Paul Rhoads said he first found out that West Virginia used wide receiver Tavon Austin as a running back in the Oklahoma game when he looked at a box score during Iowa State’s trip back from Lawrence, Kan., late Saturday night.
Then when he examined the stat sheet more closely and he saw how many yards Austin ran for against an Oklahoma defense that is loaded with NFL talent, his stomach began to turn.
“When we got back and put the tape on and saw where he was lining up and how he was gaining all those yards … soon after that, we vomited,” the Iowa State coach said only half-jokingly.
Folks around the Big 12 are still talking about Austin’s 21-carry, 344-yard rushing performance against the Sooners that was 109 yards more than the 235 that Darren Sproles put up against Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 championship game – once a record against the Sooner defense.
Rhoads knows how difficult it can be moving the football against Oklahoma, especially Mike Stoops’s Oklahoma defenses.
“You don’t do that against the University of Oklahoma and their personnel – you just don’t do that,” Rhoads said. “He is a very, very special player and now you’ve got to spend the time to make sure you’re ready for it and you’re aligned for it to give your kids a least a chance to try and tackle him.”
West Virginia fans are real familiar with what Rhoads can do when he has time to come up with a plan to stop a high-powered attack. He did it once before to the Mountaineers in 2007 when he was Pitt’s defensive coordinator but if Rhoads is going to come up with something to slow down Austin this time, he is going to have one less day of planning to do so.
“It’s a pain in the rear end, especially with a six-day work week,” Rhoads said. “Seven days are hard enough to prepare for the offenses that you face in this league, and then when they start doing things different and then you’ve got the unknown, you don’t want to chase ghosts, but to a certain extent you have to, especially when there is a player as talented as he is.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is always hunting for ways to get the ball into the hands of his best playmakers, but he said earlier this week that you sometimes have to be careful how you go about doing it.
“We can probably do more things with him, but if Tavon was an every-down running back and could carry the ball 40 times a game, he would have been doing that for the last four years,” Holgorsen said. “He is a guy that you look for matchups and you put him in a position to exploit those matchups. That is not necessarily going to be the case in the backfield.”
A lot of that will be determined by film study during the week and what the coaches believe will work against the particular defense they are facing.
“How much we do it is going to be week to week and what we see on film,” Holgorsen said. “Since day one, it has always been how can we get him the ball and doing whatever we have to do to get him the ball.”
And what Mountaineer fans witnessed last week against Oklahoma was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle moments that likely won’t be replicated again.
“It is flat out ridiculous the amount of yards that he had and the carries that he had, but it is a performance that may not ever be duplicated in college football in quite some time,” Holgorsen explained. “With that said, if we would have handed him the ball twice as many times, he may have had the same amount of yards. That is us as coaches trying to figure out a way to get him the ball and sometimes that is him as a wide receiver, sometimes it’s as an inside receiver, sometimes it’s motion and sometimes it is backfield sets.”
Based on that explanation, it’s a pretty safe bet that Rhoads and his Iowa State defensive coaches are going to have to do a little ghost chasing – or at least trying to figure out real quickly where Austin is going to line up on every play this Friday afternoon.
“He’s an unbelievable football player and one of the best I’ve ever seen in my coaching career,” said Rhoads. “He is phenomenal in space both as a ball carrier and as a receiver. He makes a lot of very good football players miss and in this league that’s hard to do.”
- Based on what West Virginia’s offense was able to do last Saturday against Oklahoma, Rhoads believes his offense is going to have to put a lot of points on the scoreboard to keep pace with the Mountaineers. And his offense is equipped to do that, scoring 51 against Kansas last Saturday and tallying at least 35 points in five of 11 games so far.
“The times that they’ve been held low are more of a shock than anything else,” said Rhoads of the Mountaineers. “I don’t go into this game envisioning that we are going to hold them to 14 or 17 points. We’re going to prepare to do that but I don’t see that happening, so our offense has got to score points.”
- Dana Holgorsen has been to Ames twice during his coaching career and he says it is an extremely difficult place to play, especially at night.
“Luckily we are not playing at night,” he said. “It will be rowdy and it means a lot to them, and it means a lot to their kids. Oklahoma was a huge challenge, and we gave tremendous amount of effort and had a chance to win and didn’t. If we don’t give that kind of effort this Friday, then we won’t win the game because Iowa State is a huge challenge and they are already bowl eligible and they play with great pride.”
- Rhoads was asked Monday to give his opinion on what has happened to 5-5 West Virginia since the Texas game when the Mountaineers were 5-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country.
“What happened to them is the Big 12,” Rhoads explained. “This is a great, great football league and they’re a very good football team – top 10 in scoring, top in passing, top 10 total offense.
“In my personal opinion, the Oklahoma football team that just escaped from Morgantown is the best football team that we’ve played thus far and they needed last-second heroics to come out of Morgantown with a victory so they are a very dangerous football team – not unlike Baylor, who was swooning a little bit and then knocked off the No. 1 team in the country. In this league, anything can happen as we’ve proven in the past as well.”
- How does Holgorsen keep a veteran football team motivated after five consecutive losses and with a large number of their preseason goals now unattainable?
“We are still playing for a lot,” Holgorsen said. “We have 22 guys that have 12 days left of their college careers unless we win one of the two and extend it to a bowl game. Bowl games are rewards. You get to a level where a bowl game is much more than a reward – we are not at that stage right now.
“We are at the stage where we are playing for the betterment of the program,” he said. “If we win a couple of games and get to a good bowl game, we get to practice for another month. That will help us out as a program. I think our kids sense the fact that they had a chance to win and they didn’t. It is disappointing. Why did it happen? I don’t know. When is it going to end? I don’t know. The only thing we can do about it is get out there and work hard and put ourselves in a position to win the next one.”
- Rhoads was involved in the Backyard Brawl as an assistant coach for Pitt and he said Monday that he is sad to see more than 100 years of history between those two schools go by the wayside as a result of the conference swapping that is going on right now.
This year will be the first time West Virginia and Pitt have not played a football game against each other since 1942.
“It’s a classic rivalry game and I’ve been blessed to be a part of a number of them: Iowa State-Iowa, Ohio State-Michigan, Pitt-West Virginia, Auburn-Alabama and it ranks right up there, the Pitt-West Virginia game did. They aptly named it the Backyard Brawl and it’s a shame to those two schools that that rivalry has come to an end.”
Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.
West Viginia Mountaineers, WVU, Dana Holgorsen, Tavon Austin, Iowa State, Paul Rhoads, Big 12 football
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