MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson felt terrible heading into his first bowl game. And the redshirt freshman still managed to put together a fast start against Tulsa.
He just couldn’t keep it up.
Richardson threw an interception while struggling through the middle two quarters, and the Cyclones went on to a 31-17 loss in the Liberty Bowl.
“He looked dazed because he was sick,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “A gritty performance by the young man, who was throwing up all night, due to a flu bug that came on late after dinner.”
After going 6 of 7 for 114 yards and a touchdown to help Iowa State grab a 17-7 lead in the first quarter, Richardson was 4 of 14 for 15 yards with an interception the rest of the way. He was replaced by Steele Jantz in the fourth quarter.
Jantz was the starter when the Cyclones defeated Tulsa 38-23 in the season opener on Sept. 1. Richardson relieved Jantz against Kansas on Nov. 17 and threw seven touchdown passes with no interceptions over Iowa State’s final two regular-season games.
Richardson entered the Liberty Bowl having completed 62 percent of his passes without an interception, but Tulsa shut him down after the first quarter.
“I commend Sam for going as long as he did,” Rhoads said. “He’s a good football player, and he didn’t want to disrupt the rhythm of our football team and what he was providing for us. But there was a time where he just didn’t have the strength to finish up.”
Iowa State (6-7) was backed by partisan crowd clad mostly in cardinal and gold, but it wasn’t enough.
“The loss is a huge letdown for the entire team, especially our senior class,” said linebacker A.J. Klein, who tied a Liberty Bowl record with 19 tackles. “It’s hard when you lose. Nobody wants to lose. We had 25,000-plus fans, and obviously we want to win for them for making the trip, but things don’t always work out the way you want them to.”
Trey Watts rushed for 149 yards for the Golden Hurricane, and Alex Singleton added three short touchdown runs. Tulsa’s defense recorded five sacks and forced three turnovers.
“We never wavered, not for a second,” said Watts, selected as the game’s most valuable player.
The Golden Hurricane (11-3) posted the second 11-win season in school history. Tulsa, which has the smallest enrollment of any Football Bowl Subdivision program, also finished 11-3 in 2008.
“They’ve accomplished something nobody else at Tulsa has done,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “That’s a huge deal for us. We’ve had a team that won 11 before, so we tied that. We had a team that won the Liberty Bowl before and won Conference USA. We’ve done that. But we did it all in the same year (this season).”
Both teams had changed since their regular-season meeting.
In addition to Richardson taking over for Jantz, the Cyclones’ leading rusher (Shontrelle Johnson) and top tackler (Jake Knott) from the Sept. 1 game missed the Liberty Bowl with injuries.
Iowa State capitalized on big plays to take an early 17-7 lead. After Edwin Arceo capped Iowa State’s opening series with a 33-yard field goal, Jeremy Reeves put the Cyclones in front 10-0 with a 31-yard interception return midway through the first quarter.
Tulsa answered with Singleton’s 2-yard touchdown dive, but Richardson connected with tight end Ernst Brun for a 69-yard score on Iowa State’s ensuing possession.
Iowa State’s offense did virtually nothing right the rest of the day.
“Games are often won and lost at the line of scrimmage, and we did not play a physical enough brand of football to move the sticks enough and stay on the field enough to get it in the red zone, let alone get it in the end zone,” Rhoads said.