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Iowa State welcomes WVU after securing postseason berth

November 22, 2012
By JIM ELLIOTT - Special to the Herald-Star

Iowa State is feeling pretty good about itself these days.

That wasn't always the case.

With Saturday's victory against Kansas, the Cyclones became bowl eligible for the third time in four seasons under coach Paul Rhoads

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In Ames, that's news.

The program has been to only 11 bowl games in its history (winning three). When Rhoads took over for Gene Chizik, who was 5-19 in two seasons there but later won a national championship at Auburn, the Cyclones had an 11-game conference losing streak and a 17-game road losing streak.

''I think we've come a long ways,'' Rhoads said.

Indeed. For all intents and purposes, the pressure is off Iowa State in this one. In its season finale, it's simply playing for bowl position - and the extra repetitions a month of December practices bring.

''It's extremely important and everybody will tell you that,'' said Rhoads, who is quite familiar with WVU, having served as Pitt's defensive coordinator the night the Panthers pulled a monumental upset of the Mountaineers in 2007, knocking them from the national championship game.

''We've got a veteran team this year, which means we're going to have an inexperienced team next year. To get all of these extra practices very important to the young men.''

West Virginia, meanwhile, needs a victory in one of its last two games to simply become bowl eligible, having stood on that doorstep for 44 days since beating Texas and enduring what is now a five-game losing streak.

That's something, considering a point West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen made earlier in the week.

''Every Big 12 team that we have played is going to go to a bowl game,'' he said.

The losses have come in varying ways, including a pair of one-point losses at home and a couple of lopsided losses on the road, leaving Holgorsen to wonder how much more his guys can take?

''It is disappointing,'' he said. ''Why did it happen? I don't know. When is it going to end? I don't know. The only thing we can do about it is get out there and work hard and put ourselves in position to win the next one.''

Iowa State doesn't do anything specifically well on offense - the rushing and passing offenses both rank in the 70s - but it has the 30th-ranked defense in the nation in terms of points allowed, yielding 22.6 per game. To get through a Big 12 schedule allowing that few points says a lot about the guys the Cyclones have on that side of the ball.

And they've done some of it without All-Big 12 linebacker Jake Knott, who was lost for the year after shoulder surgery.

The Cylcones do feature last season's league co-defender of the year in linebacker A.J. Klein, who has 328 career tackles and four career interception returns for touchdowns.

Strong safety Durrell Givins leads the nation in takeaways with six fumble recoveries and three interceptions.

''They are stingy on defense now, especially in the red zone,'' Holgorsen said. ''They give up yards, and then they get real stingy in the red zone. They get you to turn it over and one of the stats that stands out is how they do in the red zone defensively and they change what they do. They start pressuring you and start heating you up a little bit.''

In last week's victory against Kansas, redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Richardson, who had never thrown a pass in college, stepped in for veteran Steel Jantz and completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns. He added 43 rushing yards and another touchdown.

''Classic case of a guy that was ready when he was handed the keys,'' Rhoads said.

Holgorsen expects to see both players, and he's not particularly worried about it.

''They are not overly complicated with what they do offensively,'' he said. ''They are going to spread you out, they are going to run the zone, they are going to zone read, which they did with (Richardson) and they are going to get the ball out of their hands. They are excellent at not getting caught with the ball in the backfield, and all three quarterbacks (also Jared Barnett, who has seen his share of snaps, too) do the same thing. From a scheme standpoint, it is not really going to make a difference to us who they play at quarterback.''

At West Virginia, the big question is how much more, or less, will utility man Tavon Austin get the ball after last week's 572-yard, all-purpose effort, including a school-record 344 rushing yards? He averaged 16.4 yards per carry, and scored a touchdown a fourth different way on the season - the only player in school history to ever do that.

''I never have (had a player do that),'' Holgorsen said. ''Not from a return standpoint, a receiving standpoint and the ability to just hand it to him and do a lot of different things. So our job as coaches is to get him the ball as many ways as we can. Sometimes we have done a good job with that, and sometimes we haven't done a good job with that. Last week, we obviously did a good job with that.''

Austin certainly caught the eyes of Rhoads and his staff.

He said soon after they beat Kansas, they looked at the stats of the WVU-Oklahoma game, popped in the film, and ''soon after that, we vomited,'' Rhoads said.

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