NCF Nation: D'Vario Montgomery

Iowa State was counting on receiver Quenton Bundrage to carry a significant portion of its passing game in 2014.

“He’s a big playmaker,” coach Paul Rhoads said. “Quenton Bundrage is a very big part of our offense.”

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David K Purdy/Getty ImagesWR Quenton Bundrage scored nine touchdowns last season for Iowa State.
 Everything changed four plays into the 2014 season after Bundrage was lost for the year after tearing his ACL in the Cyclones’ 34-14 loss to North Dakota State. After leading ISU with 48 receptions for 676 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013, the junior saw his season come to an end before making a catch this fall.

Now, after the worst season-opening performance from a Big 12 offense, ISU has to try to put the pieces back together without its top receiver. Replacing Bundrage won't be easy for Rhoads' team.

“We've got guys there,” Rhoads said. “It’s time for them to step up.”

It is critical for the Cyclones' offense to have someone fill the void left by Bundrage. Against NDSU, 16 of Sam Richardson’s 31 pass attempts were intended for receivers behind the line of scrimmage as ISU receivers struggled against man coverage. If ISU hopes to turn its season -- and offensive production -- around, a perimeter and deep threat needs to become a consistent part of the offensive attack.

Here’s a closer look at the guys who could step up in Bundrage’s absence.

True freshman receiver Allen Lazard: Lazard had a solid debut with one catch for 48 yards in his first collegiate action. The ESPN300 receiver showed a glimpse of his potential on the long catch-and-run, using his size (6-foot-5, 208 pounds) to create a large target for Richardson before galloping inside the NDSU 10-yard line. He was targeted three times by Richardson after playing the majority of the game in Bundrage’s absence. He’s listed as the starter on ISU’s depth chart.

Sophomore D’Vario Montgomery: Montgomery is a transfer from South Florida with terrific size (6-foot-5, 219 pounds). He had six receptions for 65 yards with USF in 2012. He will suit up in a Cyclones’ uniform for the first time against Kansas State after missing the season opener due to a violation of team rules. He’s listed behind Lazard on the depth chart.

Senior tight end E.J. Bibbs: A preseason All-Big 12 pick, Bibbs can handle the burden of being the No. 1 target, but he will see plenty of double teams if Lazard, Montgomery or another ISU receiver is unable to emerge as a legitimate threat. Nonetheless Bibbs is the lone Cyclone who has the proven ability to consistently win one-on-one situations in the Big 12 so he should force double teams or catch passes as a main man in the passing attack.

Sophomore Dondre Daley: ISU’s leading receiver in the season opener, Daley had five receptions for 32 yards last weekend. He flashed some playmaking ability but wasn’t a deep threat against NDSU with four of his five catches behind or within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. If he’s going to replace Bundrage, Daley will have to become a deep threat as well.

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Previewing the 2014 season for the Iowa State Cyclones:

Key returners: TE E.J. Bibbs, C Tom Farniok, WR Quenton Bundrage, CB Nigel Tribune

Key losses: LB Jeremiah George, S Jacques Washington, S Deon Broomfield

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 6 vs. Kansas State; Sept. 27 vs. Baylor; Nov. 1 vs. Oklahoma.

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Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsE.J. Bibbs and Iowa State are looking to build off of a strong finish to the 2013 season.
Projected win percentage: 39.3 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 3 1/2 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: WR Allen Lazard, WR D’Vario Montgomery. Lazard has impact freshman written all over him. Ranked No. 148 in the ESPN300, Lazard brings terrific receiving skills in a big package at 6-foot-5, 208 pounds. While the true freshman Lazard has garnered plenty of attention, South Florida transfer Montgomery could be poised to make a major impact as well.

High point from 2013: The Cyclones’ final win was their best, topping West Virginia in a 52-44 triple-overtime thriller in Morgantown, West Virginia, to end the season. Quite frankly, Paul Rhoads' team had nothing to play for against the Mountaineers yet rattled off 17 unanswered points to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Coupled with its 34-0 win over Kansas the previous game, ISU headed into the offseason with back-to-back victories.

Low point from 2013: ISU’s trip to Waco, Texas, was a nightmare, as Baylor thumped the Cyclones 71-7 in mid-October. ISU’s narrow 31-30 loss to Texas ranks a close second, but a 62-point loss to a conference foe counts as one of the biggest lows in Rhoads' tenure.

Best-case scenario for 2014: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino sparks a complete turnaround of the Cyclones’ offense, helping ISU return to a bowl game this fall. Defensively, the Cyclones see a few unknowns step up along the defensive line, helping ISU secure a home upset against either Kansas State, Baylor or Oklahoma, and stabilizing a young defense with plenty of question marks.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: ISU’s defensive front simply does not have answers and becomes a weak link in the Cyclones’ squad. Teams take advantage of this weakness and, despite an improved offensive attack, the Cyclones cannot outscore teams resulting in a second straight bowl-less campaign.

They said it: “All credit to our kids, they continue to persevere. They continue to train Sunday through Saturday and finished with two victories and currently ride a two-game winning streak going into the 2014 season, and that certainly is what we're expanding and moving forward with.” — Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads

USF must go on without Griffin again

September, 10, 2012
USF receiver Sterling Griffin has every right to curse the football gods after a rotten string of bad luck has ended his season prematurely.


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Cathleen Allison/AP PhotoSouth Florida's Andre Davis scores on a 51-yard reception against Nevada on Sept. 8.
But Griffin is not the type to throw pity parties. His season may be over, but it is just beginning for his teammates, who were back out on the practice field Monday preparing for their Big East opener against Rutgers -- some 30 hours after landing home from Nevada.

So Griffin stood on the sideline on crutches, serving as a de facto coach, doing whatever he needed to do to get his fellow receivers ready to face the best secondary in the Big East.

"I feel real bad for him, as hard as he’s worked to get back from an ankle injury and now to deal with an ACL injury," quarterback B.J. Daniels said in a phone interview Monday. "He’s a very determined guy. Even today on the practice field, on his crutches, knowing he’s out for the season, he was still out there for us, still a vocal leader."

Griffin has not been able to catch a break injury-wise since he arrived in Tampa. He redshirted in 2010 because of a broken ankle. Last season started with tremendous promise, as he had 493 yards through the first seven games of the season to rank No. 4 in the league in receiving yards per game and receptions per game. But he broke his foot against Cincinnati and missed four games, returning in time for the finale against West Virginia.

His return this season, though, was highly anticipated. For one, he is the veteran of this group. For another, some very young players got an opportunity to play last season in his absence. They would be another year older, and USF would have one of the deepest receiver groups in the Big East.

Now we get to see how truly deep this group is without its leader. All eyes turn to Andre Davis, one of the youngsters who benefited the most with Griffin on the sideline a year ago. You saw his amazing potential on full display in the riveting come-from-behind win over Nevada.

Davis set a school record with 191 yards -- the most of any FBS player in Week 2 -- and his 56-yard touchdown reception with 38 seconds to go made the difference in the game. Davis and Griffin play the same receiver position, so watch out for more games like this to come.

"This second game he really came into his own and unfortunately with Sterling down with the injury he had to step up," Daniels said. He had to play more plays, and he did a good job."

Davis already has shown his ability to stretch the field, and so has Chris Dunkley, another player USF will have to rely on with Griffin out. Derrick Hopkins, Terrence Mitchell and D'Vario Montgomery have speed in spades as well. Add in Deonte Welch and Victor Marc, and there are plenty of options.

The big question is whether USF can continue to build on its impressive pass game performance against Nevada, which came after Griffin got hurt. Consider last season, USF had only one completion that went over 50 yards in an FBS game. Against Nevada, USF had three 50-yard touchdown passes. Getting much bigger plays from the receivers has been a huge point of emphasis this offseason.

"Last year, we made a big jump offensively in our numbers but to add the deep ball to our arsenal now and be consistent with it gives us an opportunity to stretch the defense and it makes it a lot easier for us," Daniels said. "Teams have to cover the entire field, horizontal and vertical. As long as I give them the opportunity to go get the ball and keep it in bounds, with the type of speed and athleticism they have, more than likely they’ll come down with it."

The opportunities certainly will be there for them, with their leader watching from the sideline.