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Mountaineers looking for a big road upset

Kansas State defensive back Jahron McPherson (31) leaps over West Virginia running back Leddie Brown (4) as he attempts to block a pass during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Morgantown, W.Va. (William Wotring/The Dominion-Post via AP)

For the first time in since early November, the West Virginia University football team is headed back to the gridiron.

Eyeing an upset of the Big 12’s top team, the Mountaineers will head to Iowa State for a bout with the No. 12 Cyclones on Saturday. The opening kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. from Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, with the game being broadcast on ESPN.

Iowa State (7-2) enters the game having essentially locked up a place in the Big 12 Championship game. West Virginia (5-3) will need some help from other teams in the league if they’d like a chance to be that opposing team, but it all starts with winning out the rest of the regular season.

The Mountaineers will have their work cut out for them this week as shutting down the Big 12’s leading rusher will be a top priority for the team’s defense.

Running back Breece Hall has been the biggest playmaker on Iowa State’s offense this season, averaging 140 yards rushing per game in addition to rushing for 16 touchdowns. He rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns against West Virginia a season ago.

“The thing that sticks out about him is just running after contact,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “He’s tough to tackle.”

The Iowa State offense features the tight end position heavily as Charlie Kolar, Dylan Soehner and Chase Allen all are among the Cyclone’s top five receivers. Along with veteran quarterback Brock Purdy, Iowa State currently sits as the conference’s third-best scoring offense.

“The tight ends make them different,” Brown said. “Really were the difference in the game for them offensively last week – all the balls they caught up the seam versus Texas, especially in the second half. They go three-, sometimes four-deep at tight end – probably the best tight end group in the country.”

Defensively, linebacker Mike Rose ranks among the top defenders in the league. He’s second in the conference in total tackles with 76, beaten out only by WVU’s Tony Fields II.

As a unit, the Iowa State defense currently ranks second in the conference in rushing defense, allowing just more than 100 yards a game. For West Virginia running back Leddie Brown, who is nearing 1,000 yards rushing on the season, that could lead to a challenging afternoon.

“They’re just really making it difficult to run the ball,” Neal Brown said. “If you look at this streak that they’re on and winning football games, they’ve made it difficult to run the ball for everybody.”

Saturday’s game will be the first for the Mountaineers since Nov. 14, two weeks off due to a bye week and then a COVID-19-related postponement of the Oklahoma.

“We are going to be fresh, that’s the positive,” Brown said. “I hope our timing and everything can stay sharp, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. We’ve done as much good-on-good work as we possibly can while not being overly physical because of how late it is in the year.

“We will be fresh, I think we’ll play fast, and hopefully our execution will match that.”

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