When Jamie Pollard relieved Paul Rhoads of his services last Sunday he gave the seventh year head coach a chance to coach his final game in Morgantown against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Rhoads agreed to do so and said that it was more for the seniors than it was for himself.
Unfortunately for those involved the game did not go as planned as the Cyclones fell 30-6 to the Mountaineers. With the loss Iowa State finishes 3-9 (2-7) on the season and Paul Rhoads exits stage left with a 32-55 (16-45) career record in Ames.
In a game where most expected players to play inspired football it was instead nearly the exact opposite. Some guys clearly looked like they cared to be on the field and others were a step slow to start and a solid three steps slower by the time the game got out of hand.
Offensively the Cyclones failed to establish a consistent rushing attack with Mike Warren finding creases on the outside, but never having success in the middle where he has feasted for most of the season. The passing game was a combination of poorly run routes and even worse protection that resulted in Joel Lanning taking five sacks on the day.
Defensively the gameplan was to limit West Virginia's rushing attack and it appeared to work for most of the game, but as we often have seen over these last seven years, a unit on the field too much will eventually begin to wilt under the pace of Big XII offenses.
Iowa State kicked to start the game and held West Virginia to a quick three and out. A sign that the defense had a solid gameplan based on stopping the Mountaineers' solid rushing attack. A promising opening drive for Iowa State that saw a 14 yard completion to Allen Lazard and a pair of 15+ yard runs by Warren and Joshua Thomas ended with a Joel Lanning interception that was thrown in to bracketed coverage around Lazard.
It took West Virginia all of one play to score on a Skylar Howard to Shelton Gibson pass that went 60 yards and through multiple defenders. Seconds after Iowa State seemed to have all the momentum in the game; it was West Virginia that had seized a 7-0 lead.
The team traded scoreless drives before trading field goals and Iowa State kept hanging around long enough to make people think they could pull this one out late. Another Lanning interception led to another West Virginia field goal, and then things got weird.
The ensuing Iowa State drive went 43 yards on 19 plays, took 7:03 off the clock, and sent the Cyclones in to halftime down only 13-6 after a Cole Netten 49-yard field goal. However, Riverboat Gambler Rhoads ran not one, but two fake punts with backup punter Holden Kramer. The first, a three yard dive, caught West Virginia off guard. The second, a pass to Kane Seeley, did not catch the Mountaineers by surprise but credit to Seeley for making an acrobatic catch.
The second half got worse for the Cyclones. Whatever advantages existed in the running game were quickly negated by West Virginia. Iowa State turned the ball over on downs on their first possession, traded punts, and then got their first break of the game with an interception by Qujuan Floyd on the West Virgina 46-yard line.
A minute and a half later Iowa State punted.
West Virgina would go on to add a field goal and two touchdowns over the remainder of the game, the latter coming after a fake punt by Sam B. Richardson was tipped and gave West Virginia great field position. For as much as the defense tried to hold on the offense did nothing to help.
In a career marred by offensive ineptitude it was a fitting, albeit disappointing, end to the Rhoads era in Ames.
Paul Rhoads gets his nap and the rest of the program moves in to the offseason with uncertainty. The search for a new coach is in full swing and all signs point to Jamie Pollard moving quickly and attempting to have a coach in place by the end of this coming week.
Rumors are abound about Buffalo coach Lance Leipold, Toledo coach Matt Campbell, and Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck. All men have Midwest backgrounds and are experienced head coaches. It appears that Jamie Pollard's blueprint for future success is Paul Rhoads 2.0: a passionate Midwesterner that has "been there before" as a head coach.
And despite the shortcomings of the 2015 season it's hard to argue with that blueprint. Paul Rhoads has done a lot for the Iowa State football program and for that we tip our hard hats to Mr. Rhoads and wish him the best of luck in the future.