Iowa State, 2-9 overall, 1-7 in the Big 12, comes off a 34-0 pasting of Kansas, which, one week prior, beat West Virginia 31-19 in a game that wasn't that close. The Cyclones' win snapped a seven-game losing streak this season and an eight-game conference slide dating to a win at KU last season. It was the first shutout win by Iowa State over a Big 12 opponent since it defeated Baylor 41-0 in 2001. WVU, meanwhile, had an open week after being shocked by KU on Nov. 16 to effectively end any chance of respectability.
"It meant a lot. It was a huge victory," head coach Paul Rhoades said of ISU's shutout. "Anytime that you are sitting there with zero conference wins, anytime that you're in the middle of the losing streak that we were, anytime that you have a chance to get a victory for your seniors in their last home game, and you do get it done, it means a great deal to everybody involved internally and externally."
It was officially the coldest game in Iowa State history – eight degrees at kickoff and three by the start of the second half – but ISU still racked up a season-best 502 yards thanks primarily to quarterback Grant Rohach. The freshman completed 15 of 20 passes for a season-high 300 yards, an average of 20 yards per completion and 15 per attempt. He had two touchdown passes against one interception after failing to throw for a score in the previous five games.
"It was nothing short of magnificent," Rhoades said. "My appreciation was really set after watching the film Sunday. He really threw the football excellently. He threw strikes on a night when you didn't think it would be able to happen; 300 yards passing, 75 percent completions. It didn't matter if it was a swing, bubble pass or a pass down the field, he was throwing them right on the money. When hands were like cardboard and balls were like bricks, magnificent performance.
"I don't think in (Rohach's native) southern California he ever played in a game like that. Practice-wise, we went out Tuesday and Wednesday in personal drills. I told them, the good news was the temperature at game time would probably be 25 degrees colder than it was then. He hadn't had the exposure to those elements and that exposure, but he delivered in a big way."
Rohach had completions of 39, 42 and 58 yards, but converted only three of 11 third downs. Kansas was even worse, failing on 13 of 16 third down tries, and five of seven fourth down attempts. ISU's defense held the Jayhawks to 279 yards and managed to at least limit running back James Sims (21 carries for 114 yards), who ripped West Virginia for a season-high 211 yards – 82 more than he had rushed for in any other game. Overall, Iowa State ranks 84th in the NCAA in passing yards (209 apg), 96th in rush yards (134.7 apg) and 99th in points per contest at 22.4.
The Cyclones have been lit up at times defensively, giving up an average of 35.3 yards per game to rank 107th. ISU has allowed 71, 58, 48, 42 and 41 points to Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas State, which, overall, is significantly worse than WVU. The Mountaineers, who should manage to limit the Cyclones offense, might not be able to do much on the other side of the ball. West Virginia ranks 90th in points for at 24.7 per game, and has been hurt by a glaring lack of ability and consistency at quarterback and untimely turnovers.
"Speed and athleticism," said Rhodes when asked about the WVU offense. "They aren't short on that, and with their high-powered offense and the way they take advantage of space with that speed, it's great. You want to try to minimize it, so you have to great the greatest number of players in the vicinity of the play formation tendencies and so forth. They don't let you get a very good bead on that, so we will be challenged with the speed and athleticism and a field to defend."
It has yet to be announced whether head coach Dana Holgorsen will start Paul Millard or Clint Trickett, who was recovering from a concussion during the Kansas game, at quarterback. Neither have been particularly impressive this season, and both are underclassmen, so there isn't the pressure to attempt to play a senior. With WVU out of bowl contention and locked into a losing season for the first time in 12 years, it would seem to make little sense to force Trickett back early for a meaningless game.
"I imagine we will be in the dark," Rhodes said of WVU's quarterback situation. "You look at differences with what plays have been run with different players. But the overall offense remains the same and you got to prepare for that with the other being unknown."
Rhoades said the Cyclones, who will miss a bowl for the first time in three seasons, wouldn't try to turn the regular season finale into a bowl-like experience for motivation.
"I don't think you have to do that," he said. "Our football team is excited about playing. We are coming off a nice win and have a chance to finish the season on a really positive note that's good for our seniors and good for our offseason. I think that alone gives us focus enough and excitement enough to prepare and play this next game."
Note: Rhodes compared ISU's eight-degree game against Kansas with that of Pitt-West Virginia in 2005. Rhodes was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers in that game, a 45-13 WVU win on Senior day. "The coldest game I have ever coached was in Morgantown, 2005 Pitt-West Virginia," Rhodes said. "I tried to make a comparison after this one, but I still think (Pitt-WVU) was colder because of the wind that was blowing. These guys, one week removed from the coldest game at kickoff in Iowa State history, we should be at least prepared mentally."