AMES – Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock has been coaching college football for 34 years. He’s seen a lot of football.
Last week, Iowa State (2-3, 1-2 Big 12) had seven sacks by seven different players against Oklahoma State. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier has thrown touchdown passes to 10 different receivers this season.
Those are two things he’s never seen before.
Iowa State hosts No. 6 West Virginia (5-0, 3-0 Big 12) on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Jack Trice Stadium.
The match-up pits Grier, a Heisman front runner, against Heacock’s impressive Iowa State defense.
“He’s another coach out there on the field,” Heacock said of Grier. “He certainly knows where he’s going with the ball, when he’s going there with it, how it’s getting there – he knows the coverages and all of those things.
“He’s not a guy you spend a bunch of time trying to confuse. You have to do your job and play well because he can make you pay.”
Grier has an otherworldly stat line to go along with the 10 touchdowns to 10 different receivers. He’s completing 71 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,819 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“He’s a guy that can throw in all aspects of the field,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “He can throw the deep ball as well as anybody in college football. What he does over the middle and certainly in intermediate passing game is really consistent. They’re playing to that advantage.
“I think to sit there and say that you’re going to stop him is a naive comment. We have to continue to be multiple in what we do and try to do a great job and win situational football. Those become a big factor against a quarterback like this.”
Iowa State has played, and limited, explosive offenses this season. The Cyclones held No. 11 Oklahoma’s offense 11 points below its scoring average and held TCU’s 14.6 points below its scoring average. Iowa State has held every team it's played below their scoring average.
“I think the reality of when you’re talking team football, though, which is our foundation that everything revolves around what gives you the best chance to be successful,” Campbell said. “Every game’s been a little bit different. And I think one of the things that’s been really fun is to watch our team play team football and when there’s times we’ve had to lean on the defense to help us put ourselves in position to win games, we’ve done that. When we’ve had to play up tempo on both sides and be aggressive, we’ve been able to do that.
“I think as we continue to find our way in who this team is this year and what we’ve got the ability to do, I think the thing that’s been really rewarding is to watch our team play good team football throughout the season.”
Heacock said the defense playing as a unit will be important against West Virginia. Grier gets the ball out fast and having his defensive backs tackle in space will be one of the most important aspects of his defense against West Virginia.
The Mountaineers are averaging 41.4 points per game this season, fourth in the Big 12. Just holding the Mountaineers to below their scoring average may not be enough. The Cyclones are going to have to force third and long situations. Against Oklahoma State, Iowa State forced third and nine or longer six times, something the Cyclones want to replicate.
“It’s easier to call a defense when it’s third and really, really long,” Heacock said. “Those third and shorts get really, really hard. In this league, I noticed (forcing teams to play behind the chains) is a little bit more important. This offense is as good as anybody we’ve played to this point, for sure. We’re going to have to fight for every yard and every inch.”