Cyclones comeback effort falls short at West Virginia

Iowa State quarterback Zeb Noland watches for a route call during the Cyclones’ 45-0 win over Kansas on Oct. 14, 2017.

Jack Macdonald

For Iowa State, Saturday was a tale of two halves on offense and defense. However, neither ended up going their way as West Virginia exposed the mighty Iowa State defense early in the first quarter.

This was a chance for the Iowa State football team to flip their calendar after a historic month of October. In that 31-day stretch, the Cyclones went 4-0 and defeated two teams ranked in the top five. They even earned a spot in the AP Poll for two weeks and a No. 15 ranking in the College Football Playoff Poll.

“We’re inefficient in the first half offensively on third down,” said coach Matt Campbell. “And we flipped the script.”

It was also a month where the Cyclones’ defense had a stretch of 14 quarters where they allowed only 20 points, which started at the beginning of the third quarter in their win against then-No. 3 Oklahoma.

It only took West Virginia four plays to snap the Cyclones’ defensive streak of five quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown. However, it only took three plays to expose the defense. Will Grier, the West Virginia quarterback, found Ka’Raun White for a 63-yard reception on third down. It almost turned into a touchdown, but White had stepped out of bounds prior to crossing the goal line.

And for the Mountaineers, it was almost as if it didn’t matter that he didn’t score because they possess the nations leading touchdown getter at the wide receiver position. David Sills V, a former quarterback turned wide receiver, leads the nation with 16 touchdown receptions. When the ball goes his way, a touchdown is bound to be scored — that is just what West Virginia dialed up for the following play.

“We gotta be effective in situational football and I’ve said that from the start of the season,” Campbell said. “We can’t put ourselves in tough situations and in the first half we did at times.”

Grier found Sills for a 10-yard touchdown reception to put West Virginia up early. And the West Virginia offense didn’t stop there.

On the ensuing drive, the Iowa State offense quickly handed the ball right back to the Mountaineers after Kyle Kempt threw an interception three plays into its drive.

Minutes later, West Virginia capitalized on a field goal; the Iowa State defense had already been burned for 112 yards in a matter of minutes and it wasn’t just the defense shooting themselves in the foot.

Late in the first quarter, the Iowa State offense was putting together a quality drive with three first downs in a span of four plays. But, any momentum that was gained was punched right out of them after Chase Allen was flagged for offensive pass interference on a pass that was intended for Allen Lazard. The result: a first-and-25 that led to a punt three plays later.

Much like the first quarter, the second quarter was all West Virginia offense. They added another field goal and touchdown reception, but again, burned the Cyclones’ defense for a whopping 223 yards in a matter of 15 minutes. For Iowa State’s offense, it was held to just 29 yards in that span.

Simply put, it was a less-than-ideal first half for a team that is having a record-breaking season. However, Iowa State is one of the top second half teams in the country outscoring its opponents 132-61 in the second half. And they showed it. 

The offense rose from the dead on their first drive and David Montgomery introduced himself to the West Virginia defense on the first drive of the half. The running back rushed for only 22 yards, but a 15-yard rush in Iowa State’s own territory highlighted the drive.

And to declare a change of momentum, Kempt found Lazard for an easy touchdown.

From there, Iowa State embarked on a mountaineering mission. On the very next drive, the Cyclones’ defense flexed its muscles and forced West Virginia to turnover the ball on downs.

Now the momentum was really on Iowa State’s side. Again, the Iowa State offense continued to drive down field, thanks in large part to two West Virginia pass interference flags. Again, Iowa State had to settle for a field goal and put their fate back in the defense’s hands.

“I thought we were a lot better in the second half than we’ve been in awhile,” Campbell said.

Iowa State rode its defensive success in the second half all the way down to the end of the game. With 4:57 left in the game and down 20-16 following a Garrett Owens field goal, D’Andre Payne finally gave the defense something they had been missing all game — a turnover. Payne intercepted Grier’s pass in the end zone on a defensive play and gave Iowa State the ball at its 20-yard line.

Just when it seemed as if a comeback was out of the picture, Iowa State nearly accomplished that comeback when Kempt hurled a pass deep to Trever Ryen late in the fourth quarter. However, a little under thrown, Ryen was unable to hang onto a ball that should have been caught.

Two plays later, Iowa State turned the ball over on downs and West Virginia was in the drivers seat.

A record-breaking stretch was broken as the Cyclones ultimately fell 20-16.

“We gave themselves a chance to win at the end of the football game,” Campbell said.