By Rob Gray
AMES — Big plays?
Iowa State’s struggling and injury-plagued offense finally began chewing up chunks of yardage in the second half of Saturday’s 27-21 loss to Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium.
Front and center in the long-awaited revival: Cyclone wide receiver Quenton Bundrage, who provided the verve and vigor to a sputtering unit with seven catches for 146 yards — all in the second half, and all ending in touchdowns.
“You always have to be ready because you never know when the ball’s going to come your way,” said Bundrage, who compiled the most receiving yards in a game for ISU against Iowa since Ty Watley totaled 153 in 1997.
That’s 16 years ago — a year before the Cyclones ended the Hawkeyes’ 15-year win streak in the series.
“Hopefully that’s the start of a piece that this offense has been sorely lacking over all this time,” said Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads, whose team fell to 0-2 while seeing a two-game win streak against Iowa snapped. “You start getting more plays like that in a position in the game where you’re not trying to catch up, then the running game opens up a little bit because people start sliding out and playing a little bit different defense.”
Trying it the other way around didn’t work.
ISU rushed 11 times for 10 yards in the first half.
The Cyclones finished with 59 yards on the ground — their lowest total in the last 29 games.
There are several reasons for this, but quarterback Sam Richardson’s still-sore right ankle ranks at the top.
Losing starting center Jamison Lalk, who moved over from guard when first-stringer Tom Farniok went down with an MCL strain, hurt as well.
Lalk is out for an undetermined time, also with an MCL strain.
Richardson’s lack of mobility meant fewer zone-read plays were called, especially in the first half.
In an offense based on the threat of a running quarterback, that’s important.
“It really handcuffs the playbook,” running back Jeff Woody said. “Again, not to use that as an excuse, because we have enough in the playbook that’s good. We just have to execute better than we did and we have to execute better than they do.”
About that playbook: Rhoads said he’d like to see better plays called from it.
He made a point to add he didn’t want to isolate offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham in that criticism, and has leveled similar scrutiny toward himself over the years.
“Effective playcallers are usually a play or two ahead and sometimes a series ahead,” Rhoads said.
Woody was asked about the playcalling — which isn’t all that was questioned as ISU fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2007.
The senior demurred.
“I feel like that’s a bad situation for a player to be in,” Woody said while declining to directly comment.
The offense as whole, though, improved as the game wore on, thanks largely to Bundrage and the hobbled Richardson, who completed 22 of 39 passes for 260 yards, two interceptions and the three touchdowns.
Why the improvement?
“We were taking shots,” said Bundrage, whose first touchdown catch narrowed the deficit to 13-7, but Iowa answered with 14 straight points. “We weren’t taking shots earlier in the game. That’s pretty much the difference.”
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