AMES, Iowa – Iowa State never wanted to reach the point where it had to beat West Virginia on the day after Thanksgiving to become bowl eligible.
The Cyclones took care of that by winning their sixth game last weekend.
But it’s not as if the Mountaineers are nearly as scary as they looked to be in early October, either.
West Virginia 2-5 in the Big 12), 5-5 has fallen from the top 10 to the Big 12 basement in five long weeks. Now it’s the Mountaineers who need to beat Iowa State (3-5, 6-5) just to reach a bowl game – not the other way around.
“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,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen 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 for the program.”
The Cyclones have themselves yet another quarterback controversy. But coach Paul Rhoads might have an uprising in the stands at Jack Trice Stadium if he doesn’t start redshirt freshman Sam Richardson.
Richardson became the third Iowa State quarterback responsible for a victory last week when he came off the bench to lead Iowa State to a 51-23 win at Kansas.
Richardson looked so good in his debut he spurred hope the Cyclones have found their quarterback of the future. He completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns after relieving senior Steele Jantz.
Rhoads wouldn’t commit to starting Richardson against the Mountaineers, but he did say the freshman had the edge over Jantz after his dazzling performance in Lawrence.
“You have to always be ready for an opportunity, and when it comes you have to seize it,” Richardson said. “Still working practice with the same mentality that I’ll have an opportunity to be out on the field.”
West Virginia’s main problem isn’t hard to spot. The Mountaineers’ defense has yet to prove it can stop anyone in the Big 12.
West Virginia was ranked fifth in the nation and quarterback Geno Smith was the presumptive Heisman Trophy favorite when Texas Tech dropped 49 points on the Mountaineers Oct. 13.
Sadly for West Virginia, it wasn’t a fluke.
After giving up 63 and 48 points in wins over Baylor and Texas, the Mountaineers have allowed 49, 55, 39, 55 and 50 in consecutive defeats.
Last week, West Virginia suffered a gut-wrenching 50-49 loss to Oklahoma when Landry Jones threw his sixth TD pass of the evening with 24 seconds left.
Nationally, only Colorado has given up more than the 42.3 points West Virginia has allowed per game – and the Buffs are 1-10.
“We are strong willed around here. We have the right leadership in place, and we have the right amount of effort. We all want to win very badly. Guys are not going to hang their heads,” Smith said. “We understand that we are in a rough stretch, but we know the only way to pull out of it is to win games.”
Though Iowa State and West Virginia have never met, Rhoads is a familiar name in Morgantown.
Rhoads was the defensive coordinator for rival Pittsburgh in 2007 when the Panthers shut down star quarterback Pat Smith and stunned West Virginia 13-9, denying the Mountaineers a spot in the national title game.
But Rhoads said this week that he knows his offense – no matter if it’s led by Richardson or Jantz – must put up points to keep up with a West Virginia team that is as prolific now as it was in October.
“They’re not any less dangerous. What happened to them was the Big 12. This is a great, great football league and they’re a very good football team,” Rhoads said. “They are a very dangerous football team.”