WVU football: Offense has been a problem for Iowa State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There are days and nights on the campus at Iowa State when it doesn't make much sense to throw the football, a reality West Virginia got to know quite well on a cold, wet and windy night in Ames, Iowa, the day after Thanksgiving last year.
"Jack Trice Stadium," Cyclones Coach Paul Rhoads said, "can be very blustery."
Rhoads, once a renowned defensive coordinator at Pitt and Auburn who was born 10 minutes away from the stadium and went to high school 20 minutes from the place, has never had an especially dynamic offense in his five seasons at Iowa State. His Cyclones ranked Nos. 103, 97, 90 and 85 in scoring offense his first four seasons, each team a little more capable than the one before it, but it has slipped this season.
Iowa State is back at No. 97, as good a reason as any Rhoads is 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the Big 12 as he prepares for Saturday's game against West Virginia at Mountaineer Field. The 4 p.m. game will be televised by Fox Sports 1.
Rhoads arranged a change before this season, though, and tried to get better at something he's been good at and something that makes sense on those rough nights at home.
Iowa State finished No. 35 in rushing yards per game in 2009 and No. 39 two seasons ago - and consider those teams were 13-13 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12 and frequently played from behind and needed to pass to win.
Rhoads decided after finishing ninth in the Big 12 last season with 150.08 yards per game to switch to the Pistol. Rhoads needed to replace an offensive line coach and hired Chris Klenakis, who according to Rhoads knows the Pistol "maybe as well as anybody in the country."
Klenakis spent the past three seasons at Arkansas, but before that was the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator at Nevada from 2004-09. Coach Chris Ault came out of retirement in 2004 following a Hall of Fame career and reinvented Wolfpack football with the Pistol in 2005.
"Getting a guy who knows it was a very important piece," Rhoads said. "We were already doing it, but there's a big difference between doing something and having the answers that go along with it."
The Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6) made a similar move in the offseason. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh left for Oklahoma. Coach Dana Holgorsen had grown tired of coming up short in short-yardage situations and being unable to balance his play calls or control a game with the run.
He hired Ron Crook, the offensive tackles/tight ends coach at Stanford. Crook brought with him the Cardinal double teams and power game that started to take form and affect games late this season.
"I could go out next week and coordinate four different styles of defense and I promise I could coach two of them better than the other two because immediately I know the answers when we need to adjust," Rhoads said. "Having Chris on the staff affords us that."
The Cyclones are just No. 96 in rushing offense with 134.7 yards per game, but have enjoyed some success with the Pistol, which is a half-shotgun and allows offenses early looks at the defense that help with zone read plays and get the backs on the defense faster.
Iowa State ran for 168 yards in the opener and 179 and three touchdowns two weeks later in its win against Tulsa. The Cyclones nearly beat Texas behind 201 yards rushing. In Saturday's 34-0 home win against Kansas, they ran for 202 yards.
Junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly has 515 yards rushing and two 100-yard games, but he's missed two games with injuries. Shontrelle Johnson ran for a season-high 84 yards and a touchdown against the Jayhawks. Quarterback Sam Richardson has 358 yards on 100 carries, but he's been replaced by Grant Rohach. He's much more of a passer than Richardson and completed 15 of 20 passes for 300 yards and to scores against Kansas.
WVU's defense has been good and bad against the run, but has allowed four 300-yard games since Keith Patterson took over as defensive coordinator in the Pinstripe Bowl last year, including 315 by Kansas in the last game - still just the third-highest total the Mountaineers have allowed this season.
The four 300-yard games before the string Syracuse started in the bowl happened between 1999-2005, and there were none from 2006-11.
"I think our backs and quarterback situation now is very suited to this type of offense," Rhoads said. "We have not been nearly as productive as we needed to be the last few years out of the backfield. This style of offense affords our backs more space, more room, more ability to play up to their potential as opposed to plateauing, if you will, and just being another guy out there."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.