MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — West Virginia (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) takes its penultimate trip of 2022 to Ames, Iowa to face the Iowa State Cyclones (3-5, 0-6) for a Big 12 competition on Saturday. Kickoff at Jack Trice Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
Despite owning identical records, each team has had its own road to reach that mark. The Cyclones started hot, earning three wins to start the season including a rivalry win over Iowa for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. However, they went on to lose their next five games and are yet to win against a Big 12 opponent.
Iowa State might hold the bottom spot in the league, but each of its losses has been competitive, losing by an average of 5.6 points each contest.
WVU’s ride has been much more of a roller-coaster. The Mountaineers lost their first two games in heartbreaking fashion before fighting back to an even record in week four. Since then, though, they’ve dropped three of their last four, including one of the program’s biggest losses since Neal Brown took over in 2019.
Brown, coincidentally, has struggled against the Cyclones in that span, losing to ISU in their first two meetings before taking his first win last season. WVU as a program is 6-4 over Iowa State in history.
The 2022 iteration of this series has postseason implications, but not the type either team hoped for at the start of the season. A win for either team would bring it one win close to bowl eligibility, while a loss would put them one defeat away from ending any hopes for a bowl.
Here are the biggest storylines for this weekend’s clash in Ames:
The Battered and Bruised Backfield
West Virginia heads to the Midwest down several men, especially in the running back corps.
The biggest name missing from WVU’s depth chart is CJ Donaldson, the team’s leading rusher and freshman breakout star. Donaldson has been the backbone of the ground attack all season while battling injuries he has sustained over the last several months. He required surgery after his latest blow and will miss the rest of the season.
Brown indicated that Justin Johnson Jr. and Tony Mathis Jr. might start in the backfield depending on their availability.
“We’re going to see how Tony does….The reality of it is, is any time there’s injury and you hate it for the guy…and you have limited depth, but it creates opportunities,” Brown said. “So Jaylen Anderson has to be ready to go, Justin Johnson, if he’s fully healthy, he has the opportunity to start.”
Brown said he and his staff will have to get creative when it comes to the run game.
Scouting the ISU Defense
While the Cyclones sit at the bottom of the Big 12, their stats on defense are at the top.
They allow just 16.6 points per game to lead the league and have allowed more than 30 points just once this season so far. All of their opponents have been held below their scoring average.
“They’re playing extremely well against the run and the pass. A lot of new faces, but same product, and maybe even an improved product.”
ISU boasts one of the top front sevens in the country with a defensive line that can go eight deep. That unit is led by O’Rien Vance, who has recorded five tackles-for-loss and 45 total stops this season.
As a whole, the defensive unit holds teams to 114.9 yards per game on the ground. Their passing defense is the best in the league, keeping opponents to 180.1 yards per game.
All of ISU’s skill players are involved in that effort, making the Cyclones a difficult team to scheme against. Linebacker Colby Reeder, a transfer from Delaware, leads the team with a pair of picks, accounting for half of the Cyclones’ interceptions this year.
ISU and West Virginia kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET at Jack Trice Stadium, and the game will be shown on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. Don’t miss an all-new episode of The Neal Brown Show which airs on affiliated Nexstar stations at 9 a.m. ET. That is followed at 10 a.m. ET by a live hour of Mountaineer GameDay, the most fun pregame show in West Virginia, on affiliated Nexstar stations. Another live hour of Mountaineer GameDay kicks off at 11 a.m. ET on AT&T SportsNet.