LOOKING AHEAD FOR ISU FOOTBALL: Week six, the West Virginia Mountaineers

Dec 27, 2023; Charlotte, NC, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Garrett Greene (6) tries to hold off North Carolina Tar Heels defensive back Marcus Allen (29) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Sixth in a 12-part series previewing each of Iowa State’s 2024 regular-season opponents.

 AMES — West Virginia head coach Neal Brown not only saved his job, but also established goodwill after guiding the Mountaineers to their first season featuring nine wins or more since 2016.

 West Virginia’s poised to build off of that in 2024 — and will get to face Matt Campbell’s Cyclones in Morgantown.

 The Mountaineers are loaded on offense. Dual-threat quarterback Garrett Greene (29 total touchdowns, four interceptions) returns, as do top running backs C.J. Donaldson and Jaheim White. That duo combined for 1,640 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns last season, making it one of the most potent in the Big 12 — although Donaldson has been injury-prone. Greene led West Virginia in rushing touchdowns with 13 last season, but he completed just 53 percent of his passes.

 West Virginia must replace leading receiver Devin Carter, but the addition of Oklahoma State’s Jaden Bray via the transfer portal — along with a long list of talented returners — should help in that regard.

 The Mountaineers’ offensive line is one of the best units in the Big 12. Senior tackle Wyatt Milum is the program’s lone preseason all-conference selection by the media.

 So does West Virginia have a weakness? Possibly. The defense needed to rebuild at cornerback via the transfer portal and was middling last season (64th scoring defense nationally, 68th in total defense). The Mountaineers led the league in sacks last season with 33 and should boast a strong pass rush again. 

Iowa State vs. West Virginia: 3 things to watch

 **Can the Cyclones’ offense achieve balance? West Virginia’s defense was marginally better against the run than the pass last season and features playmakers at each level. ISU will need a blend of solid runs from Abu Sama and company and big passing connections from Rocco Becht and his cohort of pass catchers in order to keep up on the scoreboard. 

 **How will ISU’s defense contain Greene? The Mountaineers are adept at springing big plays in the run game, so keeping Greene off balance will be critically important if the Cyclones want to have a chance to win this one. His inaccuracy through the air is offset by his efficiency (16 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions last season). Staying gap sound while still applying a strong pass rush will be key, as Greene is capable of breaking off runs of 10 yards or more frequently. 

 **How does ISU’s defensive line find a way to thrive? The Cyclones are deep up front on the defensive side of the ball, but stars must emerge from that group. Seniors such as Joey Peterson, J.R. Singleton may be poised to take that next step, as are juniors Tyler Onyedim and Domonique Orange. Sprinkle in talented transfer edge rusher Kenard Snyder and others (including redshirt freshman Zaimir Hawk), and ISU’s D-line should at least hold its own against West Virginia’s burly offensive front.

2024 prognosis

  This matchup will likely come down to a key series or two. The team that commits the fewest turnovers will win in a game that should remain close into the final minutes.