A Little Know-Howe: Scratch the Sure-Fire Win as ISU to Bring Legitimate Ranked Team to Morgantown

By Brad Howe on November 04, 2017 from A Little Know-Howe via Connect-Bridgeport.com

The numbers are astounding. One top five victory in program history prior to this season and now TWO in the last month.
Nine conference wins in the five and a half years since WVU joined the Big 12 and now, nearly half that many in the last month (4). Ranked for the very first time in the college football playoff rankings (15).
I’m talking about West Virginia’s opponent today - Iowa State. Since West Virginia joined the league, Iowa State has finished last or next to last EVERY season. The Cyclones haven’t been bowl eligible since WVU’s first season in the league (2012).
That has changed with the arrival of new coach Matt Campbell. Campbell is a 37 year old from Massillon, Ohio that played his college football at Division III powerhouse, Mount Union. He came to Iowa State from Toledo and he has ignited a Cyclone program that had been a mess for years.
Iowa State enters the game today having won four straight games. They go for five conference wins in a row today. That would be historic. In the program’s history, Iowa State has NEVER won five conference games in a row.
How are they doing it? By playing good defense and protecting the ball.
The Iowa State defense is led by Joel Lanning. One of the more amazing stories in college football this year. Lanning is the middle linebacker and leads the Cyclones with 11 tackles per game. He’s sixth nationally in tackles per game.
He’s been a tremendous player on that defense. What makes the story unique is for the past few seasons he was the starting quarterback. That’s right, quarterback. In fact, he was 17-34 for 163 yards against West Virginia back in 2015.
He not only made the rare quarterback to middle linebacker position change, he’s turned into one of the best defensive players on that team.
He’s not alone though. Many observers of Iowa State think nose guard Ray Lima is the guy to watch. The redshirt sophomore was one of the top JUCO defenders in the country at El Camio Community College before arriving in Ames.
Side note courtesy of Greg Hunter, a co-host with me on Citynet Sportsline: Lima was a JUCO teammate (at El Camino CC in California) last season of WVU receiver David Sills.
In addition to Lanning and Lima, keep an eye on linebacker Marcell Spears. He has been named defensive player of the week in the Big 12 each of the last two weeks.
Offensively, Iowa State isn’t flashy, but they have been solid. The biggest key to their success: 0 lost fumbles on the year. Yes, you read that correctly. Iowa State hasn’t lost a fumble all season. The Cyclones enter today’s game with a +10 turnover margin. Good for seventh nationally.
The quarterback for Iowa State is a walk-on named Kyle Kempt. After transferring from Oregon State and Hutchinson Community College, Kempt has found a home, and success, in Ames.
Kempt is completing 67 percent of his passes, has thrown nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his four starts (all wins).
West Virginia will be trying to rebound from the loss last week to Oklahoma State. Dana Holgorsen has stressed all week the need to become more physical.
That starts in the run game. WVU hasn’t rushed for 150 yards in a game since playing Kansas back on September 23. Does that change this week against an Iowa State team that ranks fourth in the Big 12 in rush defense? The Cyclones allow just 127 yards per game on the ground.
West Virginia has struggled offensively against the three best defenses it has faced this season: Virginia Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State. The WVU offense has produced just 24, 24 and 25 points against those three (remember, WVU got 14 points off a defensive touchdown and a blocked punt for a touchdown against Oklahoma State).
The Iowa State defense resembles those three units in a key metric. Look at the national ranks for each defense when it comes to yards per play:
  • Virginia Tech: 11th nationally
  • TCU: 13th nationally
  • Oklahoma State: 19 nationally
  • Iowa State: 27th nationally
In games West Virginia has won this season (not counting FCS Delaware State), the opposing defenses have had the following yards per play national rankings:
  • Texas Tech: 86th nationally
  • Kansas: 114th nationally
  • Baylor: 127th natioally
  • East Carolina: 129th nationally
West Virginia’s offense has feasted on bad defenses. Can it find a way to be successful today against what appears to be a very good one in Iowa State.
What is your prediction? Who wins today? Leave a comment below or send me a tweet: @BradHowe07
REMINDER: Our gameday radio coverage begins at noon today and runs all the way until 9:30 p.m. You can find a station near you or listen live here: wvmetronews.com/gameday
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Joel Lanning as a quarterback (photo by Ben Queen of www.benqueenphotography.com) during ISU's 2015 visit to Morgantownn before moving to become one of the nation's top lilnebackers. Second photo shows Kennedy McKoy turning the Oklahoma State defense on its head last week, while the bottom photo shows David Long making one of his 18 tackles in the contest. Bottom two photos by Rylee McNemar of D-Max Photographhy.

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