Red Zone: ISU’s next target in improving the offense

 AMESSam Richardson didn’t flinch when asked about the next stage of development for Iowa State’s offense.

“The red zone was big,” Iowa State’s senior quarterback said Tuesday when looking back at a 30-23 double-overtime loss at Toledo. “It was kind of finishing those drives. We were down there a lot, especially in the second half — we were doing whatever we wanted to.”

Except scoring in bunches.

 The Cyclones punted just once after the break — on their first post-halftime possession. They constructed a touchdown drive that spanned 89 yards and lasted an astounding 8 minutes and 46 seconds. They converted 15 of 23 third downs and amassed 481 total yards of offense but eked out just 20 points in regulation.

 So lots of positives and one big red flag for the Cyclones, who rank 124th nationally in red zone scoring.

 “The drives we had were patient,” said ISU offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who will coach up the offense to face his old team, Kansas, at 11 a.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. “The kids just kept at it. Mixed it up run and pass and I thought they did a great job of moving the ball. Nah, we didn’t have enough points, there’s no question. But that’s the next step now. We’ve got to get yardage that translates into bigger scores on the scoreboard.”

 And not just this week against a beleaguered, out-manned Jayhawks team (0-3) that’s yielded 123 combined points to FCS South Dakota State, mid-major Memphis and likely Big Ten bottom-feeder Rutgers.

 ISU needs its rediscovered Mike Warren-led running game to roll up 200-plus yards in successive games while stoking a passing game still based more in efficiency than explosiveness.

 Can’t have one without the other — and for Mangino, success begins on terra firma.

 “I think we’re seeing progress and we had some progress the last game, but now the goal is consistency,” Mangino said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball that way ever week — or better. We just have to. That’s going to be important. But it’s good to see some good things were done by the O-line. The tight ends, the running backs in the run game, the receivers blocked well on the perimeter, that’s also a key. We’ve got to keep it up. We’ve got to keep after it.”

 Richardson echoed those thoughts while throwing in a fresh wrinkle.

 He said when opposing defenses line up man-to-man against dangerous receivers such as Allen Lazard, D’Vario Montgomery and Quenton Bundrage, they must be punished.

 “I think it’s knowing the looks you’re going to get and I think taking advantage of matchups,” said Richardson, who will make his first career start against Kansas. “We just might need to throw it more down there with the guys that we’ve got, if they’re going to give us man to man coverage we have to take advantage of it.”

 So more up-for-grabs shots? Possibly.

 Those started to come in the Toledo loss as Montgomery — Richardson’s former Winter Park, Fla. high school teammate — jetted 59 yards for a touchdown on a short pass and gathered in a clutch catch on third and 16 before taking a hard hit in traffic late in regulation.

 “I threw him into death one time there and he went and got it,” Richardson said. “That’s his role and he knows that happens sometimes. He made some huge plays for us.”

 Now a smattering of huge plays must lead to more robust points totals as the Big 12 swings fully into view.

 Richardson will finally make a start against Kansas on Saturday. He torched the Jayhawks off the bench as a redshirt freshman in 2012, completing 23 of 27 passes for four touchdowns in a 51-23 win that was key in reaching bowl eligibility. He sat on the bench last season as Kansas stung the Cyclones 34-14 and the Jayhawks’ small group of fans tore down the goalposts at Memorial Stadium to celebrate a rare Big 12 victory.

 “Just excited to go out there and play against them,” Richardson said of Saturday’s matchup. “I don’t want to say we owe them or anything like that after last year, but just a game that we’re looking forward to another opportunity to go play football.”


 ISU offensive line coach Brandon Blaney asked long-injured guard Jacob Dunning on Monday if he wanted to "take the training wheels off." Dunning — who’d been out of commission for more than a year after rupturing his patella tendon in a win over Iowa last season — immediately answered with a version of, ‘Hell, yes!’

 "It was a bunch of nerves," said Dunning, whose trying to carve out a spot for himself again in the two-deeps. "I think initially I just wanted to make sure I was assignment sound. That was the biggest thing I was worried about was assignments. I could get out there and physically do it, but (it was about) knowing the plays and everything — actually being on the field and running them and not just seeing them on film."

 So far, so good.

 "(Coach Blaney) told me he felt that I was much further ahead than he thought I was going to be, which is good," Dunning said. "I did feel that way, too."


 Paul Rhoads said having safety Qujuan Floyd back on the field against Kansas would be big for his football team. Floyd has missed the last game and a half with a hamstring injury. 

 "Means a lot," Rhoads said. "It means a lot for our defense. A lot of things that we can do in our package that we get somewhat limited when he’s not out there. He’s not only a coverage impact guy he’s a physical impact guy when it comes to the run game and getting up there and being active around the line of scrimmage. We’re happy to have him back.”

 Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham‘s happy to have Floyd back, too — but doesn’t expect him to be back to full-time duty yet.

 "He’s had some reps the week and he’s looked pretty good, but I don’t know,” Burnham said, noting Floyd’s blue shirt status in practice this week. "Maybe he can give us 15 to 20 snaps. That would be great right now. We would take that and jump up and click our heels right now.”

 Same goes for outside linebacker Levi Peters, who Burnham said is hampered by a small muscle or tendon issue around his rib cage. He practiced better on Tuesday, but it’s wait and see mode until Saturday. 

 "You can’t do anything for it," Burnham said. "It’s just going to get well with time.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.