When sixth-ranked West Virginia heads west to Ames, Iowa, on Saturday evening to battle Iowa State in a key Big 12 Conference showdown at Jack Trice Stadium its focus will be on the run game — stopping the Cyclones’ and improving on its own.
The Mountaineers, despite being 5-0 and 3-0 in Big 12 play, has been a pass-heavy team this season, as Heisman Trophy hopeful Will Grier and his bevy of top-drawer receivers have racked up better that 364 yards per game through the air.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday that he would like to see more balance from his offense and an improvement in the run game.
“Stepping up our run game is critical, without a doubt,” Holgorsen said. “I was happy with how we ran the ball against Iowa State last year. They give us favorable boxes, but they do a really nice job of filling gaps from second- and third-level defenders, which usually means that you can get five (yards), but getting eight to 10 (yards) is hard.
“We did an outstanding job last year being patient with running the ball. Last week, we did the same thing. We did a good job of running the ball until we got into the red zone.”
Iowa State (2-3, 1-2 in Big 12 play) wants to run the ball to control the clock and limit the possessions for Grier and his arsenal.
“Offensively, they’re searching a little bit for their identity, so to speak, because of some injury issues that everybody has to deal with at times,” Holgorsen said about Iowa State. “They will keep getting better on offense. Last week’s performance at Oklahoma State was impressive, and that’s what we will be expecting moving forward.”
For the third straight game, West Virginia’s defense has to be ready to deal with a stable of quarterbacks with different styles.
Iowa State freshman Brock Purdy burst onto the scene last week in a 48-42 win at Oklahoma State.
Kyle Kempt began the season as the starter for ISU before being sidelined with an ankle injury. Zeb Noland took over for Kempt, but when Purdy got his chance, he made the most of it.
“We can do a lot of things,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “With Brock’s opportunity to get in the football game, he certainly opened up some playbook pages that we were able to get to.”
The difference with Purdy, is that he’s a dual-threat to pass or run. He kept Oklahoma State off balance last Saturday, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 84 yards and another score in the win.
Purdy’s 402 total yards were the eighth-best game by a player in Iowa State history. Another performance like that could result in a shootout with West Virginia.
Campbell says Kempt practiced Sunday, but he thinks will be Purdy under center to start against West Virginia.
“The biggest thing for him is just to stay level headed and continue to grow,” Campbell said about Purdy. “And he’s really done that since he’s been here. I think like our football team, Brock is a great example of that. He’s gotten better every day.”
This game marks the seventh meeting between West Virginia and Iowa State, with the Mountaineers holding a 5-1 lead and a 3-0 advantage in games played in Ames.