In refusing to rely on an excuse, Sam Richardson doesn't like to discuss his physical state in Iowa State's 31-17 loss to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl.
We suppose it's also possible Richardson is simply afraid of triggering a reaction to an unsavory memory.
At any rate, Richardson was sick as a dog against the Golden Hurricane, beset by a stomach bug that hit him the night before the game. The results weren't surprising. As Tulsa hit him with the kitchen sink — blitzed six, feigned six and rushed only four, blitzed the corners, dropped ends back into coverage — Richardson struggled to connect with his receivers oftentimes on single coverage, completing 10 of 21 attempts for 129 yards, one score and one interception before giving way to Steele Jantz late in the game.
In a retroactive calculation of the performance, ESPN gave Richardson a QBR rating of 25.3 — out of 100.
Given that Richardson was out of his element and overmatched against defensive pressure he wasn't used to, I wondered if Iowa State would keep him from studying film of the game in anticipation of Thursday's rematch against Tulsa out of fear it would knock Richardson's confidence.
Quite the contrary.
"He already has," head coach Paul Rhoads said Sunday night.
Richardson says he's a different quarterback, even if his health still isn't ideal. An ankle sprain has him at 85 to 90 percent — his words — and a groin injury has joined the party.
"I feel better," Richardson said Sunday. "Definitely throwing better."
Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham, under fire by a faction of the fan base for the scoring struggles in the first two games and for suggesting he was ready to pull Richardson in favor of backup Grant Rohach against Iowa, could use a healthy starter.
"Sam has gotta get healthy so he can throw the ball and be consistent throwing the football," Messingham said last week. "His lower body, his ankle hasn't been in great shape and especially in the first half [against Iowa] it looked that way. Had a number of poor throws and if he can complete it gives us a chance. Thought the wideouts caught the ball well. He's got to give them balls that they can catch."
The Cyclones practiced Sunday for the first time since Thursday, thanks to the bye week. Richardson was able to receive treatment on his ankle six times and lifted weights Friday.
"A big difference from Thursday to today," Rhoads said. "A noticeable difference in his movement and in his accuracy because of it."
A bum ankle, even if not on the plant foot, can derail a quarterback's mobility in the pocket and, by proxy, his accuracy. That was on display against Iowa, when Richardson missed receivers in multiple fashions — short, high, behind. The offense was effective as the game wore on because Iowa played its corners off and didn't bring more than four rushers (playing it safe), which gave Richardson more time to be selective and get behind his throws, as illustrated on his touchdown to Quenton Bundrage on a crossing route, set up by a play-action fake.
Messingham will have to resort to similar methods to buy Richardson time against a Tulsa defense that only has three sacks but is creative in pressuring the quarterback. Richardson expects to run the same offense he's accustomed to, which includes a healthy mix of run-option plays.
"If I'm out there playing it's because I'm able to do that stuff," he said. "I don't think it'll limit it whatsoever. We have to make those plays with our feet sometimes and that's something I'll have to do."