By Rob Gray
AMES — Explosions are up.
Turnovers are down.
Iowa State’s offense has clearly reached the blossoming stage — but it needs to fully flower fast.
In essence, better than usual isn’t good enough.
Not when it’s time to duel with the Big 12’s second-most potent offense at 11 a.m. today at Texas Tech.
“We’re putting up numbers we haven’t put up in those last 10 quarters as a football team and yet there are points that we’ve left out there,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said as his team (1-3, 0-1) prepared for the Fox Sports 1-televised matchup with the 20th-ranked Red Raiders (5-0, 2-0) in Lubbock. “One of the things, as I reviewed tape with the offensive staff (Monday), was, ‘Where are we failing? Where are we failing coaching-wise, where are we failing execution-wise and, more importantly, what do we have to do to answer those failures, to correct those failures to score with more regularity as we move forward?’”
First, the successes:
*The Cyclones — one of two Big 12 teams with only five turnovers — have amassed 400-plus yards of total offense in three of their first four games for the first time since 2002.
Quarterback Sam Richardson’s on-pace to set a single-season school record for completion percentage (62.3) despite battling a sprained right ankle since the opener.
“It’s just being ready, knowing where to throw the ball before-hand,” Richardson said. “I think that’s definitely what I’ve improved on. You can see it; ball’s getting to where they need to be a little quicker.”
*ISU tailback Aaron Wimberly has become “the man” by churning up back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts against Tulsa and Texas. He’s the first Cyclone back to do so since Alexander Robinson accomplished the feat in 2010.
“That shows a lot of what we can do and what we’re capable of,” Wimberly said of the offense’s performance in the 31-30 Texas loss in particular. “Our team’s ready.”
*Receiver Quenton Bundrage and others continue to show big-play tendencies. In Bundrage’s case, he helped produce the longest passing play in school history — a quick-hit, 97-yard scoring strike from Richardson against the Longhorns that was aided by a defender’s slip.
“I ran a pretty decent route but Sam threw a better ball,” said Bundrage, who boasts the third-best average per catch (17.9 yards) among Big 12 players ranked in the top 10 in total productivity. “He fit it into a tight window and the angle that the safety took wasn’t good. I took advantage of it and just took off running.”
The main failures so far have come short of the red zone in the form of unfinished drives.
It’s been a chronic issue.
The Cyclones are the only Big 12 team to score each time they’ve treaded within the opponent’s 20-yard line (13 for 13).
But they lead only Kansas (10 red zone trips) in terms of getting there, a number they must improve upon to have a chance to outscore the Red Raiders (41.8 points per game).
“Those plays are all over the field that you leave out there,” Richardson said. “Those are the ones you’re pointing out in meetings after games and what not. The little plays here and there — maybe a missed read or a dropped pass, whatever it is. We’re in the situation to make those plays and get those first downs to continue down the field but we’re just not executing. That just sets us back.”
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