Coming off a lopsided and error-plagued 56-28 home loss to Oklahoma that ended its hopes of winning a Big 12 championship, 19th-ranked West Virginia will now try to rebound at suddenly red-hot Iowa State on Saturday afternoon in Ames, Iowa.
Two weeks ago the Cyclones (3-8, 2-6 Big 12) looked like the perfect opponent to play after a crushing loss. No more. Matt Campbell's squad has won back-to-back Big 12 games for the first time since the 2013 season and come in off a record-setting 66-10 shellacking of Texas Tech.
Saturday's contest also is Senior Day for Iowa State. Little wonder that West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has told the Mountaineers (8-2, 5-2) to be ready for their “toughest week of the year.”
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“We put a lot into (the Oklahoma) game, and it didn't go the way we wanted it to,” Holgorsen said Tuesday. “We're disappointed with it, but we've got a tough one on the road against Iowa State, and you saw what they did to Texas Tech. It's going to be the toughest week of the year, but I'm anxious to see how the guys respond.
“One thing I know about this group is they're going to continue to fight and continue to work. There's no doubt in my mind they're going to prepare and practice and put as much into it as they possibly can. I know they're going to do that. With that said, it's going to be a tough week.”
Despite the disappointing loss to the Sooners, the Mountaineers, who finish Big 12 play on Dec. 3 with a home game against slumping Baylor, still have plenty to play for.
The Mountaineers can still set a high for wins since joining the league in 2012. They can also win 10 games for the ninth time in school history. And if it can end Big 12 play with two wins and then pick up a victory in a bowl game, West Virginia can match its school record with a sixth 11-win season.
“We spent the majority of this year with this 2016 team with zero expectations,” Holgorsen said. “We've practiced and played pretty good throughout the course of this season. The pressure's off. We didn't get it done when it came to the Big 12, but that doesn't mean that there's not a lot to play for. I think this group rebounds and gets out there and gets ready to play another game. We've still got a lot to play for obviously. We'll try to get win No. 9 this week.
“A lot of teams wish they were in that position.”
Iowa State comes in off one of its finest offensive performances in school history. The Cyclones set all-time school records for points against a conference opponent (66), margin of victory against a league opponent (56) and points in a quarter (31) and fell just three points short of most points in a half (48) with 45 in the first 30 minutes. Iowa State finished with 608 yards of total offense, its first 600-yard game since 2008.
“To be honest with you I thought we had a great week of practice, and we deserved the right to feel confident going into the football game to play well,” said Campbell, the 2015 Mid-American Conference coach of the year at Toledo, who is finishing up his first year in Ames. “I thought that was closest to the best 60 minutes we played completely this year. I'm really proud of our senior class. Those guys stayed the course and really allowed us to continue to get better as the season went on.”
It was the best game by far for the two Iowa State quarterbacks, each of whom did what he does best. Jacob Park threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, while Joel Lanning ran for 171 yards and five scores.
“(Texas Tech) played an entirely different defense than we expected or had seen on film,” Campbell said. “I think our ability to adapt within the game, our ability to execute, and the ability to have options is certainly great. I thought both Jacob and Joel played about as fluid and well executed game between the two as I have seen.”
The Cyclones have one more chance to build optimism for the final recruiting blitz and the upcoming 2017 season against a West Virginia team that enters with a Top 25 ranking but enough flaws to make an upset possible. Campbell isn't under any illusions that the win last week is enough to finish with.
“Obviously, we've got one last big challenge left before this season ends,” Campbell said.