By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Last week, Iowa State, which comes to Mountaineer Field at 4 p.m. Saturday to put a merciful end to West Virginia’s football season, played a game against Kansas that might have been better served being shown on The Weather Channel than any of the sports channels available.
The Cyclones went into the game without a Big 12 victory and Kansas went in riding high off its first conference victory in more than two years the week before over West Virginia, leaving the talk to turn to the weather rather than the game.
Just before kickoff the thermometer read 8 degrees and it was down to 3 degrees by the start of the second half, making it the coldest game in Jack Trice Stadium history.
It was not, however, the coldest game in Paul Rhoads history.
“That was in Morgantown in 2005,” recalled the Iowa State head coach who at that time was the defensive coordinator for Dave Wannstedt. “I felt that was colder because of the wind blowing.”
It might have been the wind, or maybe the breeze created as the WVU backs continually rushed past him on the way to a 45-13 West Virginia victory.
Pat White, just a freshman, was rushing for a Big East record 220 yards, breaking Michael Vick’s record of 210 and scoring twice, and Steve Slaton was adding another 176 yards with three scores on a day when the wind chill was recorded at 7 degrees.
Regardless, Rhoads would get his taste of revenge two years later when White and Slaton had reached full maturity and stood at No. 2 in the nation and needed only to defeat a bad Pitt team — no, a terrible Pitt team — to advance to the national championship game, which nearly everyone felt they would win.
On this day, though, Rhoads devised a scheme that stopped the Mountaineers — dare we use the word cold? — as a four-touchdown underdog Pitt team won, 13-9.
White was knocked out of the game for two quarters with a head injury and finished with 14 carries for 41 yards, while Slaton had nine carries for 11 yards.
In the previous two games, White and Slaton had combined for 831 rushing yards.
Rhoads, on this occasion, just dared WVU to throw deep down the middle and Rich Rodriguez refused to accept the dare, and because of it WVU football history changed, not getting the shot at its only national title and Rodriguez leaving.
Had WVU won that game, won a national title, who knows? It might now be playing in the ACC instead of Pitt with Rodriguez still its coach.
But back to today, where Rhoads brings his team in fresh off that wintry victory behind quarterback Grant Rohach, who threw for 300 yards in the most difficult of conditions.
“He was nothing short of magnificent. The kid played a great football game. He threw strikes on a night when you did not think that could happen, with hands like cardboard and footballs like bricks. It was magnificent,” Rhoads said.
He certainly impressed Dana Holgorsen, who knows something about quarterbacks.
“They’ve found their routine offensively. Their quarterback, a redshirt freshman — how do you pronounce his name? — is doing a lot of good things. They’re doing a lot with him. 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.”
In fact, Holgorsen believes they are good enough to call them “the best 2-9 team in the country,” which may not be quite the compliment he meant it to be, but you get the message.
Rhoads has a way of making his team play hard and in Ames they have complete confidence that he is going to get as much out of Iowa State as he can, there being no public talk about his job being in jeopardy.
This could be in part because of a no-nonsense, straightforward approach to the game that even Holgorsen notices.
“They’re very well coached, and they don’t try to trick you. It’s one of the more simple schemes in the country, but it’s hard. They’re tough. They have some linebackers that are tremendous football players,” he said. “They are coming off some tough losses this year and will probably have a lot more confidence coming into this game. They’re going to come in here and try to take us.”
Meanwhile, Rhoads spends time thinking how he enjoyed the victory over Kansas with his team, then went home with his wife to thaw out.
“It took a while,” he said. “The wife and I went home to an empty house, sat by the fire watching games. I was sore from jumping around after the game. Make no mistake, it was cold.”
But he had a warm feeling after it.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.