The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

November 27, 2013

Rhoads knows WVU all too well

BECKLEY — Iowa State may be making its first trip to Morgantown on Saturday, but not everybody on the Cyclone sideline will be taking in the surroundings at Mountaineer Field for the first time.

ISU head coach Paul Rhoads, now 26-36 in his fifth season in Ames, Iowa, is quite familiar with the WVU football program. In fact, the 46-year-old will be making his sixth appearance at Mountaineer Field when the Cyclones (2-9, 1-7 Big 12) and the Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) meet Saturday at 4 p.m. in a game that will air live on Fox Sports 1.

As the defensive coordinator at Pitt from 2000 through 2007 under Dave Wannstedt, Rhoads guided the Panther defense in some memorable games at the home of the Mountaineers.

In 2001, Rich Rodriguez’s first year as the WVU head coach, the Panthers claimed a 23-17 win, but the Mountaineers got revenge on Rhoads’ next two trips, winning 52-31 in 2003 and then claiming a 45-13 victory that helped clinch a Big East title and a trip to the Sugar Bowl in 2005. A crowd of 52,997 watched as Pat White shook off the frigid temperatures to rush for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead a WVU running attack that netted 451 yards.

“It was the coldest game I ever coached,” said Rhoads of that Thanksgiving weekend clash. “The wind was just blowing so hard that night. We were on the losing sideline, which impacts temperature, too, in my opinion”

Rhoads’ most memorable trip to Mountaineer Field came in 2007 in a game that WVU fans are still trying to forget. With a trip to the BCS championship game on the line, the No. 2 Mountaineers fell short against a Panther team that had won just four games coming into the Dec. 1 regular season finale and was installed as a 28 1/2-point underdog. Rhoads’ defense helped limit a WVU rushing attack that posted 517 yards the week before in a 66-21 win over Connecticut to just 104 yards, and a shocked crowd watched as Pitt celebrated one of the most surprising results in recent college football history.

That was the coach’s last trip to Morgantown with the Panthers. He moved to Auburn, where he became the Tigers’ defensive coordinator for the 2008 season.

As fate would have it, a trip to WVU was on the Auburn schedule that year, but this time Rhoads’ defense didn’t have the answer. White was limited to 8 yards on the ground, but in Bill Stewart’s more versatile attack he threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns. Noel Devine, meanwhile, torched the Tigers for 207 yards rushing as WVU won 34-17.

“I’ve made a lot of trips there and played a lot of games against this university, which has a great tradition of playing great college football,” said Rhoads, who was also at Pitt for Don Nehlen’s final regular season game as the WVU coach, a Panther win in Three Rivers Stadium. “It’s a stadium very comparable in design to Iowa State’s, and it’s a fun place to play.”

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WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen was asked during Tuesday’s press conference for what he would be giving thanks this holiday, and the third-year coach, now 21-16 at WVU, didn’t name Red Bull, new uniforms or even black pullovers in his answer.

“I’m thankful for the seniors,” he said. “I thankful for the Big 12, I really am. It’s challenging, but we’re relevant, and we’re learning a lot about ourselves as far as being in a power conference.

“It seems like I always complain about where we are, but I think we’re going to be extremely competitive and have a lot of the right pieces in place. I think we’re a better football team this year than we were last year, minus one or two guys. I’m thankful to be where we’re at, and I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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