Richardson carries Cyclones, sets school records

Jori Epstein

Sam B. Richardson, Iowa State’s redshirt junior quarterback, likes to play to his opponents’ weaknesses. If defenders are moving slowly, as he felt Toledo was last weekend, he’ll change the game plan accordingly.

“The first half, we were kind of waiting for them to set up on defense, so I told the coaches we need to go fast and not let them get set up,” Richardson said Saturday night, after the Cyclones rebounded from a 13-9 halftime deficit to beat Toledo, 37-30.

The transition to up-tempo wasn’t a guaranteed improvement. Richardson’s teammates didn’t like the new speed, it required him to throw a lot more passes and, at times, Richardson admits, it’s not easy on the quarterback. But he didn’t mind throwing 53 passes, and both his 37 completions and 351 passing yards set Cyclone school records. Despite the obvious success on the stat sheet, Richardson said his mental game couldn’t always keep up.

“Where you’re not thinking so much about what a defensive look is before the snap, [it can] hurt us,” Richardson said Wednesday. “I wasn’t paying attention as well as I should’ve. It’s a lot of reacting there when you get a look [from teammates] that they’re in an offense they don’t want to be in.”

Although Richardson speaks of his mistakes, his statistics and mentors tell another story. Richardson hit 3,000 career passing yards in last weekend’s game, 1,354 of which he’s completed this season. Boasting a 60.1 percent completion rate with 10 touchdowns in 2014, Richardson, a  Winter Park, Florida, native, is far from passive. He averages more than 225 passing yards per game and leads the team with 376 rushing yards this season — more than double the total of any other Cyclone player. Head coach Paul Rhoads says Richardson is growing at an incredible rate.

“When you start to mature like he is right now, you do things like that; you make smart plays,” Rhoads said after the victory over Toledo. “And he made a couple of knucklehead plays in the first half, so to come back and have the presence to play the way he did in the next 30 minutes is a credit to him.”

In Austin this weekend, Richardson will look to make smart plays against the Longhorns. He knows the up-tempo style won’t wear out Texas’ defenders as well as it did the Rockets’. Richardson says Toledo players were “tired and huffing for air,” so he looked to capitalize on their fatigue. But therein lies his biggest concern about the Longhorns’ defense: their athleticism.

“Their D-line is big but full of quick, shifty guys, and their defensive backs are very athletic, quick and can make plays on the balls,” Richardson said. “It’s a defense that’s going to be flying around and know where they need to be.”

Although his competition will be stiff — Richardson says the Longhorns are “definitely one of the better 2-4 teams in the nation” — the higher stakes only motivate him. He longs for a win in Austin, hoping last week’s comeback will springboard the Cyclones to a second consecutive victory.

“It’s a great team with a lot of prestige behind it, so it’d obviously propel us as a team getting a win over [the Longhorns],” Richardson said. “They’ve got a great defense and a team that’s full of athletes that can make all sorts of plays. It’d be an awesome win down there in Austin and propel us throughout the rest of the season.”