AMES, Iowa — Watching Iowa State reel off three rapid-fire touchdowns was the kind of deja vu Tony Gibson couldn’t stomach.
“All I could think was ‘Oh boy, here we go again.’ I was afraid it was going to be one of those kind games,” said Gibson.
Like the kind of game West Virginia lost to Iowa State last season—52-44 for those whose repressed the memory.
So Gibson, the coordinator who typically would rather blitz than breathe, told his defenders to back off. Once West Virginia began dropping eight men into coverage, Iowa State’s offense started drooping severely. It produced only three points on its final 11 possessions and the Mountaineers prevailed 37-24.
“We weren’t pressing it up, and our DBs weren’t playing aggressive like we usually do in man coverage. I could tell by the look in their eyes I had to do something different.” — Tony Gibson
After Sam Richardson started 10-of-13 with two touchdowns, the Cyclones quarterback hit on just 16 of his final 37 attempts … with two interceptions.
“We decided he was going to have to throw it through eight guys,” said Gibson, who was one of 40 assistants nominated for the Broyles Award this week.
Why was Iowa State so effective early?
Gibson pointed toward a lack of confidence in the secondary, where Daryl Worley was playing through a tender shoulder and Terrell Chestnut was hampered by a sore left knee.
“We weren’t pressing it up, and our DBs weren’t playing aggressive like we usually do in man coverage,” he said. “I could tell by the look in their eyes I had to do something different.”
Chestnut, despite re-injuring the knee in the first half, provided the game’s biggest momentum swing by intercepting Richardson in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Cyclones trailed 27-24 at that point and should have escaped with nothing shy of the tying field goal. Chestnut’s first career pick came as Richardson forced a pass into the corner.
“We know that in the red zone that’s their go-to play,” Chestnut said. “Coach Gibby gave me an alert that it was coming.”
Actually, Gibson altered the entire West Virginia defense.
“During the timeout I told the guys we’re going to show blitz and then we’re going to drop you out, and he’s going to throw it to somebody.”
Earlier in the drive Iowa State faked a 43-yard field goal when holder Austin Fischer ran 5 yards for a first down. That momentum led nowhere after the teams swapped ends of the field.
“Heck, who knows, the third-quarter break and losing a little bit of that juice possibly affected us,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “They played a certain coverage and dropped into it, and we weren’t able to identify it. So we threw into it. They played that move better than us.”
The only Mountaineer not completely enthralled by the interception was safety K.J. Dillon, who undercut the receiver and was angling forward on the pass as Chestnut caught it tumbling backward at the goal line.
Chestnut laughed at the aftermath: “Yeah, K.J. said if he would’ve picked it he would’ve took it 105. I guess it would’ve worked out either way.”