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West Virginia Mountaineers

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Mountaineers answer Holgorsen's toughness call

West Virginia's 20-16 win over then-No. 14 last Saturday in Morgantown could be placed in a time capsule as a microcosm of the nine first nine games of the Mountaineers' 2017 campaign, except for the end, when the team learned a little bit about itself and rediscovered its toughness.

Saturday's first half showcased a lot of what's been good for West Virginia (6-3, 4-2 in Big 12 play) this year an explosive offense predicated on downfield passing, a stout running game and an edge that's been missing for the past few weeks.

It was a performance coach Dana Holgorsen demanded from his players and staff, so he wasn't surprised that they responded.

"I was proud of our guys on how they responded to me kind of calling them out," Holgorsen said. "I felt like we played physical. I thought we were tough players and played pretty smart. It's good to get the win. It's good to finally win one of these. We've played four top-15 teams now and came close a couple of times, but it was good to finally win one."

All 20 of West Virginia's points came in the first half when the Mountaineers built a 20-3 lead at intermission.

In the second half, it was a completely different story with the Cyclones (6-3, 4-2) scoring on their opening possession of the third quarter by driving 86 yards in 10 plays, and dominating the football for nearly the remainder of the contest.

Forty-seven of Iowa State's 69 offensive plays came in the second half, putting pressure on the West Virginia defense ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in many statistical categories. But the Mountaineers' defense played its best in the red zone, forcing two short field goals and then getting a terrific play from freshman cornerback Kenny Robinson on fourth-and-7 at the Iowa State 37 to retake possession of the football with 2:05 remaining in the game.

West Virginia re-discovered its running game, which struggled mightily the last four weeks against TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Oklahoma State. Justin Crawford ran 25 times for 102 yards, most of those coming in the first half, before giving way to Kennedy McKoy in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Will Grier did most of his damage through the air in the first two quarters, completing 12-of-13 passes in the first half for 223 yards and both touchdowns before finishing the game 20-of-25 for 316 yards. Ka'Raun White caught four Grier passes for a career-high 167 yards, besting his prior high by 29 yards.

The win moved West Virginia back into the rankings at No. 23 and made the Mountaineers bowl eligible for the six time in Holgorsen's seven years as coach.

The Mountaineers' victory over No. 14 Iowa State also represents the first time since 2012 they have defeated two nationally ranked teams in the same year. Back on Oct. 14, West Virginia knocked off then-24th-ranked Texas Tech, 46-35, in Morgantown.

Now that the Mountaineers have regained their edge, they can play with anyone in the conference. Still, their only three losses are to AP Top 25 teams. Until last Saturday, all of those were one-score losses.

West Virginia returns to the road to face Kansas State on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan.

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