WVU storms past Cyclones 30-6
West Virginia (7-4, 4-4) used a total of three turnovers and a career receiving day from Shelton Gibson to propel the Mountaineers to a 30-6 Senior Day win over Iowa State (3-9, 2-7) Saturday afternoon inside Milan Puskar Stadium.
The victory is the fourth straight for the Mountaineers and the last home game for 20 seniors. The Mountaineers fought off a sluggish start and used a smothering defensive effort as well as just enough offense to outlast the Cyclones giving West Virginia its second straight win in the series in the final game for Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads, who was relieved of his duties earlier in the week.
Gibson kicked off the scoring for West Virginia and led the Mountaineers with six catches for 148 yards, surpassing his previous best of 130 yards against Georgia Southern in the season opener. Gibson had caught only four passes over his previous four games, but was the focal point of the West Virginia aerial attack as Howard looked his way early and often.
Throughout the first half, the Mountaineers struggled to run the football, managing only 2.9 per carry entering the half but broke out in the second frame as quarterback Skyler Howard led the Mountaineers with 73 yards including a 32-yard touchdown, while Wendell Smallwood with 72 yards and Rushel Shell with 41 yards and a touchdown both contributed on the ground. Howard completed a total of 12 of his 26 passes for 202 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The West Virginia defense held Iowa State to only a 257 offensive yards and picked quarterback Joel Lanning off twice, while holding freshman Mike Warren to 74-yard rushing. The Mountaineers recorded five sacks in the game and were able to generate consistent pressure in the face of Lanning.
Iowa State won the opening kickoff and elected to defer to the second half giving the Mountaineers the football at their own 22-yard line, but the offense would be unable to generate a first down kicking the ball away to the Cyclones after a three and out.
The West Virginia defense would put the Cyclones into a third and long on their first drive but allow a 14-yard completion to Lazard to keep the drive alive and from there Iowa State would convert two more first downs on consecutive plays to put the ball at the Mountaineers 31-yard line. But Lanning would toss an interception into the arms of KJ Dillon and give the football back to the offense.
It would take only one play to get on the scoreboard as a nine-yard pass to Gibson quickly turned into a 60-yard scamper to the end zone as the redshirt sophomore weaved in and out of defenders and used his speed to cross the goal line putting the Mountaineers ahead 7-0 with 10:37 left.
Iowa State would convert on first down via offsides on the ensuing drive but Lanning's pass on third down would sail wide left giving the football back to the West Virginia offense. The Mountaineers would move the ball to the Cyclones 41-yard line but on a fourth and one call the offense would be stuffed giving the football back to Iowa State in plus field position.
Lanning would quickly move the Cyclones into West Virginia territory at the 22-yard line, but pressure up the middle from Kyle Rose resulted in a sack and pushed the ball back to the 36-yard line. But the Cyclones would connect on a 33-yard field goal by Cole Netten on the first play of the second quarter to cut the Mountaineers lead to 7-3.
Gibson would set the West Virginia offense up with good field position on the ensuing possession with a 53-yard kickoff return to put the ball into Iowa State territory. The offense would move the ball to the 33-yard line aided by a fingertip catch by Gibson but would be unable to convert settling for a 40-yard field goal from Josh Lambert to push the score to 10-3 West Virginia with 12:56 left.
Iowa State would convert a first down on their next drive, but on 3rd and 9 and Lanning would toss his second interception of the first half to Daryl Worley setting the Mountaineers up at the 45-yard line. The Cyclones would continue to defend the run well, but a couple timely passes by Howard put the Mountaineers deep into Iowa State territory but the offense would stall yet again. Lambert would connect on a 30-yard field goal to stretch the West Virginia lead to 13-3 with 7:03 remaining in the half.
Overall, Iowa State had kept the West Virginia run game in check holding the Mountaineers to only 46 yards on 16 carries, good for an average of 2.9 per carry with a long run of only 11 yards.
Iowa State would convert not one but two fake punts on the next drive on fourth and short plays to put the ball at the Mountaineers 41-yard line with 1:48 left in the half. And after the third sack of the half by Noble Nwachukwu the Cyclones would convert on a 3rd and 17 to set up a 49-yard field goal to end the half. And the kick was good putting the score at 13-6 entering the halftime break. The final drive consisted of 19-plays for 43-yards and ate up the final 7:03 on the first half clock.
West Virginia entered the half with only 174 total yards, actually being outgained by Iowa State by a total of four yards as the Mountaineers struggled to generate a consistent threat on that side of the ball.
The Cyclones would start the second half with the ball at the 26-yard line and would move the ball to midfield. On fourth and one the Cyclones would elect to roll the dice and go for it, only to be stuffed when Nwachukwu had an incredible individual effort to wrap up Warren short of the sticks.
But that would be short lived as the Mountaineers would go three and out punting the ball back to the Cyclones where they would take over at their own 20-yard line but Iowa State would return the favor with a three and out of their own.
Howard would toss an interception on first and 20 following a holding penalty on a pass intended for Jordan Thompson down the middle of the field giving the Cyclones the football at the 46-yard line of West Virginia. But the Mountaineers would hold again with a sack from Shaq Pettaway on third down to put the football back into the hands of the offense.
West Virginia would have their longest run of the day to that point with an 11-yard run from Smallwood and then a 53-yard pass to Gibson set the Mountaineers deep into Iowa State territory. From there, the offense would stall out once again but a 34-yard field goal from Lambert would push the West Virginia lead out to 16-6 with 7:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Iowa State would move the ball to midfield but would fail to convert third down giving the ball back to the West Virginia offense with a ten point lead and 5:30 remaining on the third quarter clock. And this time the Mountaineers would take full advantage.
Traveling 83-yards in seven plays, West Virginia scored on a 32-yard touchdown run by Howard set up by a block by Stone Underwood on the designed run kicking out the only defender that could tackle the Mountaineers signal caller. On the drive, West Virginia was able to run the football more effectively, spreading the Cyclones defense and choosing designed runs with the quarterback. The touchdown put the Mountaineers ahead 23-6 with 3:38 left on the clock in the third quarter.
The Mountaineers would force their third turnover of the game when Jeremy Tyler ripped the ball away from Joshua Thomas and then recovered the football at the Cyclones 48-yard line. However, a face-mask penalty by Marcell Lazard backed the West Virginia offense back up to their own 47-yard line where the offense would stall and be forced to punt the football back to Iowa State.
The West Virginia defense would hold again on three plays including a sack by senior Eric Kinsey forcing the Cyclones to punt the football yet again. After punting the ball back to the Cyclones, Iowa State would attempt their third fake field goal of the game, this time from their own 15-yard line on 4th and 15, but it would not be thrice as nice for Iowa State as the Mountaineers would hold. From there, Shell would get into the end zone from nine yards out to push the lead to 30-6 with 10:22 left.
From there, the two back up quarterbacks would take over from each team.
West Virginia will conclude the regular season next Saturday on the road against Kansas State with the game set for a 4:30 p.m. kickoff.