AMES – Practiced and poised, former third-string Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson trotted onto the field with precisely four minutes and 16 seconds left in the first quarter of Saturday’s Big 12 football game at Kansas.
The redshirt freshman’s previous body of work?
Two rushes for 25 yards in an early season laugher against Western Illinois.
Zero passes completed.
Until he replaced starter Steele Jantz after two drives at Memorial Stadium.
“To be honest with you, I have never even heard of him,” said Jayhawks defensive end Toben Opurum, who saw Richardson burst into a starring role in the Cyclones’ bowl eligibility-securing 51-23 whitewashing of his long-suffering and special black uniform-clad team. “He did some really good things.”
Richardson completed 18 of his first 21 passes — one was a drop —and helped ISU match a school record for second-quarter fertility with 28 points.
By the time the dust had settled on a stands-clearing first half, the Winter Park, Fla., native boasted three touchdown passes and one rush for a score.
He finished 23 of 27 through the air for 250 yards and nary a blemish (as in turnover) on his stat line.
“We definitely got in a zone where we could run plays at the tempo that we like,” said Richardson, who threw four touchdown passes, all to different players. “Obviously, it was working pretty well.”
The Cyclones (6-5, 3-5) led 38-17 at halftime after trailing 14-10 early in the second quarter.
A key sequence sprang from that precarious point.
After Jayhawk running back Tony Pierson’s dash of 55 yards to the end zone, Richardson started his second series at the helm.
Amazingly, in retrospect, the drive stalled at the Kansas 46-yard line and ISU punter Kirby Van Der Camp resumed his customary field possession-flipping routine, pinning the Jayhawks (1-10, 0-8) at their own six.
The Cyclone defense promptly forced a three and out.
Richardson and ISU began the next offensive series on the Kansas 39-yard line and made the most of the favorable starting position.
But not without stress.
It was third and four at the 33 when Richardson changed a play call at the line of scrimmage.
He then handed the ball to bruising running back Jeff Woody, who jetted 22 yards for a first down.
The very next play, Richardson found receiver Albert Gary for an 11-yard touchdown.
The Cyclones led 17-14 and would not trail again.
“He’s not too high and he’s not too low,” ISU center Tom Farniok said of Richardson. “Especially in this game, it’s hard to get low, so that made it a little easier.”
The same could be said about breathing, since the Cyclones already are destined for postseason play for the third time in Coach Paul Rhoads’ four seasons.
But will Richardson establish the offensive heartbeat the rest of the way — beginning with Friday’s matchup at home with West Virginia?
Rhoads said he wouldn’t “worry about that” in the immediate aftermath of the noteworthy win.
Regardless, worry’s the farthest thing from Richardson’s mind.
“Obviously, I loved the role that I played (Saturday),” he said. “Look forward to doing it again.”
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