed are 6 feet or taller.

An experienced bunch

Iowa State has a pair of players on its roster in Allen Lazard and Joel Lanning that have seemingly been in Ames since WVU’s arrival in the Big 12.

But they aren’t the only ones.

The Cyclones are planning on starting 15 upperclassmen Saturday, with more experienced players waiting in the wings.