Richardson accepts diminished role in rushing attack

Iowa State’s red shirt senior Quarterback Sam Richardson (12) makes a break for open ground against Northern Iowa’s defense during a play Saturday September 6, 2015 in Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. The Cyclones triumphed over the Panthers 31 to 7, scoring three of their four touchdowns in the second half.

Luke Manderfeld

Major changes have taken place in the ISU rushing attack this season. 

Redshirt freshman Mike Warren has been on his way to a breakout campaign. Joshua Thomas has burst onto the scene as a true freshman. And even though these running backs are young, they have been effective.

But one change that may be going unnoticed is the ISU offense slowly weaning itself off the crutch of a Sam Richardson-led rushing attack.

Although the aforementioned changes have been integral for the explosion of the ISU running game, Richardson’s new part in it has shifted to a smaller role.

Richardson has rushed for 23 yards this season, which puts him on pace for far fewer than the 423 yards he rushed for in the 2014 season — and that’s including sacks.

Taking a look at his rushing yards with sacks, Richardson still only has 121 yards on the ground, which doesn’t put him on pace for his 2014 net total.

But Richardson, who was the leading rusher for the Cyclones a season ago, doesn’t mind his declined role in the rushing attack. Actually, he welcomes it.

“The body feels a little better this year,” Richardson said. “It’s a lot easier on me. It’s fun to hand it off to those guys and see them do well. It makes passing easier and just trying to complement a good passing game with that.”

The cause of Richardson’s lack of rushing this season stems from a number of changes that consist of adjustments in opposing defenses and the improved running game itself.

While studying film this season, ISU coach Paul Rhoads noticed that defenses changed their coverages to take the run away from Richardson. 

The running backs did come into this season full of confidence, but the young and inexperienced group wasn’t yet considered a viable option to disrupt defenses around the league.

So teams hunkered down on Richardson, who is the only proven, effective runner left over from last year’s ISU running game.

“Most of the zone read — most of the quarterback run stuff — people have been soundly taking away the quarterback run game from him,” Rhoads said.

But that doesn’t mean that Richardson’s decisions of whether to run this season have been excellent. In Iowa State’s win against Kansas, Richardson decided to give up a ball that Rhoads believed he should have taken himself.

“There are some times where he should have kept it, but he gave it,” Rhoads said. “You saw that with his touchdown against Kansas. He should’ve kept it earlier, and he probably could’ve scored a touchdown on that as well. Some of it is reads and some of it is by choice.”

Along with Warren’s success rushing the ball has come Richardson’s diminished role in that aspect of the offense. Now, with a bonafied starting running back setting up behind him, Richardson doesn’t feel the pressure to tuck and run.

That’s how the team wants it as well. The coaches would rather have their quarterback throwing the ball instead of taking a beating throughout the game.

“We’d prefer that he’d be a guy that manages the offense and make throws and make good checks at the line [rather] than running the football all night,” said ISU offensive coordinator Mark Mangino. “It’s just something we’d prefer not to do with him.”

Richardson has more time now to shift his focus to managing the offense. By not running the ball as much, he has more time to control and make sure his offense is in order.

It also gives him time to keep his focus on the defense.

“He gets you in the right checks,” Mangino said. “He understands what the defense is doing.”

But coming up against a team like Baylor, Richardson feels confident the running game that has been void for most of his career will be integral to a win in Waco, Texas.

The improvement on the ground allows him to throw the ball rather than try and take it himself to try and open up the defense.

“The running game definitely makes [running the clock out] a lot easier,” Richardson said. “Being able to know that you can hand off the ball and get three or four [yards] there on first down makes throwing the ball a lot easier as well.”