West Virginia (5-5) at Iowa State (6-5) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Jack Trice Stadium (43,000) -- Ames, Iowa. Television: ABC. Home Record: WVU 3-3, ISU 3-3. Away Record: WVU 1-2, ISU 3-2. Neutral Record: WVU 1-0, ISU 0-0. Conference Record: WVU 2-5, ISU 3-5. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Considered one of the more exciting teams in college football, the West Virginia Mountaineers now find themselves struggling just to reach bowl eligibility as they clash with the Iowa State Cyclones in Big 12 Conference action at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Friday afternoon.
While it is still true that the Mountaineers own one of the most explosive offenses in the country, averaging 40.9 ppg, the defense has been visibly absent for quite some time now which is why WVU might not be playing beyond the end of the regular season.
Last weekend, the Mountaineers were caught in a wild outing with 13th-ranked Oklahoma at home in Morgantown and while the hosts had a lead late in the meeting, a TD by the Sooners with only 24 seconds remaining is what put the visitors over the top in a 50-49 final. The loss was the fifth in a row for a team that had opened the 2012 campaign with five consecutive victories. It was also the first time in program history that the Mountaineers lost a game when scoring more than 40 points.
As for the Cyclones, they don't have nearly the same cache that WVU has, but what Iowa State does have is a winning record and the potential to take part in the postseason thanks to a 51-23 romp over Kansas last time out. The victory snapped a two-game slide for ISU, and was just the second win in the last six outings for a team which started the year with three consecutive victories and four through the first five outings.
This game is the first-ever played between these two schools.
It wasn't that long ago that WVU was being touted as a national power and quarterback Geno Smith was awash in Heisman talk, but it seems like a lifetime ago now that the Mountaineers are suffering from their longest skid since 1986. Against the Sooners, Smith converted 20-of-35 passes for 320 yards and four touchdowns, but he also tossed a couple of interceptions in the setback.
Tavon Austin, although listed as a slot receiver, established a new single- game rushing record for WVU as he gained 344 yards on just 21 carries. Austin also set the mark for the most all-purpose yards in a single game with a staggering 572. Fellow receiver Stedman Bailey, one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, caught 13 balls for 205 yards and four touchdowns versus a secondary that had permitted just three passing scores the entire season.
Yet as great as the Mountaineers played on offense, the defense was again the team's Achilles' heel. Head coach Dana Holgorsen may be an offensive genius, but his ability to put together a formidable group on the other side of the ball and get them to execute is sorely lacking.
Obviously you have to be impressed with an offense that, for the third time this season generated more than 650 yards, but at the same time the Mountaineers are giving up a staggering 496.5 ypg as well and that ranks the team 117th in the country. The pass defense has been simply horrendous, giving up 364.6 ypg which is easily the most of any of the 120 teams in the FBS.
Sure, Smith with his 35 passing scores and Bailey with 20 TD catches are certainly grabbing headlines, but clearly a team has to be competent in all phases of the game in order to be considered a national power.
As for the Cyclones, they did their best impression of the WVU offense against the Jayhawks last week as they scored a season-high 51 points, that after posting just a single touchdown in a 26-point loss versus nationally-ranked Texas on the road a week earlier.
Steele Jantz started at quarterback for the Cyclones, but it was Sam Richardson who finished it for the visitors as he converted 23-of-27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns in the rout. Richardson, who did not throw an interception, produced the most yards by a freshman signal-caller in a non- overtime game for Iowa State since Bret Meyer had 345 yards in 2004.
Defensively, the Cyclones were a bit loose as they allowed 441 yards, but at the same time the unit forced five fumbles, recovering three, and also picked off a pass to secure the easy victory.
As one of the teams that tends to get overshadowed by the beasts in the Big 12, Iowa State has been decent this season although very few stats favor it strongly one way or another. Offensively, the Cyclones are no match for WVU with 370.0 ypg, ranking them ninth in the conference and 90th nationally, but considering how lenient the Mountaineers can be more often than not, you can never be sure how ISU will respond.
With his monumental performance last week, it only makes sense for Richardson to again man the helm for the Cyclones, particularly since Jantz ranks eighth in the conference and 89th nationally with a mediocre 177.2 ypg in total offense.
The pressure is on for Holgorsen and the Mountaineers so it is now or never for them to make their play for the postseason. Smith, Austin and Bailey will all put up big numbers for sure, but what the team needs is a serious defensive stand.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: West Virginia 52, Iowa State 35Game Date and Time
Friday, Nov. 23, 3:30 pm (et).