Yet another loss and countless hard hits wore heavily on the junior playcaller, but it’s the choice he made on the Cyclones’ last offensive play in Saturday’s 34-31 setback to Texas Tech that hurt the most.
Richardson faced fourth and seven at the Red Raiders’ 36-yard line with less than three minutes left and could have passed. He elected to run — and came up two yards short.
“Obviously football’s a game of decisions like that and looking at it now you want to take it back and try to make a different play,” Richardson said.
It wasn’t woulda, shoulda, coulda talk — not during a seven-game Big 12 skid that firmly entrenched ISU (2-8, 0-7) in the Big 12 cellar.
And plenty of blame could be passed around in the Cyclones’ third loss this season by four points or less, even though Richardson placed himself front and center:
Tech (4-7, 2-6) rolled up 600 yards of total offense and overcame nine penalties and two turnovers — one of which directly prevented points.
Kicker Cole Netten missed two 42-yard field goals, the last of which could have given his team a 34-27 lead.
“It was a really solid hit so I was kind of surprised when it went a little left, but, yeah, it felt good, but …” Netten said.
The Red Raiders rushed for 272 yards and led 14-0 in the first quarter before ISU began stringing together drives on offense. Once the offense got on track, it hummed.
The Cyclones rode Richardson’s arm much of the first half as he completed 19 of 30 passes for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns to tight end E.J. Bibbs and backup running back Tyler Brown.
Once Netten tacked on a 22-yard field goal with 38 seconds left in the half, ISU had rattled off 17 straight points — and that unanswered streak grew to 24 points when Aaron Wimberly capped a five-play, run-only touchdown drive that spanned 80 yards four minutes into the third quarter.
“We can come back on anything,” said Cyclone running back DeVondrick Nealy, who kicked off the drive with a tough 49-yard run, his team’s longest of the season. “It’s on us. We’ve just got to stay strong and stay positive and know we can come back even when the momentum’s not on our side.”
In the end, that didn’t happen Saturday.
The Red Raiders answered Wimberly’s first of two rushing scores with a pair of touchdown catches by Devin Lauderdale spaced four minutes apart.
A fake punt keyed his first touchdown.
Texas Tech faced fourth and three on its own 43 when Kenny Williams jetted up the middle for 44 yards.
The play didn’t catch the Cyclones off-guard, but the direction did.
"We were actually in a call to defend a fake that they had shown earlier this year to the edge," ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. "And they went up the middle instead.”
Cue Lauderdale. Begin the sweeping momentum change. Bring on the heartbreak, again.
“(We had) an opportunity a couple times in the second half to take control and not allow a team to respond and again we didn’t do that,” said Rhoads, whose team has lost 13 of its last 15 Big 12 home games. “We let them respond. We had a chance to close a door and secure a lead and keep a lead and we didn’t do that.”
Story of the season — and last season, too.
“It’s tough,” said Richardson, who ended up with 304 yards through the air while being sacked three times. “We’re obviously in a rut, on a bad losing streak. So you’ve got to get them going though. We’ve got to play for the seniors next game and I don’t think we’ll be short on emotion.”
That wasn’t a problem Saturday, either.
ISU took a 31-27 lead when Wimberly reached the end zone from three yards out on a two-play drive set up by Richardson’s 49-yard connection with Tad Ecby, who totaled two catches for 100 yards.
But allowed to respond, Tech did just that, driving 75 yards to go up 34-31 with 4:07 left on Patrick Mahomes’ 44-yard screen pass to Williams.
Richardson’s last chance came on the ensuiing drive, and he led the Cyclones to the 36.
That’s when he made his fateful decision.
The one he kicked himself for after receiving treatment yet again after the game.
“I was just trying to high-low the flat defender and get eight yards,” Richardson said of the pass he almost threw. “And obviously the flat’s not an eight-yard route, but you have to trust them and get it to them and hope that they can get those extra yards. I made the decision that I didn’t think that he could. Going back on it, obviously you tell yourself you want to throw that, with the way that it played out, but I thought I could get it at the time. Obviously not.”
With that Richardson grabbed his pizza and walked off.
He may have blamed himself, but few if any of his teammates or coaches did.
Richardson has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of his last eight games, which is tied for third-best in school history.
“Tough kid,” senior center Tom Farniok said. “Real tough.”