AMES — Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads scanned his e-mail inbox.
Subject line: Suddenly trending quarterback Sam Richardson.
He clicked on it.
“(It was) telling me he’s really good looking,” Rhoads said with a grin in Monday’s press conference. “So that’s a positive. He’s got that going for him. I think that’s awfully important when it comes to winning football games.”
Richardson’s stock — and not just because of his flowing locks — spiked after he came off the bench to spin his first college passes into gold in Saturday’s 51-23 rout of Kansas.
The redshirt freshman from Winter Park, Fla., threw for four touchdowns while running for another as the Cyclones (6-5, 3-5) attained bowl eligibility for the third time in Rhoads’ four seasons.
Still, as ISU prepares for Friday’s 2:30 p.m. ABC-televised Big 12 home game against West Virginia (5-5, 2-5), there’s no guarantee Richardson’s in line for an encore.
“Certainly, Sam played a heck of a game,” said Rhoads, whose team seems to register seven regular season wins and four conference triumphs for the first time in his tenure. “But we’ll go through the week and see.”
Rhoads said Steele Jantz — who started the game against the Jayhawks — will likely be available.
Jantz absorbed a blow to the head before Richardson got the call late in the first quarter.
“We administer a test on the sideline and (Jantz) passed it to the point where he could have played,” Rhoads said Sunday. “But I’m never going to put a player in harm’s way and medical staff (determined) — and I fully agreed with them — that he did not need to be on the field.”
Richardson’s cool with the competition.
“Not much different,” he said.
Richardson’s been riding the fringe of the quarterback race all season, but both Rhoads said he had not done enough in practice to earn the starting job any given week.
“He’s had practices where we just felt like, “Wow, he’s close,’” offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said. “‘He’s really taking off and putting himself in that position to truly fight for it.’ A couple weeks ago, I don’t know if people believed us, but it truly was a three-person competition. Sam did things to put himself in that position.”
Did what he showed Saturday make him the frontrunner now?
“Probably so,” Rhoads said.
One thing’s a near-certainty: He won’t be going under the shears anytime soon.
Not if he heeds big-play wide receiver Josh Lenz’s post-Kansas advice, anyway.
“(When) I ruffled his hair a little bit, I told him it was all about the flow,” said Lenz, who returned from a quad injury to catch six passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. “That’s why he had a good game. He had that good flow going.”
That’s put his hair on the can’t cut list.
“He’s told me a couple times he’s thinking about cutting it and I won’t let him,” Lenz added. “We’ve got to let it go a little bit.”
Richardson’s letting his mind flow a bit, too.
The sight of Jack Trice Stadium can do that to a young Cyclone on the cusp of … who knows?
“I was just driving in the other day and saw the field and was kind of like, ‘Wow, I might be out there this week,’” Richardson said. “It’s a pretty awesome feeling knowing I could be playing in front of all of Cyclone nation.”
INJURY UPDATE: Rhoads said left tackle Brayden Burris (left leg) is doubtful this week and safety Durrell Givens (ankle) is likely to play. Rhoads remains hopeful cornerback Jansen Watson (MCL strain) will be available, as well.
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