MORGANTOWN-Fans thinking that West Virginia (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) will be an unmotivated team when it travels to Ames, Iowa, to face the Cyclones from Iowa State University (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) may have a surprise coming their way when the two teams meet for the first time at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Jack Trice Stadium.
"I don't see that (lack of motivation) at this point," said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "Yes, there is a worry to that, but we are still playing for a lot. We have 22 guys that have 12 days left of their college careers unless we win one of the two and extend it to a bowl game.
"Bowl games are rewards. You get to a level where a bowl game is much more than a reward-we are not at that stage right now. We are at the stage where we are playing for the betterment of the program. If we win a couple of games and get to a good bowl game, we get to practice for another month.
"That will help us out for the program. I don't think we are at that point. I think our kids sense the fact that they had a chance to win and didn't."
Playing one of its most inspired football games over the last month, the Mountaineers nearly pulled off the upset over No. 12 Oklahoma before a late touchdown pass from Landry Jones to Kenny Stills sent the old gold and blue reeling to its longest losing streak (five games) since the 1986 season.
"Why did it happen?" said Holgorsen. "I don't know. When is it going to end? I don't know. The only thing we can do about it is get out there and work hard and put ourselves in a position to win the next one."
Big 12 Matchup
at Iowa State
Game time: 3:30 p.m.
Spread: West Virginia by 1.5
And, that next one comes against an ISU squad that is celebrating its biggest win of the year-51-23 over Kansas.
The 51 points were the most by Iowa State in a road game since 1923 and earned the Cyclones their sixth victory of the season, making them bowl eligible for the third time in the last four years under head coach Paul Rhoads.
Seeing extended action for the first time in his career, freshman quarterback Sam Richardson completed 23-of-27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the Jayhawks. His primary targets were senior Chris Young (4-31), freshman Quenton Bundrage (3-25) and senior Aaron Horne (2-40). The Cyclones also feature a solid rushing attack led by junior Shontrelle Johnson, who has rushed for 479 yards and two scores on 107 attempts.
However, the heart and soul of this ISU team lies with a defense led by All-American candidates A.J. Klein and Jake Knott at linebacker. Both seniors, each name can be found on the watch lists for the Butkus, Rotary Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik Awards.
Klein leads the unit with 84 tackles (47 solo) while Knott, who will miss the game with an injury, is close behind with 79 stops (55 solo).
Lining up across from that duo is a Mountaineer offense that is averaging 40.9 points and 165.2 rushing yards per game and features a new running back in senior Tavon Austin.
The Baltimore native had a career outing in the team's loss to Oklahoma, rushing for a school record 344 yards on 21 carries while coming within six yards of breaking the NCAA's mark for all purpose yards with 572-344 rushing, 146 on kickoffs and 82 yards receiving.
"He (Austin) is a guy that you look for matchups and you put him in a position to exploit those matchups," said Holgorsen. "That is not necessarily always going to be the case with him in the backfield.
"It was a good game to do that with him. How much we do it is going to be week to week and what we see on film."
What the Mountaineer coaching staff has seen on film this week is a Cyclones defense that has limited its opponents to only 147.2 yards rushing and 22.6 points per game.
"It (Jack Trice Stadium) is a tough place to play. I have been there twice. It is real hard to play at night. Luckily, we are not playing at night. It will be rowdy and it means a lot to them, and it means a lot to their kids.
"It will be a challenge if we think we can relax at all. It is one thing we have been preaching to them for the past 24 hours since the game (Oklahoma) got over."
West Virginia's offense does pose a threat to the Cyclones' prevent unit as senior quarterback Geno Smith has completed 305-of-435 attempts for 3,361 yards and 35 touchdowns with five interceptions.
Given enough time to find Biletnikoff Award finalist Stedman Bailey, Austin or any one of a number of other receivers that Holgorsen will throw into the game, Smith could have a big day against a unit that is surrendering 283.6 yards per game and gave up 33 points to a Texas team that WVU beat, 48-45, prior to the start of its five-game slide.