Rhoads had success against W. Va.

Published 8:47 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008

AUBURN – Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads designed the defensive plan that stymied West Virginia’s offense last season and knocked the Moutaineers out of the BCS national championship picture.

Much has changed since Rhoads and Pittsburgh beat No. 2 West Virginia 13-9 last Dec. 1, holding them to nearly 300 yards below their season average.

Rhoads left to take over Auburn’s defense, and gets to face his former rival and its new coaching staff next Thursday night.

“This one is under completely different circumstances,” he said. “New program here. Doing new things here, and them the same way. I had a brief look at their offense with the new coordinator and the way they’re doing things. There’s some similarity but it’s far from being the same thing.”

Rhoads spent eight seasons at Pitt and developed a healthy respect for that team’s rivalry with West Virginia in the Big East Conference.

“It’s their Iron Bowl. It doesn’t matter the records, it doesn’t matter what’s at stake,” he said. “The Backyard Brawl is the Iron Bowl and whatever that involves. It’s the game of the year and you play it at all costs. That game just happened to be a team that if they won they were going to go play for the national championship.

“I don’t believe 18-19-20 year olds set out to play to keep a team from the national championship. I think you play to win. We prepared to win that football game and executed to win that football game.”


THIRD-AND-LONG:@ There’s an obvious reason why Auburn has converted a league-low 29 percent of third downs.

The Tigers have faced third-and-7 or more 60 times this season, and have been in shorter yardage situations only 46 times.

Auburn is just 3-of-34 when needing at least 11 yards, the most common scenario. By contrast the Tigers have had only 23 situations within 3 yards of a first down, converting 52.2 percent.


LESTER’S WOES:@ Brad Lester is hoping to use the Tigers’ open date to finally get healthy again.

Lester has been slowed much of the season with neck and knee injuries.

“I’m just trying to bounce back and get ready for these last five games so we can run the football,” he said.

Lester has only six carries in the past three games and took a couple of licks on his tender right knee early against Arkansas that sidelined him. Lester has started five games this season but Ben Tate has carried most of the load in the running game.

He said the sprained neck bothers him at times, including on a screen play against Arkansas.

“It’s been tough, but it’s something you’ve got to get through and it’s part of the game,” Lester said.

He has 48 carries for 193 yards and one touchdown.