Iowa State's Paul Rhoads to coach in last game at WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) One last game means one final opportunity for Iowa State's Paul Rhoads.
Six days after being fired, Rhoads will coach the Cyclones on Saturday at West Virginia before saying goodbye to the school where he compiled a 32-54 record since 2009.
The Cyclones (3-8, 2-6 Big 12) can cap a year with a win for the second time in three seasons after beating the Mountaineers in triple overtime on the road in 2013.
The passionate Rhoads doesn't believe his team will have challenges or distractions getting ready for this trip.
''Anytime there's change and a finality to something, it's hard,'' Rhoads said. ''Different personalities accept it and deal with it in different ways. Our kids will play. They'll prepare and they'll play.''
Last week Iowa State squandered a 35-14 lead in the first half at Kansas State and fumbled three times in the final seven minutes of the game. The Wildcats won 38-35 on a field goal with three seconds left.
Rhoads was fired less than 24 hours later, and Iowa State's players believe that adds another layer of importance to Saturday's game.
''We were going to go out there and compete for the seniors anyway,'' said Iowa State quarterback Joel Lanning. ''Now we just go out there and compete for the seniors and coach Rhoads and the coaching staff. You want to send everyone out the right way.''
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen hasn't made his players especially aware of Rhoads' demise.
The Mountaineers (6-4, 3-4) have their own incentives in the home finale for 20 seniors. West Virginia has won three straight after going 0-4 against ranked teams in October, and an eight-win regular season is within reach. The Mountaineers finish at Kansas State next week.
''This senior class was instrumental in the transition to the Big 12,'' Holgorsen said. ''It's going to be important to me to send them out on top. That gives us plenty of motivation.''
The last time Iowa State played at West Virginia, the Cyclones posted the biggest comeback in school history, clawing from 24 points down to win 52-44.
In 2007, Rhoads was the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh when the Panthers beat the Mountaineers 13-9 in Morgantown. The loss in the Backyard Brawl on the final weekend of the regular season denied West Virginia the chance to play for the national championship.
On this bittersweet visit to Morgantown, ''it won't be important for me personally,'' Rhoads said. ''This has always been about the kids and always will be.''
Some other things to watch for in Iowa State's second-ever visit to Morgantown:
IMPROVING D: A 49-0 win at Kansas last week marked the first time since 1996 that West Virginia had two shutouts in a season.
LONG ROAD: Iowa State is 0-5 on the road this season. The last time the Cyclones went winless on the road was in 2008.
TOP BACKS: West Virginia's Wendell Smallwood and Iowa State's Mike Warren are locked in a battle for the league's rushing crown with two others. Warren has 1,265 yards in 11 games and Smallwood has 1,234 yards in 10 games. Texas Tech's DeAndre Washington and Baylor's Shock Linwood also are in the mix.
LESS IS MORE: During West Virginia's current winning streak, Skyler Howard has attempted an average of 19 passes per game and has completed 61 percent of them. In October, he tried 36 passes per game and completed 48 percent of them.
FIRST IN SOMETHING: Amid other dominating teams, West Virginia and Iowa State have managed to be first in a few Big 12 statistical categories. West Virginia has the most interceptions made with 19. Iowa State has the best punt return average of 17.5 yards and is the least-penalized team at 5.5 per game.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org