Cold, windy conditions await Geno, WVU in Ames
AMES, Iowa — West Virginia's football team figures to meet an old nemesis here today and it has nothing to do with facing former Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads.
No, while that figures to be enough of a challenge — it was Rhoads' defense that handcuffed the 2007 Mountaineers and knocked them from the national championship game — when WVU faces Iowa State here today, it could come under conditions that have wreaked havoc with its offense in the past.
Wind. And this time add cold to the mix.
In order to snap a five-game losing streak and become bowl eligible, the Mountaineers will have to overcome both. West Virginia (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) faces Iowa State (6-5, 3-5) at 3:30 p.m. today in a game that will be televised by ABC.
The weather forecast, after several days of sun and temperatures in the 60s and 70s, calls for highs in the 30s and sustained winds of 20 miles per hour and more at kickoff. By game's end the forecasted temperature is 28 with a wind chill of 17. It is part of the same weather front expected to dramatically drop temperatures in West Virginia by Saturday.
On the positive side, West Virginia has at least faced windy conditions before, so this won't be new. In games at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, where the wind gusts were substantial, it was at least a contributing factor to the problems faced by the Mountaineer offense. Quarterback Geno Smith's passes in those conditions were certainly not as crisp and accurate as they had been previously.
Add in the cold conditions — wind chills well down into the 20s — and it might be cause for the Mountaineers to rely more on a running game that has been anything but consistent. West Virginia ran for 457 yards last week in a 50-49 loss to Oklahoma, but that was with Tavon Austin gaining 344 of those against an Oklahoma defense that all but emptied the box to defend against the pass. Iowa State won't do that today.
West Virginia's sideline for last week's game against Oklahoma was populated by a handful of former Mountaineer greats, including Pat White, Bruce Irvin, Chris Neild and Julian Miller. At least some of them said they were there at the request of coach Dana Holgorsen.
Yet when Holgorsen was asked about the motivational benefit of such appearances, he seemed almost offended at the notion.
"People have asked me about that. If motivational speaking was the way to coach a football team, there would be a whole lot of motivational speaking football coaches,'' Holgorsen said. "Their presence is appreciated, but if you think a few of their words are going to change the outlook of a football team, you're off your rocker.
"We appreciated their support and those guys are important to the program. But motivational speaking is not the answer when it comes to a well-prepared football team."
West Virginia's defense is among the worst in the nation and Iowa State relies on its defense to win football games, right? That's the prevailing perception.
At least some of the statistics, though, contradict that view.
For instance, during WVU's awful five-game losing streak the Mountaineers have surrendered an average of 533 yards per game. But over its last five games, two of them wins, the Cyclones have actually surrendered more yards, an average of 561.8 per game.
West Virginia still trails Iowa State in most defensive categories in the NCAA rankings, including total defense (ISU is 93rd, WVU 117th). But the Cyclones' pass defense isn't much better (No. 110) and WVU's run defense has an edge (29th vs. 59th).
But those numbers come with a caveat. Despite the yards, Iowa State is not giving up points at nearly the rate of West Virginia. The Cyclones are giving up just 22.6 per game and are the only league school that hasn't given up more than 35 points in a game. WVU has given up 34 or more eight times in 10 games and surrendered 45 or more six times.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1