AMES — Six prime chances in enemy territory. Two flat-out failures — along with three touchdowns and one made field goal.
That shaky success rate for Iowa State on drives started from inside the Northern Iowa 44-yard line in Saturday’s 31-7 season-opening win over the Panthers left Cyclones quarterback Sam Richardson shaking his head.
“We definitely got some short fields there and didn’t take advantage of it there in the first half,” said Richardson, who completed 21 of 29 passes for 233 yards and touchdowns to Allen Lazard and Dondre Daley. “It makes our job easier with the ball on the plus side of the 50; there’s no excuse not to go get points.”
Leaving points on the field will likely be harder to overcome as arch-rival Iowa rolls into a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium this Saturday.
The Cyclones have won three of the past four meetings, but the lone loss in that span — a 27-21 defeat in 2013 made closer by two late Richardson-to-Quenton Bundrage touchdowns — came in Ames.
ISU started two drives inside Iowa territory that day and turned the ball over on downs once and lost an interception the other time.
One reason: Richardson was hobbled after a season-opening loss to the Panthers.He’s healthy now and looks to build upon last season’s two touchdown, zero interception performance in a 20-17 win at Kinnick Stadium.
Richardson has averaged 280.4 yards through the air in his past five home games. His touchdown to interception ratio in that span? Ten to two.
“If he gets room to step up he will make some plays,” left tackle Jake Campos said. “We’ve got to receivers out there. Sam will make them pay.”
That’s if he’s protected — and the Cyclones can mount a ground game to provide cover.
Two big “ifs.” ISU allowed 2.5 sacks per game last season and four against the Panthers. The Cyclones rushed for just 77 yards on 32 carries in week one and have been held to 101 yards or fewer in the past three meetings with the Hawkeyes.
“I’d like to run the ball better,” Cyclones offensive coordinator Mark Mangino said. “I thought we ran the ball well at times, but it’s not good enough for my liking. But I don’t know. Whatever it takes to win the game, if it’s run, throw, we’re not picky. We’ll take either. Maybe a little bit of both is good.”
And probably necessary against an Iowa defense that looks stout at least on the front and back ends.
“I think it’s a typical Iowa defense,” Mangino said. “They’re physical, they’re tough, they’re very sound fundamentally.”
Dondre Daley struggled late last season, failing to record a catch in three of his last four games. Saturday, he turned a quick screen into a one-juke and jet touchdown while posting a career high in receiving yards with 70. “Plays hard every snap,” Mangino said. “Really likes playing the game and it shows on the practice field and on the game field. He’s a guy that we’re going to rely heavily on throughout the season.”
LAZARD LOOKS BACK (IN A GOOD WAY)
If ISU’s defensive effort Saturday against UNI brought back memories of the A.J. Klein-, Jake Knott- and Jake McDonough-led defenses of the early Rhoads era, you weren’t alone. The Cyclones allowed 302 yards to the Panthers — one of its three stingiest efforts since that trio graduated in 2012. “I think the defense played Cyclone football,” Lazard said after starring with 25 yards per punt return last weekend. “It was great to see it first hand again.”