West Virginia needed Saturday’s win.
WVU was coming off a disappointing 50-39 loss to Oklahoma State last week, one it could have won if it capitalized on the Cowboys’ mistakes and limited the turnovers of its own. But it came away with defeat, falling out of the top 25 and sitting on the outside of the Big 12 title race for the time being.
Another loss would have sent WVU to 5-4 overall heading into a difficult final three-game stretch against the likes of Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma, who are all tough and physical teams, which was something the Mountaineers lacked in last week’s loss to Oklahoma State.
The disappointment against Oklahoma State could have snowballed into more defeats. It’s happened at every level of sports to many different teams and programs.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Mountaineers responded. They heeded the coaching staff’s message.
Just like they have all season.
"It’s an important win," said WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen. "It was important for us to win this one based on needing to continue to improve and prove to ourselves and everybody else that we’re still OK."
After the season-opening loss to Virginia Tech, which came down to the final few plays, they bounced back with three straight wins. After a loss at TCU and a rough start to the Texas Tech game the next week, trailing 35-17, they bounced back with a thrilling 46-35 victory.
And WVU did the same Saturday. Holgorsen and his staff challenged the team. They challenged their toughness. They challenged their physicality.
That turned into the results they were looking for. WVU played tough and it played physical against an Iowa State team it deemed as very physical in the days leading up to the game.
The offensive line held its own for the most part against a stingy Iowa State defense that pretty much shutdown TCU the previous contest and held the past three opponents to a combined 20 points.
Redshirt junior quarterback Will Grier and the passing game returned to form. Grier reached 300-plus yards for the eighth time this season and delivered two touchdown strikes. Redshirt senior Ka’Raun White needed just four catches to hit 167 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The same could be said for the rushing attack. Senior Justin Crawford totaled 102 yards on 24 carries, marking the first time since an Oct. 7 loss to TCU that he reached triple-digits on the ground.
It was exactly what Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital expected.
"I knew the kid was going to have a good game," Spavital said. "It showed. He fought. We told him we were going to have to fight for every single yard because they’re not going to let you have big plays."
Sophomore Kennedy McKoy added 66 yards, including the game-clinching first down run late in the contest on 3rd and 17. Fellow sophomore Martell Pettaway finished with 18 yards.
"We challenged the guys all week in terms of not just being physical in the run game, but also in the perimeter blocking," Spavital said.
Add in the defense’s effort, which despite moving players around due to some starters not in the lineup, they answered the call. They held Iowa State to just 112 yards in the first half before it finished with 350 compared to WVU’s 524.
"For what we put out there tonight, I’m so proud of those guys," said WVU Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson. "They played hard and that was my only message."
WVU was challenged. It answered the coaching staff’s message. It needed to come out with a victory.
That’s exactly what it did. Now, WVU is 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big 12, Bowl eligible and back into the win column at a critical juncture of the season.