In the spread-happy Big 12, Iowa State is often forgotten as one of the teams that primarily operates out of spread sets. But like so much of the league, the Cyclones will spread you out, use a lot of pistol and try to make plays in space on offense. The issue is that the Cyclones haven't had the results with it that some of the other conference teams have had.
Part of that is because the Cyclones haven't had the elite quarterback that makes that spread work … in Paul Rhoads' tenure, the 'Clones have ranged from mediocre to forgettable at the position. And without some of the explosive athletes that other Big 12 spread attacks have employed — where's the Kendall Wright, the Terrance Williams, the Dezmon Briscoe, etc.? — they've long had a reputation as a team that isn't bad offensively, but also doesn't make you shake in your boots like so many of the league's other attacks.
Case in point: this year's Cyclone offense has done just enough — 387.7 yards per game, 26.3 points per game — to enter the Texas game at 1-2. FootballOutsiders.com has an explosiveness measure called EqPts Per Play, and heading into the Tulsa game, two games against Northern Iowa and Iowa left the Cyclones a not-so-deadly 103rd in the category. Only Kansas (105th) was worse.
Could Sam Richardson (6-2 205) help to change that perception? Richardson earned the surprise start last year in the Kansas game, picking apart the Jayhawks by completing 23-of-27 passes, accounting for almost 300 total yards and scoring five total touchdowns as the Cyclones rolled 51-23, in a game that most thought would be close. His passing dropped off the next week against West Virginia, though the 'Clones suffered a close loss in part because — despite hitting just 13-of-31 — Richardson threw three touchdowns to no picks and rushed for 119 yards. Those nine total touchdowns, with no interceptions, were the key to revitalizing an offense that had sputtered with a lack of overall playmakers.
But after that torrid start, Richardson hasn't quite been able to duplicate that level of success. He's completing a higher percentage of his passes this year, at 62.5 percent, and he has seven touchdowns to three picks. But thanks in part to an ankle injury, he hasn't really been able to break free as a dynamic runner, one of his main strengths. He's expected to be a bit improved after last week's game, and when he's full-go, his legs can make a major difference.
That's in large part because when Iowa State runs its read option plays, the Cyclones have some pretty good runners to get the ball to. Aaron Wimberly (5-9 173) is more explosive than the backs the 'Clones have deployed recently. The JUCO transfer from Iowa Western C.C. is averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and Wimberly had the first big game of his ISU career when he rushed 19 times for 137 yards against Tulsa, including a 35-yard burst. But he's hardly the only back in the stable. James White (5-8 192) is back after leading the Cyclones in rushing each of the past two seasons, while Shontrelle Johnson (5-9 186) rushed for 504 yards a year ago. When ISU gets into short-yardage situations, Jeff Woody (6-1 242) is the guy. He's only averaging 1.7 yards per carry, but has three touchdowns on his nine totes.
Quenton Bundrage (6-2 189) and Tad Ecby (6-0 195) are the outside receivers. Bundrage may have the most potential of the group. The sophomore leads the team with 186 yards on his 13 catches, scoring three touchdowns. Ecby has one more catch with 14, but doesn't have as many yards at 152, and hasn't found the end zone yet. Ecby is fantastic at finding the chains through — 10 of his 14 catches have gone for first downs. Justin Coleman (5-11 188) is a former walk-on who transferred in from Nebraska-Omaha when UNO dropped its football program. His first career catch at Iowa State as a 59-yard touchdown against UNI, and he's averaging 24.2 yards per catch over his five snags. Albert Gary (5-10 203) and Jarvis West (5-7 174) appear in the slot when the Cyclones go four-wide, and they rotate through with Coleman as well.
Most teams struggle to find one good tight end (just ask Texas). It's impressive, then, that the Cyclones have found two. Ernst Brun (6-3 251) was effective a year ago, catching 26 passes for 330 yards and six touchdowns, though he's been banged up this year. That has allowed JUCO transfer E.J. Bibbs (6-3 250) to emerge a bit. Bibbs caught four passes for 49 yards and a touchdown last week against Tulsa.
The Cyclones' offensive line is long and lean, averaging 6-foot-7.5 at the tackles and a little over 6-4 at the interior spots, but with just one starter (and only two total players on the two-deep) weighing more than 305 pounds. Tom Farniok (6-4 295) doesn't get mentioned with the Big 12's top centers, but he's probably in that conversation. He's been injured some this season, though he rotated through against Tulsa and is expected to start against Texas. Guard Ethan Tuftee (6-4 314) and tackle Brock Dagel (6-8 297) make up the strong side, while Daniel Burton (6-5 302) and Jacob Gannon (6-7 300) man the quick guard and quick tackle spots, respectively. It's a pretty young group — Tuftee is the lone senior starter. But they have to play better as a group. The Cyclones are averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and have allowed an astounding 11 sacks in three contests.
Edwin Arceo (5-9 196) and Cole Netten (6-1 205) split the kicking duties. A senior, Arceo was the Cyclones' kicker a year ago, making 37-of-40 point-after attempts and 12-of-18 field goals, but he missed his first two attempts against Northern Iowa and was replaced by Netten, a redshirt freshman. Netten has hit 3-of-5 tries, including a long of 40, since the switch. Arceo still handles kickoffs, and had a successful onside kick against Iowa. Wimberly and Gary have the speed to be dangerous on kickoff returns, while West averages 11 yards per punt return.