By Rob Gray
AMES — His gait may seem a little off.
His movements, a tad unorthodox.
But substance trumps style for Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson, a surprisingly-skilled — if somewhat unconventional — dual-threat sophomore who has emerged as the Cyclones’ first clear-cut No. 1 playcaller since 2010.
“He’s faster than you think,” ISU offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said.
Spread offenses require a mobile quarterback.
The Cyclones’ rushing game often hinges on the zone-read option and Richardson, who will start in Saturday’s 2 p.m. spring game at Jack Trice Stadium, has proven adept at running it.
“I’m not the most athletic runner by any means,” said Richardson, who went 0-2 as an starter last season but shined after coming off the bench in the previous game, a bowl berth-clinching 51-23 romp at Kansas. “I guess I can just get the job done. Spread offense, zone-read, pistol (formation) kind of thing — you have to be able to make plays with your feet as a quarterback.”
Doesn’t matter if he’s productive to the tune of a 41-yard touchdown run in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“All in all, pleased with his progress,” Cycloned coach Paul Rhoads said. “He’s a guy that’s not satisfied and that’s encouraging, as well. There’s a good chance he’s down the hallway right now watching tape with a receiver or two. He snags them as often as he can.”
Turned out Richardson was down in the equipment room as Rhoads spoke, but still studying.
He completed 58 percent of his passes last season for eight touchdowns and one interception.
He also averaged 5.7 yards per carry and tromped into the end zone once.
“My confidence level has continued to grow throughout the spring,” Richardson said.
Rhoads said Richardson has carried himself as the No. 1 guy since the calendar turned.
Last season, he sat No. 3 behind erratic off-and-on starters Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett.
Until the Kansas game — when he completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns, then struggled to produce big gains in losses to West Virginia and Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl.
“Commanding would be the word that I’ll start with,” Rhoads said of Richardson’s demeanor in 2013. “As much as you try to get a guy to come along earlier, sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. Sam had an opportunity last year to be the guy (out of spring practice). Sam had an opportunity no different than Steele and Jared to take the ball on the first offense and run with it and never stepped forward to do that. It was too easy for him to sit behind a couple veteran guys and wait for his time.”
Apparently, he’s now fully arrived — even if he runs somewhat more upright than most and doesn’t cause the term “elusive” to come trippingly off the tongue.“He’s always been a very, very smart quarterback,” Messingham said. “From day one, I think we really realized he understands schemes. Now he’s understanding them with the bullets flying, with people flying around him.”