West Virginia knocked off Iowa State, 30-6, for its fourth consecutive victory and its seven win overall this season. Here are a few thoughts and takeaways from the win.
1. Expectations have changed for this team
Everything about the game Saturday was just kind of underwhelming, from the gray skies to the opponent to the small crowd, which was more than likely a product of the two aforementioned things and students being gone on break. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen reiterated as much in his postgame press conference, starting with his opening line of "Okay, I'm glad that's over." Specifically, he was referring to his offense, which failed to eat up yards on the ground like it had for much of the past month while the passing game was inconsistent for much of the afternoon, unable to connect on the kind of intermediate routes that it needed to.
Coaches are, by nature, perfectionists and while Holgorsen's claim is not without merit -- if we're being honest, it was a pretty ugly game -- but any discontent perfectly sums up where West Virginia is mentally as a team right now. A team that began the month 3-4 and at the bottom of the Big 12 standings is now at a point where it can be unsatisfied with a 24-point win. There's a growing confidence with this group, one that has built itself up with each passing win. With that confidence has come a little bit of regret. After the game, from talking with players and coaches, there's a sense that they let something potentially remarkable slip away with those four losses in October. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson went so far as to say that he wishes they could play them over again.
If the biggest current disappointments with this team are that it didn't win by enough on Saturday and that it wishes it could get another shot at four ranked teams, it's in a pretty solid position. And certainly a better one than it was in one month ago.
2. The defense has recovered as well as it could following the Karl Joseph injury
A solid chunk of the credit for the Mountaineers' four-game win streak belongs to its defense, which recovered from that disastrous October, and the loss of Joseph, to put together an impressive run that has turned around the team's fortunes. The defense has allowed an average of just 13 points per game in November and it hasn't allowed a touchdown since the third quarter of the Nov. 14 win against Texas -- a span of about two and a half hours of game time. It held Iowa State to just 284 total yards, nearly 125 below the Cyclones' season average.
Some of this success has to do with the competition, as, aside from Texas Tech, none of its past four opponents possesses a particularly potent offense. That, however, can't fully discount what West Virginia has done, especially from a turnover standpoint. The Mountaineers have 12 takeaways in the past three games, including three against Iowa State, and for the season, they have 29, tying them for third among FBS teams. Only five of those came directly from Joseph, yet another sign that, for as important as the senior was, the team's defense has gotten as close as it has to being what it was with Joseph.
3. Shelton Gibson is back...and should be for good
Even as West Virginia was winning games earlier this month, one of the more confounding subplots of that run was the disappearance of Gibson, who emerged as a breakout star in the first half of the season. But that was before a three-game stretch in November in which he had just one catch for nine yards. His production not only picked up against Iowa State, but it rose to a level it never had before, as he finished with a career-high 148 receiving yards on Saturday, a number that could have very well been higher had it not been for the weather and some inaccurate throws from Skyler Howard.
Gibson has as strong of a connection with Howard as anyone on that team, both on and off the field, something which made his lull all the more confusing (the best explanation is that the Mountaineers were running the ball more and he's not exactly a great run blocker). There is only one regular season game and a bowl appearance left, but Gibson's big day against the Cyclones should help him finish out the season as strongly as he began it.
My weekly overreaction
The West Virginia defense, currently 41st in FBS in scoring defense, will finish the season in the top 20, leading Gibson to be named the head coach at an FBS school.