MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia coaches were concerned about their team’s lack of depth before spring practice even started. On Saturday, those fears were realized.
Down their starting quarterback and both starting cornerbacks by the time it was over, the Mountaineers (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) were overwhelmed by Iowa State in a 38-14 loss at Milan Puskar Stadium. The game was tied at halftime before the Cyclones ran away with 24 unanswered second-half points, 17 of which came in the fourth quarter.
West Virginia lost quarterback Austin Kendall on the final play of their first offensive possession.
Kendall was crushed by blitzing cornerback Anthony Johnson as he was wound up for a third-down pass. Unable to lift his right arm, Kendall made brief appearance in the injury tent before moving to the locker room. He returned without pads or a helmet to provide support for backup Jack Allison the rest of the way.
Kendall’s status remains up in the air for next week’s game at Oklahoma.
“The good thing is it’s not an arm or shoulder injury,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “It’s more in his chest area. We’ll know more in 24 hours.”
Allison filled in admirably early on. He looked like a veteran on WVU’s final drive of the first half, completing 6 of 7 passes for 77 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown to T.J. Simmons that tied the game at 14 in the final minute of the second quarter.
“Jack was ready to go,” Simmons said. “He didn’t execute as well as we thought he would, but he was ready to go.”
The wheels fell off for the West Virginia offense in the second half. The Mountaineers were limited to 44 yards, including just 11 on the ground. Allison finished the game 18-for-24 for 140 yards and threw an interception.
WVU finished with 190 yards, marking the program’s third performance under 200 yards in the past calendar year. The Mountaineers gained 154 yards at Iowa State last season, and 171 in a Week 2 loss at Missouri.
“Shoot your bullets,” Brown said. “We got into third-and-manageable situations and just didn’t get it done. We’ve got to figure out better ways to get guys in situations.
“We had some runs, had some angles and lost at the point of attack. Any time you give up vertical penetration in the run game, you’re going to struggle. We tried to get screen game going and couldn’t get out on their linebackers. It was a struggle for us offensively.”
The defense served as a life preserver for most of the first three quarters, but couldn’t maintain the performance after senior cornerback Hakeem Bailey was ejected for targeting midway through the third quarter. With fellow starting corner Keith Washington missing the game due to a muscle injury, the Mountaineers could ill afford to lose Bailey.
One play after Bailey’s ejection, Iowa State took the lead on a 12-yard Breece Hall rushing touchdown. Hall finished the game with 132 yards and three scores on 26 carries.
At multiple junctures of the second half, four of the five members of West Virginia’s secondary were true freshmen — corners Nicktroy Fortune and Tae Mayo, spear Tykee Smith and free safety Kerry Martin Jr.
“Guys played hard, played physical, they just ran out of gas,” Brown said. “You saw two freshmen playing corner. A true freshmen at safety. A true freshmen at spear.”
Iowa State went 5 of 8 on third down in the second half and held the ball for nearly 21 minutes. Wide receiver La’Michael Pettway was a frequent thorn in WVU’s side, catching a career-high eight passes for 81 yards.
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