A small sample size could have a large impact on Iowa State this season.
Late last season, with the Cyclones still trying to become bowl eligible, quarterback Sam Richardson entered the Kansas game. The redshirt freshman completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns to lead Iowa State to a 51-23 victory.
Richardson started the final game of the regular season against West Virginia and the Liberty Bowl. He enters 2013 entrenched as the Cyclones' quarterback.
"He's relaxed, he's poised out there, and a quarterback needs to be that type of guy," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "If you're going to throw accurate passes, if you're going to throw things on time, you're going to do it in that state. You're not going to do that tense.
"(Last year) he was too scared to worry about anything other than the snap count. He's come a long way."
Richardson said that last year's game experience has made him more comfortable. He wants that to translate into improved leadership.
"I've always been taught growing up to lead by example at first. And then, when you're leading, people kind of take that along with your words," Richardson said. "Being more vocal has just come naturally."
Finding consistent and productive quarterback play has been a struggle in Rhoads' first four seasons. Iowa State's defense has been solid but the offense has never finished above eighth in the Big 12 in scoring or total offense.
In addition to counting on Richardson's passing and running skills, Iowa State has changed its offensive scheme. The Cyclones hope to take advantage of depth and talent at running back thanks to The Pistol offense. It's basically a mini-shotgun formation where the quarterback stands about four yards behind the center. A running back lines up behind the quarterback.
Chris Klenakis is Iowa State's new offensive line coach and he is helping implement the new scheme (which the San Francisco 49ers employed on their run to last season's Super Bowl). Klenakis came from the University of Nevada, the birthplace of The Pistol.
"It gives you a combination of the spread schemes where you can run all the zone reads," Klenakis said, "but it also gives you the combination of the power running game where you can come downhill with counters … and the powers and off tackles (run) plays. You've already put your quarterback at shotgun depth so you aren't giving away your passing strengths."
Rhoads, who came through the ranks as a defensive coordinator, points out that in the shotgun formation with the running back lining up beside the quarterback, a defense has the chance to stack its strength. With the running back in The Pistol, the defense has to guess.
"We are excited about our backs that we have it back there," Rhoads said. "We are excited about the quarterback who understands it."
Coach: Paul Rhoads 24-27 in five seasons.
2012: 6-7 overall, 3-6 in Big 12, 9th.
Bowl: Lost to Tulsa, 31-17, in Liberty Bowl.
Returning starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense.
Key players: Sophomore QB Sam Richardson, senior RB James White, senior RB Shontrelle Johnson, junior C Tom Farniok, senior TE Ernst Brun, sophomore WR Quenton Bundrage, senior P Kirby Van Der Kamp, senior LB Jeremiah George, senior S Jacques Washington, senior DE Willie Scott, senior S Deon Broomfield.
Three Key Questions
1. How does the defense replace its heart and soul?
Linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott have graduated. They were three-year starters who anchored the defense with tackles and leadership. Of several issues facing a defense that's being rebuilt, maintaining the quality of linebacker play is atop the list. Senior Jeremiah George appears poised to make an impact in 2013 while juniors Jared Brackens and Jevohn Miller take over as starters.
2. Who will catch the passes?
The Cyclones need to replace their top three receivers from last season. Sophomore Quenton Bundrage has the skills to be a play maker but must prove he can produce. Senior Justin Coleman has earned a scholarship and a starting role. He walked on at Iowa State after the football program at Nebraska-Omaha was eliminated. Freshmen wide receivers Dondre Daley and Quan West could contribute. Tight ends Ernst Brun and E.J. Bibbs also should be reliable targets.
3. Will a crowded backfield thrive?
The move to The Pistol formation is expected to spark offensive production. The Cyclones have more than enough talent at running back but will there be enough carries to keep everyone happy. Seniors James White, Shontrelle Johnson, Jeff Woody, junior Aaron Wimberly, and sophomore DeVondrick Nealy provide a variety of styles. All could be productive but distributing rushing attempts to more than three would be a challenge.
Last season Iowa State set school records in each major attendance category: highest single-game attendance (56,800), highest average attendance (55,274) and total attendance (386,918). This season's home games are sold out with an unprecedented number (more than 43,000) season ticket packages sold. … When Iowa State plays Tulsa on Sept. 26, it will be the third meeting in 386 days between the schools. They faced each other in the season opener and then the Liberty Bowl last season. … Tight ends Ernst Bruns and E.J. Bibbs were junior-college All-Americans. … It has been 13 seasons since Iowa State finished Big 12 play with a winning record. The Cyclones finished at .500 in 2004 and 2005.
Numbers To Note
During the coach Paul Rhoads era (4 seasons), Iowa State is 21-3 when holding their opponents to fewer than 24 points. … Five of the Cyclones' six wins last season came by 14 or more points. Six of the seven losses came by 15 points or less. … Iowa State scored 35 or more points in 5 games last season. The last time the Cyclones' offense was that productive was in 2002. … Senior punter Kirby Van Der Kamp had 29 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and just two touchbacks.
|Aug. 31||Northern Iowa|
|Sept. 26||at Tulsa|
|Oct. 12||at Texas Tech*|
|Oct. 19||at Baylor*|
|Oct. 26||Oklahoma State*|
|Nov. 2||at Kansas State*|
|Nov. 16||at Oklahoma*|
|Nov. 29||at West Virginia*|