Oct 21, 2017; Waco, TX, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier (7) high fives Mountaineers wide receiver David Sills V (13) after a touchdown pass against the Baylor Bears in the second half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — One might be tempted to look at West Virginia quarterback Will Grier’s career-worst four-interception performance in Saturday’s 50-39 home loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State as a potential trend-setter.
Don’t, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell cautioned Monday during his weekly news conference.
“It all starts on offense with their quarterback,” Campbell said of Grier, a Florida transfer, who despite Saturday’s struggles still ranks ninth nationally in passing efficiency (167.8). “I don’t know if I could be more impressed with a guy in terms of getting into that system, feeling really comfortable in that system and executing at such a high rate within the system.”
Grier headlines a Mountaineers offense that ranks third in the Big 12 in average yards per game, scoring, rushing and passing.
West Virginia (5-3, 3-2) opened as a 3.5-point favorite against the surging Cyclones (6-2, 4-1), who have spun their first four-game Big 12 win streak since in 12 years into a first-place tie atop the league — and a No. 14 AP ranking.
“A lot of work to do for our football team,” Campbell said Monday, citing shaky special teams play and spotty tackling in Saturday’s 14-7 win over No. 10 TCU. “There were some things that we must do better if we want to continue to improve and obviously a huge challenge for our team going on the road and playing a really good West Virginia team.”
Grier stands at the center of it. He’s rushed for two touchdowns and totaled more than 50 rushing yards twice this season, so he’s a mid-grade dual-threat playcaller, as well.
“He’s got great athleticism,” Campbell said. “He’s got the ability to run the ball, which makes it tricky at times for you defensively — where do you want to put those extra hats because of the explosion in terms of their passing game? So I think we’re going to have to, again, be calculated. We’re going to have to do a really good job mixing and matching what we choose to do in this game. But I think a great challenge for us defensively for sure.”
Mountaineers receiver David Sills V has caught 15 — 15! — of Grier’s 28 touchdown tosses.
And the running game thrives thanks largely to veteran back Justin Crawford, who ranks third in the league —right behind ISU’s David Montgomery — in average yards per game (85.5) and has scored seven touchdowns.
“When you see a very high-end offense usually today in college football, they’ve got great balance to it,” Campbell said. “I think that’s where you’ve seen their growth so much in the last year in a half, is their ability to run the football. And they’ve got a great fullback — probably one of the best ones in our conference. Does a great job lead-blocking. I really like their offensive line and, again, they’ve got a plethora of tailbacks that can make things happen, so again, it’s going to be one of those challenges and that’s why, back to the quarterback and receiver piece of it, you’ve got to really mix and match things and I think you have to have a great flow to how you call the game defensively and have some great adjustments within the game, because they can do so much and, again, a great challenge for us and situational football will be really important for us.”
Campbell’s defense has shut down high-powered offenses such as Texas Tech and TCU. The Cyclones — who lead the Big 12 in scoring defense in league games, allowing just 13.6 points per contest — limited Oklahoma to a single touchdown in the second half of the landmark 38-31 win in Norman that started this winning spree.
Saturday, they’ll be tested again as they seek to build off an in-progress ‘A’ grade in conference play that nonetheless will remain an ‘incomplete’ until the last regular season game concludes.
“In this conference, anybody can beat anybody on any Saturday,” Campbell said. “Again, our margin for error and who we are as a football team, we have to do the little things better than everybody else.”