Mountaineers try to pick themselves up
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
AMES, Iowa — West Virginia blew its shot at the Big 12 title when it lost by four touchdowns to Oklahoma last week.
The 19th-ranked Mountaineers still have plenty left to play for — including their best season in the Big 12. West Virginia (8-2, 5-2, No. 18 CFP) has never won more than eight games since joining the league, and a win over Iowa State (3-8, 2-6) on Saturday would accomplish that goal.
“We lost to a top 10 team, so that’s just what happened,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We’ve had a great year. No one can take that away from us. Not going to let, not going to tolerate people talking about how we didn’t do this or didn’t do that.”
Still, the Mountaineers know that beating the Cyclones and Baylor next to close out the regular season would reassure a fan base that’s suddenly anxious again.
But Iowa State isn’t the lightweight it was just two months ago. The Cyclones have won two in a row, including a 66-10 drubbing of Texas Tech last week that included a five-touchdown performance from quarterback Joel Lanning — all on the ground.
Iowa State also has one of the Big 12’s best secondaries, ranking second in both yards allowed per game and yards allowed per attempt.
The Cyclones can be leaky in stopping the run, though, a weakness the Mountaineers will no doubt look to exploit behind Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell III.
Here are some of the story lines to follow as West Virginia and Iowa State prepare to meet for the fifth time:
IMPROVING IOWA STATE
Even though the Cyclones have eight losses, many of them turned out to be close games. Iowa State finally got its first Big 12 win against Kansas two weeks ago, and that appears to have sparked something within the program. The Cyclones thrashed the Red Raiders as a home underdog, defying the point spread by a staggering 60 points.
“You’ve got to lay a great foundation,” Iowa State first-year coach Matt Campbell said. “To play some of your best football in November says a lot about the kids in our program, to be honest with you, because with our record and some of the tough losses that we had … it would have been real easy for our kids to fold the tent.”
West Virginia’s loss to Oklahoma certainly wasn’t Crawford’s fault. He rushed for 331 yards, the third-most in school history, with five carries of at least 36 yards.
“I’m sure he’s going to continue to get better just as everyone does who has his work ethic and characteristics,” West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard said of Crawford.
PARKED IN AS THE STARTERS
Lanning’s record-tying performance overshadowed a fantastic effort by Jacob Park, the player who took his starting spot. Park threw for 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Texas Tech on 14 of 18 passing.
“You see his confidence growing. He’s got a really good arm,” Campbell said.
That West Virginia is third in the Big 12 standings is a tribute to its defense. The Mountaineers are eighth in the league in scoring offense, but their 5.4 yards allowed per play is second-best behind Baylor. … Iowa State kicker Cole Netten has hit 20 of his last 21 field goal tries dating back to last season. … The Cyclones are averaging close to 31 points in Big 12 games, which is their highest since the league was formed in 1996.
HE SAID IT
“There aren’t too many West Virginia teams that have finished 11-2. Our plan is, our goal is, we want to win out and just send our seniors out with a bang,” West Virginia safety Jarrod Harper said.
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Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.