AMES, Iowa – The optimism surrounding West Virginia's impressive start has long since faded, and a loss to Iowa State would be a terrible way to end to a once-promising regular season.
The Mountaineers (6-5, 4-4) limp into Saturday's game against the Cyclones (2-8, 0-7) with a three-game losing streak and an unsettled quarterback situation.
Starter Clint Trickett, who has thrown for 3,285 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, had his helmet taken away during last week's loss to Kansas State because of a concussion.
If Trickett can't go on Saturday, the Mountaineers will likely start sophomore Skyler Howard.
"That's for our doctors, for them to evaluate. They've got tests," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. "If they say 'thumbs up,' that means thumbs up. I get to coach them. Up until this point right now, they have not given the thumbs up."
Still, West Virginia should be expected to beat Iowa State no matter who plays behind center.
The Cyclones have lost four straight, including two in a row to Big 12 bottom feeders Kansas and Texas Tech.
Iowa State went back and forth with the Red Raiders at home last week before falling, 34-31. But coach Paul Rhoads said that his players haven't checked out, despite having little to play for.
"I think that if that would have been the case, it would have shown in the past game," Rhoads said. "I don't have any sense that that's going to be the case and I don't think it's been the case in the past six years. I believe we'll finish strong."
Here are some of the key points to ponder as Iowa State hosts West Virginia in its home finale.
MOUNTAINEER REVENGE? The biggest comeback in Iowa State history came against Holgorsen and the Mountaineers in Morgantown last season. The Cyclones rallied from 24 points down to stun West Virginia 52-44 in triple overtime. "We didn't finish that game. We didn't finish the year. We didn't win. We're pretty motivated to be able to play and to hopefully finish the year better than we did a year ago," Holgorsen said.
YOUTHFUL DEFENSE: Injuries have decimated Iowa State's defense. The Cyclones, who've allowed at least 34 points in every Big 12 game, will likely start seven underclassmen against the Mountaineers. "There's an old saying that you play this many freshmen, you may as well count that many losses. Yeah, it's hard to put in a full plan with that many (young players)," Rhoads said.
GUARDING WHITE: Mountaineers wide receiver Kevin White was selected one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award earlier this week. White has 98 catches for 1,270 yards and 9 touchdowns this season. Iowa State will likely use cornerback Nigel Tribune in an effort to slow White down.
RICHARDSON'S SEASON: Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson bounced back from missing a loss to Kansas with one of his best games of the season last week. Richardson was 24 of 38 passing for 304 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for 53 yards. Richardson was benched in favor of Grant Rohach for last year's win at West Virginia, but he's since cemented his hold on the starting job. "He runs a lot better than he looks. He's really a good runner," Holgorsen said.
WEST VIRGINIA'S OFFENSE: The Mountaineers have scored just 36 points in their last two games. They had just 20 in last week's loss to Kansas State despite outgaining the Wildcats.
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