Of all the offensive maladies this season, nothing has drawn the ire of coordinator Courtney Messingham quite like the incapacity to stretch the field vertically.
Sure, the Cyclones have their share of long passing plays, most memorably the 97-yarder to Quenton Bundrage. But that was a slant route over the middle of the field in which the ball was required to be in the air 10 yards, at most. What Messingham wants — no, needs — for his offense to be successful is a respectable deep game.
"[Baylor will] try to squeeze the line of scrimmage a little bit and say, Here, we dare you to throw a post," Messingham said this week. "Example, West Virginia threw six of them and Buffalo probably threw five or six. That's great when you're completing them but when you're not completing them that puts you in third-and-long."
After the loss to Iowa in mid-September, Messingham memorably embarked on a stream of consciousness regarding the lack of a deep passing game: "I tell our guys every week, you watch Sportscenter just like the rest of us do. On Sportscenter those plays are being made, those balls are getting thrown where people can catch them and those guys are catching them. Put yourself in that position, we need to make those plays. If people are going to press, you've got to make them pay at certain times."
Little has changed for Iowa State since then. In the loss to Texas Tech quarterback Sam Richardson was 5-for-16 on passes where the ball traveled 10 yards or further, per film review conducted by AllCyclones.
Wide receiver Quenton Bundrage had two close calls, with both catches out of bounds. Because of his sprained right ankle, his plant foot, Richardson has been unable to generate enough lift on the ball to give his receivers room to run under it. Most of his passes sail wide.
"Being able to plant your weight … is obviously important," Richardson said.
Messingham would like to see Bundrage, who was targeted 13 times Saturday, allow himself more room between his person and the sideline, then will need Richardson to put the ball on point.
"[Bundrage] needs to have another game where people say, Oh boy that guy can stretch the field and we need to take that away from him," Messingham said. "Hopefully we catch the ball inbounds and get big plays out of him this week."
The Cyclones understandably take it easy on the deep routes in practice, as two or three long fades in succession are enough to leave a wideout winded.
Instead, improvements will be made on the fly Saturdays. The sooner the Cyclones can get the deep ball clicking, with just a few conversions a game enough to do the trick, the more room they'll have to operate around the line of scrimmage and in the box, with fearful safeties staying back.
"It's something we've definitely got to be better on," Richardson said. "We've been missing by a few feet here and there, a couple inches on the sideline. Hopefully we'll see it get better this season."