Five games down. Six (regular season ones) to go. The West Virginia Mountaineers continue to win, starting 5-0 for the first time since 2016. With their victory over Kansas, the Mountaineers reach number six in our Last Word on College Football poll. They also rank six in the AP and Coaches polls. The Mountaineers are now the lone undefeated team in the Big 12.
At times, the unreasonable voices prevailed among Mountaineer fans this weekend. Social media filled with tweets unofficially ending Will Grier’s Heisman campaign at halftime. Fans became coaches, predicting doom and gloom at the first sign of trouble against the Jayhawks. This is nothing new. Passionate fans of all teams tend to overreact. And Mountaineers are definitely passionate.
Upon further review, however, the Mountaineers beat a feisty Jayhawks team looking to make a statement and end their ten-year drought by winning a true conference road game against a top ten team. Stranger things have happened. Top ten teams lose to lesser competition all the time. They struggle with lesser competition even more frequently. Friendly reminder: there are only 11 remaining unbeaten FBS teams (out of 130). And West Virginia is also the only FBS team remaining that has not yet trailed in a game.
The Mountaineers’ win over Kansas was sloppy at times. Yes, Grier played uncharacteristically poorly in the red zone. As a result, the Jayhawks kept the final score within 16 (24 if you erase the garbage time touchdown). Absent Grier’s red zone turnovers, clearly the result of his being confident in his arm and his receivers, the Mountaineers win that game by 40.
As predicted here, the Mountaineers drastically limited Pooka Williams’ effectiveness. Williams’ longest run was only 16 yards. The defense held him without a touchdown for only the second time this season. In total, the Jayhawks compiled only 286 yards (only 221 before the Jayhawks’ final drive). Second friendly reminder: last season, Khalil Herbert alone rushed for 291 yards against the Mountaineers.
Iowa State Preview
After the Kansas game, Grier fielded questions about his performance. In truly professional fashion, he acknowledged the first half struggles and confidently proclaimed that the team will move on from those mistakes. He is easy to believe here, particularly because he has learned from mistakes before. No doubt, Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital will spend time this week reminding Grier that he forced all three passes that were picked off.
That said, the team’s focus has already shifted to next Saturday’s road test against the Iowa State Cyclones. Do not let their record mislead. Iowa State has played tough defense all season, holding steady within the top 50 in terms of total defense (40th) and scoring defense (49th). Their run defense has been particularly stout, surrendering only 3.1 yards per carry.
The Cyclones had two main weaknesses before last weekend’s upset victory over Oklahoma State: lack of pressure and lack of offense. Iowa State racked up seven sacks against the Cowboys but had only six in their prior four games. And Iowa State’s highest scoring output before dropping 48 points last weekend was 27. In fact, even with last weekend’s success, Iowa State ranks near the bottom of FCS teams in total offense (121st) and scoring offense (107th).
Iowa State, however, unleashed true freshman quarterback Brock Purdy against the Cowboys this weekend. The Cowboys were ill-prepared for Purdy’s twin threats, as he threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns on 18 of 23 passing and added 84 yards and a touchdown across 19 carries. Coupled with its fundamentally-sound defense, this added spark makes Iowa State dangerous. The Cyclones, in short, are a much more realistic threat to the Mountaineers’ perfect start than the Jayhawks were.
The Mountaineers are fortunate. Iowa State offered the Cowboys no warning of Purdy’s dual-threat capabilities. Now, there is a game’s worth of film for the Mountaineers’ defense to digest. Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson will have a week to prepare them.
To date, the Mountaineers have met every challenge head-on. That said, in the second half against Texas Tech, the Red Raiders were able to open up their offense once Jett Duffey started running. However, the Mountaineers, like the Cowboys, were not prepared for a running quarterback. This time, the Mountaineers will be ready, as they were for Carter Stanley. Grier and the offense will put last week’s mistakes behind them, and the Mountaineers will return to Morgantown 6-0. Final score? 41-20, West Virginia.