By Cam Huffman
College football coaches are famous for playing up the opponent. On several occasions during his Hall of Fame career, former West Virginia University head coach Don Nehlen made Miami (Ohio) sound like the 1987 Miami Hurricanes.
At Marshall, Doc Holiday, a former Nehlen assistant, made Southern Miss and Florida International sound scary over the last few weeks, even though the Conference USA foes are a combined 1-21.
But when WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen labeled Saturday’s opponent, Iowa State, as “the best 2-9 team in the country” during his Tuesday press conference, he wasn’t blowing smoke.
Aside from a 71-7 loss at Baylor — one with which the Mountaineers can certainly relate — the Cyclones, who will visit Mountaineer Field for a 4 p.m. clash that will air live on Fox Sports 1, have been extremely competitive.
They lost to Texas 31-30 in their Big 12 opener, a controversial call keeping ISU from an upset. The Cyclones (2-9, 1-7 Big 12) had No. 20 Texas Tech on the ropes before losing 42-35 before a slew of injuries kept led to less competitive performances against Oklahoma State, TCU and No. 18 Oklahoma.
Despite a 1-9 record and a seven-game losing streak, ISU came to play last week at home against Kansas, and the 34-0 shutout sent a message to a WVU team that lost to those same Jayhawks 31-19 the week before.
“They’re an extremely competitive football team,” said Holgorsen. “They are what they usually are, which is incredibly coached. They have a tough outfit. They’re extremely sound with their schemes. It will be a tremendous challenge for us as it is every week in the Big 12.”
Iowa State has been able to accomplish one thing the Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) haven’t, developing a quarterback into a productive player.
Redshirt freshman Grant Rohach, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder out of Moorpark, Calif., has played in the last six games, slowly progressing along the way. Last week, in frigid temperatures against Kansas, he had his best game, throwing for 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns while completing 75 percent of his passes.
“They’re doing a lot with him,” said Holgorsen. “They have a couple receivers and running backs that they get it to a lot, and they look good. They have a huge offensive line. They’re really good.”
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WVU’s inability to develop a quarterback has been a big reason for its struggles. Three different signal callers have played significant snaps, but none has been able to progress into a reliable option throughout the year.
Paul Millard started the season behind center, but was quickly sent to the bench after the loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 opener. He didn’t return to the field — except for a few snaps against Baylor and Kansas Sate — until Clint Trickett was injured in the Texas game. Millard played the rest of that contest — a 30-27 overtime loss — and the entire game in the loss to Kansas last week. For the year, he’s 92 of 167 for 1,119 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also tossed six interceptions and been sacked eight times.
Redshirt freshman Ford Childress earned a pair of starts against Georgia State, a 41-7 win, and Maryland, a 37-0 loss, early in the year, but a pectoral injury has left him sidelined since.
Trickett has battled through shoulder and concussion issues that have kept him from settling into the position. He’s played in seven games, completing 102 of 196 passes for 1,249 yards. He’s thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions and been sacked 14 times.
WVU will enter Saturday’s finale as it has most games this year, still undecided on a starting quarterback.
Childress is the only one who has been ruled out. Trickett has been cleared to play, but he’s splitting repetitions with Millard in practice.
“They’ve both done well,” said Holgorsen. “They’re trying hard and practicing well. They’re competing. They want to get better. I feel like we can win with either one.
“Trickett has proven he can win some Big 12 games. Millard is working on the scheme and what we want him to do, and he’s progressing.”
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.