WVU football: Iowa State concerned about Austin
AMES, Iowa -- Paul Rhoads probably deserved to enjoy last week's win longer than he did.
The Iowa State coach watched his team win 51-23 at Kansas, the school's most points scored in a road game since 1923. The Cyclones also clinched bowl eligibility for the third time in four years under Rhoads.
A backup quarterback in his first meaningful playing time was 23-for-27 for 250 yards and four touchdowns and redshirt freshman Sam Richardson put the Cyclones (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) in position to set new highs for wins and conference wins under Rhoads when they play host to West Virginia at 3:30 p.m. today on ABC.
There was plenty to feel good about, but the joy was brief. Rhoads was debriefed on what the Mountaineers had done that same night against Oklahoma. A box score showed receiver Tavon Austin carried the ball 21 times for 344 yards.
"We got back here and put the tape on and saw where he was lining up and how he was gaining all the yards," Rhoads said," and then soon after that, we vomited."
Austin brings all his speed and wiggle into Jack Trice Stadium today as well as something else that has the Cyclones spinning - an almost complete inability to prepare for Austin's sudden ascent.
"It's a pain in the rear end, especially with a six-day work week," Rhoads said. "Seven days is hard enough when you're preparing for the offenses you face in this league, but when teams start doing something different, you're dealing with the unknown. You don't want to chase ghosts, but to a certain extent, you have to, especially with a player as talented as he is."
The Mountaineers addressed struggles with the running game by moving Austin from receiver, where he leads the nation with 10 receptions per game, to running back, where he hadn't played since high school.
They aren't saying exactly what they'll do with Austin this week.
"He's a guy that you look for matchups for and you put him in a position to exploit those matchups," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "That's not necessarily always going to be the case with him in the backfield. It was a good game to do that with him. How much we do it is going to be week to week and what we see on film."
The Sooners played right into WVU's plan last week. They played man-to-man coverage and moved defenders away from the line of scrimmage to cover WVU's receivers.
"They only had one person accounting for me, just a safety, so I only had to beat him," Austin said.
Austin beat the defense again and again and ripped off gains of 31, 74, 56, 54 and 47 yards. He averaged 16.4 yards per carry and only had one negative-yardage run.
"You don't do that against the University of Oklahoma and their personnel," Rhoads said. "You just don't do that. He's a very, very special player and now you've got to spend the time to make sure you're ready for it and aligned for it."
The trouble for Iowa State is WVU isn't certain to use Austin the way he was used against Oklahoma. The Cyclones play a lot of zone defense and won't trust their players the same as the Sooners trusted theirs, which means they won't create the same openings for Austin.
The trouble for the Mountaineers is that while they plan to use Austin again at running back, they also know they won't have the same matchup advantages they had against Oklahoma.
"We knew going in we'd do it for as long as he was successful and if it worked, we'd stick with it. If it didn't work, we'd go with something else," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "The difference between the weeks before that and that week is he makes guys miss. Simple as that."
It created other opportunities for the offense. Austin's running made Oklahoma realize its defense was vulnerable. When it tried to fix that, WVU was able to counter and make deep throws. Quarterback Geno Smith passed for 320 yards and four touchdowns against a team that hadn't allowed a 300-yard passer and had given up only three passing touchdowns.
"It made their safeties nosey and when they did come up we were able to get behind then and get some yards through the air and a lot of that was the result of play action," Smith said. "Iowa State has a different style of defense. They're going to have more guys in the box, I would think. You're never 100 percent sure, but I'm 100 percent sure they're not going to make it so easy for us to run the ball."
How, the Mountaineers don't know. Where WVU was able to study Oklahoma's defense and manipulate matchups to create advantages, the same edge won't exist with Iowa State. The Mountaineers know how the Cyclones play defense, but they don't know how they'll contend with Austin.
The Sooners were caught off guard and weren't able to make the necessary fixes. Iowa State has a short week, but at least has time to work around or remove the matchups the Mountaineers might highlight.
"It's impossible to predict," Dawson said. "I don't know what their plan will be. I can tell you they have a system and they have a belief on defense and I don't think they'll vary too much from that belief. They play solid defense and they're sound and they're typically really good tacklers.
"I don't expect them to venture too far from what they've done and do something that's not really in their nature, but we'll see. You never know."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.co/wvu.