MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — WVU football returns home for the first time in nearly a month following a 29-17 win at TCU.
But will the Mountaineers be at full strength for that game, and will they perform better against Iowa State this season after a drubbing in Ames a year ago? Head coach Neal Brown addressed those topics and more during his weekly media session.
Three of WVU’s starters left the TCU game with injuries. Brown confirmed Tuesday that each athlete is dealing with a leg injury.
The head coach said tight end Mike O’Laughlin and cornerback Nicktroy Fortune will each be game-time decisions Saturday. Defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor, however, is expected to play against the Cyclones.
“Akheem is fine. He practiced [Monday],” Brown said. “The other two will kind of go down to the weekend.”
Bad memories from Iowa State?
The Mountaineers haven’t defeated Iowa State since 2017, losing three in a row in the series, including the last two under Brown. Last December, the Cyclones clubbed the Mountaineers 42-6, marking one of the most lopsided setbacks of Brown’s tenure in Morgantown.
While fans surely remember that game, Brown joked that many of his players probably don’t.
“This age group that we deal with, s***, they don’t remember that,” Brown said. “They don’t remember last week.”
At least two players do remember. Quarterback Jarret Doege noted that the final score from that game has been displayed within the team facility, and offensive lineman James Gmiter tweeted the score Monday:
At any rate, Brown reflected on that game, blaming COVID issues as part of the reason for West Virginia’s poor performance. He also credited Iowa State.
“I can list a bunch of reasons why, but the bottom line is, they really physically dominated both of the line of scrimmages,” Brown said. “When it comes down to it, that’s what happened.”
So, has anything changed since that outing in Ames? Brown said that one game dictated a bunch of changes in his program’s offseason regimen.
“From a physicality standpoint, a strength standpoint, that’s something that was a focal point for us in the nine months leading up to the season because of that game,” Brown said.
Bright spots from the win
Defensive back Charles Woods was one of two Mountaineers honored this week by the Big 12 Conference. Woods intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble in the win over TCU.
Brown said the transfer from FCS Illinois State has been progressing well since making the move to the highest level of college football during the offseason, and he made his mark Saturday.
“You can see him getting better, and the other thing is, we’ve played him more. We played him more against Baylor. He’s been taking advantage of that opportunity,” Brown said. “And then, when Nicktroy got injured, he was thrust in there. We talk about that a lot — it’s like, you get your opportunity, what do you do with it? Well, he made the most of his.”
The head coach was also pleased with backup running back Tony Mathis’s performance. West Virginia has been searching for a reliable backup at that position all season, and Mathis final delivered against TCU, rushing for 48 yards on 12 carries.
“Our rushing attack, we were physical,” Brown said. “Mathis gave us a big lift. I was excited for him and excited for all of us.”
Back at home
It’s been nearly a month since the Mountaineers last played at Milan Puskar Stadium, and nearly a month and half since the team’s last win on its home turf.
Brown hopes Mountaineer fans will show up to take in Saturday’s conference tilt, as well as all the other pregame festivities, like the WVU Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“Hopefully, our fans will show up in big numbers, and have a good Halloween,” Brown said. “That’s the plan. We need them.”
West Virginia and Iowa State will clash at 2 p.m. on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.