MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said No. 6 West Virginia "took a butt whipping" that resulted in a 30-14 setback on the road against upset-minded Iowa State Saturday night that likely pushed the Mountaineers out of the College Football Playoff picture.
The Mountaineers went an uncharacteristic 1-for-10 on third-down opportunities; Will Grier was sacked seven times and threw an interception; and the Mountaineers' defense seemingly couldn't stop a thing in the loss, the first of the year for West Virginia (5-1, 3-1 Big 12). Iowa State (3-3, 2-2) meanwhile, got 189 rushing yards from David Montgomery and received a solid first start for freshman quarterback Brock Purdy to wrestle its way to a win over a ranked opponent for the second straight week.
"It was the worst offensive performance I've seen in my 30 years of coaching," Dana Holgorsen said. "We didn't do anything right."
It was ugly for the Mountaineers from start to finish.
West Virginia converted on just one of its seven third-down opportunities in the first half, that being an 18-yard touchdown pass from Grier to David Sills. Outside of that, the Mountaineers took sacks on two third and shorts, completed three passes short of the sticks and threw one incomplete pass in six other tries.
"I thought across the board they just got after us," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said after the game.
Coming into the game, Iowa State ranked 117th in third-down defense, whereas West Virginia had converted on 56.9 percent of its third downs.
Grier was sacked five times in the first half after West Virginia allowed just 11 sacks in its first five games.
On the other side of the ball, West Virginia hadn’t allowed a running back rushing at least eight times to gain more than 5.9 yards per carry. Montgomery, however, scorched the Mountaineers for 94 yards on 12 carries in the first half, good enough for 7.8 yards per carry. His first eight totes totaled 81 yards.
"I thought early on we did a poor job at tackling (Montgomery)," Tony Gibson said. "He was running hard, and it looked bad from where I was at. He's a great back. He makes you miss, and that was kind of the story tonight."
As bad as the West Virginia defense was in the first half — it allowed 135 rushing yards and 115 yards passing — it’s what kept the Mountaineers in the game over the first two quarters.
The Mountaineers lone offensive touchdown came after a Dravon Askew-Henry interception and another touchdown came when Kenny Bigelow blocked a field goal and Derrek Pitts returned it 72 yards to the house.
Grier likely played himself out of the Heisman Trophy conversation, too. The redshirt senior completed 11 of his 15 passes for only 100 yards and looked indecisive throughout the day, especially on third downs. Grier elected on numerous occasions to hold onto the football and take sacks rather than throw the ball away. He also threw an interception in the fourth quarter on a third-and-14.
"I think we still have a pretty good offense," Spavital said. "We've got to get back to the drawing board and get these things corrected during the bye week."
THE GAME BALLS
My top three performers:
Iowa State, Running back
Montgomery proved Saturday why he's considered one of the best backs in the Big 12. His 189 yards on the ground were the most West Virginia has allowed to a single back this season. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
"They're a different team with him in there," Holgorsen said. "Clearly."
2. Shea Campbell
West Virginia, linebacker
One of the lone bright spots for West Virginia, Campbell was inserted into the starting lineup and came up big with 12 total tackles, including two for losses.
3. Brock Purdy
Iowa State, quarterback
If you didn't know that this was the kid's first collegiate start, you'd never have known, except maybe for the telegraphed interception he threw early on. But the freshman settled in nicely and completed 72 percent of his passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
"He does a great job at extending plays," Holgorsen said. "It's not like we didn't have film, but he's a good player. He runs around and makes plays, throws an accurate ball."
The game ended. That counts for something right? West Virginia needs to put this one completely out of its mind and go into the bye week looking to make plenty of adjustments.
Sub-par offensive performances in back-to-back games doomed the Mountaineers from the beginning in this one, and nothing got better, either. Grier was sacked on third down on the first two drives and that just set the tone for the game.
Pretty much everything was bad for West Virginia in this one.
The offense mustered barely over 150 yards, the defense couldn't stop anything, and special teams struggled early on covering kicks and punts, and couldn't flip field position with their legs.
Grier looked out of place. He has, in fact, looked that way since the second half against Texas Tech. His decisions to hold onto the ball Saturday will be scrutinized all week.
"We'll get rid of this game," Holgorsen said. "We're about to have a bye week, which we could use right now. They won't be getting any time off, I'll assure you that."
Defensively, West Virginia made a freshman quarterback look like a seasoned pro.
West Virginia's Bigelow made about the only good play of the game for West Virginia when he pushed his way through the front line and blocked a field goal in the second quarter. When the ball finally found Pitts' hands, he took it 72 yards for the score. It should have served as a momentum changer, but it didn't pan out that way for the Mountaineers.
Anything the Cyclones defense called on third down. Iowa State didn't seem to be running anything more sophisticated than a zone defense, but Grier and Co. just could not figure it out. West Virginia was able to convert on just one third-down play all day.
"When you can't get a first down," Holgorsen said, "you're energy is going to go away."
THE OTHER SIDE
Montgomery and Purdy were rather efficient, minus an interception. Montgomery averaged 6.5 yards per carry and ran the rock 29 times for the Cyclones. Purdy, meanwhile, threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns. He added 39 rushing yards.
Hakeem Butler was also as good as advertised and gave West Virginia fits from the wide receiver spot. The 6-foot-6 wideout caught six passes for 107 yards and a score.
THE INJURY UPDATE
• Dylan Tonkery, LB, West Virginia: Didn't dress for the game after suffering an injury a week ago.
• Derrek Pitts, DB, West Virginia: Carted off the field late; no update.
• Leddie Brown, RB, West Virginia: Did not play; ankle injury.
West Virginia will have plenty of time to think about this one as the Mountaineers head into the bye week ahead of a Thursday night matchup in Morgantown on Oct. 25 against Baylor.
Visit our West Virginia team page for everything from this game.
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