MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No. 15 Iowa State nearly dug out of a 20-point hole but West Virginia’s injury-riddled defense made a series of late stops in a 20-16 win on Saturday.
Though the Mountaineers (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) entered as two-point favorites, the win had an upset feel given the Cyclones’ terrific October.
With David Montgomery rushing for 115 yards, Iowa State (6-3, 4-2) scored the game’s final 16 points, but couldn’t finish the comeback while twice settling for field goals inside the West Virginia 10-yard line.
It marked a stark turnaround for a Mountaineers defense that started the weekend ranked 115th in the FBS. And it happened with three starters missing and a fourth who went down in the first half.
“Some of these puppies are starting to turn into ‘dawgs.’ We had some juice today,” said Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
Will Grier threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including a 55-yarder to Ka’Raun White, whose four receptions totaled a career-best 167 yards.
However, West Virginia’s high-powered offense took a turn by running the ball a season-high 47 times.
Justin Crawford ran for 102 yards on 25 carries, and Kennedy McKoy gained 60 yards, converting a third-and-17 draw play in the final 2 minutes to kill the clock. The team’s 208 yards rushing more than doubled what West Virginia had averaged in its last four games.
“I’ve been pretty critical of our guys for three weeks now,” said Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen. “I’m proud of our guys and the way they responded to recalling them out. Running the ball against what Iowa State) did defensively was going to be important.”
Plagued by five turnovers last week, West Virginia committed one on Saturday. Grier’s deep ball to David Sill was wrestled away by D’Andre Payne in the end zone, giving Iowa State a final chance with 4:57 left. That opportunity ended when Mountaineers freshman safety Kenny Robinson broke up a fourth-and-7 pass from Kyle Kempt.
“Guys got tired of being told how soft we are and how we can’t play tough. We’ve heard about how many touchdowns in the red zone we give up, so it was good to see our guys in there battling.” — West Virginia linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton.
Kempt finished 27 of 40 for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception, falling to 4-1 as the Cyclones’ starter.
White caught his long touchdown and set up another with a 63-yard catch for West Virginia. When Evan Staley’s 36-yard field goal stretched the cushion to 20-0 in the second quarter, Iowa State had allowed the same number of points it did in the previous three games combined.
That turned out to be all the Cyclones yielded, as West Virginia didn’t scratch over the final 36 minutes.
Iowa State got on the board late in the half on Garrett Owens’ 42-yard kick, a drive extended by dual personal fouls on the West Virginia defense after a third-down stop.
Allen Lazard’s 1-yard touchdown grab made it 20-10 and capped an 86-yard Iowa State drive to open the third quarter.
After stopping West Virginia’s fourth-and-1 try, the Cyclones marched into Mountaineers territory and had two cracks from inside the 2. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell played it safe with Owens’ 18-yard field goal that only cut the deficit to 20-13.
“That was the momentum swing back to us,” Gibson said. “That was huge.”
The decision to kick came back to haunt the Cyclones in the fourth quarter, though Campbell defended the call.
“I thought we were coming back into the game,” he said. “I thought we were playing really good on defense and we could get the ball back.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, Iowa State reached the 7-yard line before Kempt’s third-down pass for Montgomery was broken up in the end zone by safety Dravon Askew-Henry. Again Owens came on for the field goal.
“Guys got tired of being told how soft we are and how we can’t play tough,” said West Virginia linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton. “We’ve heard about how many touchdowns in the red zone we give up, so it was good to see our guys in there battling.”