AMES, Iowa — Paul Rhoads stated during the preseason that Iowa State will be a run-first offense in 2012.
With the ball in the hands of a proven stable of backs — Jeff Woody, James White and Shontrelle Johnson — working behind a veteran offensive line, the Cyclones are banking on a solid ground attack to free up a passing game that was widely inconsistent in 2011.
It’s all part of an initiative to boost the production of an offense that hasn’t averaged more than 28 points a game since 2005. Rhoads and his staff know it takes more points than that to keep up with the run-and-gun nature of the Big 12 Conference.
Last year, eight of the 10 teams in the Big 12 averaged more than 28 ppg, and this season the league has added West Virginia and TCU, who averaged 37.6 and 40.8 ppg, respectively, in 2011.
The Cyclones will see how much progress they’ve made in that regard Saturday in their season-opener at Jack Trice Stadium against a Tulsa team that scored 30 or more points in eight of 13 2011 games.
The hot topic surrounding Iowa State’s offense for most of the preseason, other than new coordinator Courtney Messingham, was whether Cyclone quarterbacks Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett will be more accurate. Last fall, the duo combined to complete 51 percent of their 249 attempts.
Jantz won his first three games after opening the year as the starter, then was slowed by a foot injury and eventually replaced by Barnett. Jantz will also begin this season as the starter.
Messingham said there is one key he’s stressed with his quarterback candidates dating back to spring drills.
“The biggest thing we have to keep doing as a quarterback unit is take the ‘quote’ free ones,” Messingham said. “If someone is giving you a hitch, take the hitch. If someone is giving you a quick out route, take the quick out route.
“We can’t always wait and wait and try to throw the ball down the field. If they are taking that stuff away you have to take what they give you. And we will continue to stress to them to get the ball out of their hands and get it to the receivers and let them go make plays for you.”
When Rhoads named Jantz starter, he said the factors that led to the decision were decision-making, productivity with his feet and throwing accuracy.
And the key phrase in Messingham’s statement was, “Let the receivers make plays.”
When Rhoads and his players met with the media Monday, a good portion of the day was spent talking about the Cyclones’ receiving corps.
“It’s consistency, it’s explosion, it’s experiences,” Woody said. “It’s a whole new receiving corps.”
Led by senior Josh Lenz, who ranked second on the team last season with 39 catches for 510 yards, ISU returns five players who saw extensive action during the 2011 Pinstripe Bowl campaign.
Lenz, along with senior junior college transfers Aaron Horne and Chris Young, are listed as the starters, but Rhoads expects to play eight or nine receivers, and he is looking for one thing out of that group — production.
“The after-the-catch production that hasn’t always been present for our football team in the first three years in this spread offense,” Rhoads said. “We have three starters listed as you say, but there could be six, seven, eight or better that will see snaps on Saturday. When I say snaps, a significant number of snaps.
“We want the right guys on the field at the right time based on situations as the game goes on and the season rolls along.”
In addition to Lenz, Horne and Young, Rhoads expects to play Jarvis West, Albert Gary, freshmen Quenton Bundrage, Ja’Quarius Daniels and Tad Ecby, as well as former starting quarterback Jerome Tiller.
Jantz likes having multiple options.
“I kind of had an idea that we were going to have a lot of guys subbing in and out,” Jantz said. “That’s good for us, especially since we go fast and guys get tired. So it’s nice having fresh legs.”