By Rob Gray
AMES — First, the good news about Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson and his dinged-up right ankle:
His overall health index has climbed from roughly 75 percent last week to 85-90 as he and the Cyclones (0-2) prepare for Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. showdown at Tulsa (1-2).
“I’m getting better,” the sophomore play-caller reiterated Sunday night.
The bad news?
It’s not just the ankle anymore.
Richardson also is rehabilitating a groin injury.
Minor, he says, and stemming from the problem with the ankle first experienced during the season-opening loss to Northern Iowa.
“It’s nothing big,” he noted.
But small issues can compound to produce major effects.
Just ask ISU coach Paul Rhoads, who harkened back to his playing days at Missouri Western to illustrate how various injuries can mushroom in mysterious ways.
“I had a hip-back injury that I thought I’d gotten rid of and then I hurt a knee right before training camp,” said Rhoads, whose team seeks to improve to 2-1 against the Golden Hurricane in the past 13 months. “Next thing you knew, the back was back. So, absolutely: You get one and it affects the other.”
And a less-than-agile quarterback can deeply disrupt the Cyclones’ success on the offensive side of the ball.
“It’s very much a component of our offense in three different ways,” Rhoads said. “It’s an option run read for the quarterback and the running backs. It’s a designed run play for our offense and then it’s the ad-lib of a scramble. Tulsa’s been hurt a number of times with the ad-lib of a quarterback. If that’s out of our offense, hard to be effective as we go forward.”
Cue backup Grant Rohach — a redshirt freshman who has yet to play a snap?
It’s possible, Rhoads indicated, if Richardson’s health continues to curtail his productivity on the ground, both as a rusher and a facilitator.
“it will be a decision that we’ll utilize going forward,” Rhoads added. “If that can’t be a viable part of our offense with him in there then we’ll look to adjust.”
That’s not a knock on Richardson, who both leads ISU in rushing (86 yards) and has the longest run from scrimmage this season (24 yards in the loss to UNI).
It’s a brutal truth about injuries, which, during the course of a college football season tend to linger, not fully heal.
“This is a physical sport where there are not many guys once you start playing games that are 100 percent healthy,” Rhoads said. “He’s certainly more noticeable because he’s touching the ball every snap and our quarterback has to be involved in the run game.”
Now, back to the good news.
Richardson began easing back into more running plays late last week and will benefit from the addition of mostly-mended center Tom Farniok, who is slated to start for the 28th time in 29 games after sitting out the Iowa loss with an MCL strain.
“It’s great to see Tom back out there,” Richardson said. “He’s definitely a big leader on our offense.”
So is Richardson — if he’s fully functional, even if not quite 100 percent.
“If I’m out there playing, it’s because I’m out there and able to do that stuff,” he said.
TIGHT END CHANGE: E.J. Bibbs is slated to earn his first start at tight end. Former starter Ernst Brun has endured cramping issues while facing other health concerns, but that’s not the only reason Bibbs will get the nod. “I think E.J.’s coming along and continues to show more and more from game one to game two and on the practice field,” Rhoads said. “He’s an exceptional athlete with very good hands.”
BOOM!: When asked about the set-up ISU uses to simulate crowd noise in advance of road games, Rhoads turned his comedy amp up to 11. “I bring my boom box and I walk around like this, with it as loud as I can,” the coach quipped. Seriously, folks … “We have a stereo system in there with speakers set up and aimed at our offensive players,” Rhoads said.
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