AMES — Sam Richardson’s expected to make his second career start as Iowa State’s quarterback when the Dec. 31 Liberty Bowl rematch with Tulsa rolls around.
So what does Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads want to see most from him in terms of development?
“How specific is everything?” Rhoads said after practice last weekend. “When I say it I mean it that in the month of December — and I said it in (Friday’s) team meeting, whether it’s (all-Big 12 linebacker) A.J. Klein or (senior offensive lineman) Carter Bykowski, I expect everybody improving out there on the field. I think one thing that Sam needs to do in these practices is be more assertive. It’s one of the things that I didn’t see in the whole process of the season, whether it was training camp, or those weeks in the middle of it when he was fighting for the starting job himself.”
Now that Richardson’s got it, though, he plans on running with it.
He completed 23 of 27 passes off the bench Nov. 17 while leading the Cyclones (6-6) to bowl eligibility for the third time in four years in a 51-23 win at Kansas.
And while the redshirt freshman from Winter Park, Fla., has completed 62 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns in two games, the most impressive number on his short-term stat line is zero.
That denotes how many times he’s turned the ball over for a team that lost the ball 23 times this season.
“Being comfortable back there and with all the reps that I’m getting, it’s something that’s very nice for me,” Richardson said when asked about his development. “Just being comfortable with the offense — the O-line, the receivers, that’s my main thing, just being comfortable.”
It’s not always easy to tell where Richardson — or previous starters Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett — sit on the comfort scale.
A collective even-keel demeanor has led to successful stretches for all three, but can make it difficult to gauge precisely where they’re at emotionally.
“You never know how they’re acting,” said Cyclone tight end Ernst Brun, who owns five touchdown catches this season — the most in a single season for an ISU player at his position since 1973. “You would never know who the starting quarterback is because they act so nonchalant about having the job. Sam, he’s vocal, but he’s to himself. He walks around with the starting back swagger on his shoulders now, but it’s hard to tell.”
Rhoads said Richardson’s made strides on the assertiveness front.
“I think he’s doing that now that he’s got a start under his belt and two games worth of snaps,” Rhoads said. “I think he’s doing that. I think he’s responding that way.”
Richardson actively watched in the season opener as Jantz carved up Tulsa’s athletic defense in a comeback 38-23 win.
Jantz threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns that day against a Conference USA championship team (10-3) that ranks third nationally in sacks at 3.7 per game.
“He did what we needed him to do — just run our offense to the ability that it has,” Richardson said. “That’s what won us the game.”
And that’s what’s expected in Richardson’s bowl premiere as the Cyclones seek an encore win.
Do his part.
Nothing more, nothing less.“I’ve got his back,” Brun said. “That’s all Sam really needs. He just needs someone there. His first game, he asked me, ‘Ernst, you got my back?” I said, ‘I’m right here, baby.’ ... We’re going to keep it going.”