By Rob Gray
AMES — Sam Richardson passed over the hot dogs, burgers and potato salad, searching for a remote.
The date, Oct. 23, 2010.
Richardson, now Iowa State’s starting quarterback and then a recent verbal commitment, was at a Central Florida football game and heard uncommonly good news he simply had to confirm.
Yes, his Cyclones, as of about two months earlier, were finishing off mighty Texas — at Austin, no less.
“I turned it on real quick at one of the tailgates,” said Richardson, who hopes to help topple the tradition-rich Longhorns in today’s 6:30 p.m. ESPN-televised Big 12 season opener at Jack Trice Stadium. “It was pretty cool just seeing it happen.”
It’s very cool to be able to have a hand — and ankle — in trying to make it happen again.
Richardson’s health, or lack of it thanks mainly to a bum right ankle, has been a talking point ever since he dinged up the joint in the season-opening loss to Northern Iowa.
He was visibly less mobile in the ensuing setback to Iowa.
He was clearly more agile in last week’s win at Tulsa, as a few more zone-read runs popped up in the playbook.
Where’s he at now?
Not perfect, but getting there — and still the key to success for an ISU (1-2, 0-0) offense that finally featured several explosions in the rout of the Golden Hurricane.
“I was running around pretty well on it (early this week),” said Richardson, who has thrown for 15 career touchdowns to four interceptions, and boasts one 100-yard rushing game in six starts. “Just got to stop thinking about it altogether and just kind of play now.”
Simply put, a hobbled Richardson means a hamstrung offense.
A spry Richardson generally translates to an effective one, especially with respect to the running game, which revived against Tulsa behind Aaron Wimberly’s 137 yards.
That’s a concern for a Texas team (2-2, 1-0) that showed no semblance of a rushing defense until it held Kansas State to 115 yards 12 days ago in a 31-21 win.
“They will have our attention (tonight),” Longhorns coach Mack Brown said of the Cyclones this week.
They already did.
Brown — though 8-1 against ISU, including wins by a combined 70-21 since the 2010 upset — has done his research.
He pointed to what he called an “amazing” stat the Cyclones have complied in Thursday and Friday night games.
“They are plus-52 in points scored after turnovers in Thursday and Friday night(s), and minus-22 on Saturday(s),” Brown said. “They bring a lot of energy into Thursday and Friday nights. It’s something they obviously enjoy.”
That and forcing the turnovers he referenced.
ISU’s at it again in that regard, ranking seventh nationally in fumble recoveries with seven.
The Cyclones check in at 12th in the nation in turnover margin at plus-1.3 per game and are dialing up a few more blitzes than in recent years.
“It’s because we can,” ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said, noting his team’s speed. “We’ve got to be careful. We’re quicker on the back end and faster at linebacker than we are on the defensive line, so we’ve go to be careful what we ask those big people to do and help them do that.”
The Cyclones will also be wary while they ask Richardson to do more with his feet as the ankle approaches 100 percent strength.
But it’s Thursday night.
The prime time, national stage.
ISU’s a decided underdog — and a healthier one, working on its bite.
“I think we’ve become a little bit more dangerous,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said. “I don’t know if harder to prepare for is the right phrase, but I think we’ve become a little bit more dangerous.”
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