By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
AMES – Let the quarterback debate begin. Four potential signal-callers, one starting spot available.
Iowa State football entered spring practice without a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback. Saturday’s game at blustery Jack Trice Stadium – where the Cardinal squad defeated the Gold 35-22 – did nothing to change that. Jerome Tiller, Steele Jantz, James Capello and Jared Barnett are all even according to Coach Paul Rhoads.
At this point, it’s anyone’s guess who will be under center when the Cyclones open the 2011 season Sept. 3 against Northern Iowa.
“It’s a four-horse race,” Rhoads said.
Tiller started on Saturday and should probably be considered the leader at the position heading into fall camp. The junior went 12-of-18 passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
On the first play from scrimmage, Tiller found Darius “Money” Reynolds for a 45-yard completion. His best throw came later when he again found Reynolds. This time it was a 40-yard touchdown strike on a perfectly placed pass down the sideline.
Tiller also showed toughness playing through nagging elbow pain in his right throwing arm.
“I think he might have had his best scrimmage of the big three scrimmages we had,” Rhoads said.
“I think I played decently well, I could have done better,” Tiller added. “You can always do better. You’re never perfect.”
Tiller faces some tough competition for the starting role. Jantz flashed his potential with one brilliant pass on Saturday. In the first quarter, the junior lofted a beautiful spiral into a stiff wind that hit Aaron Horne in stride for a 50-yard touchdown.
“From JUCO, I knew he could make that pass,” Horne, Jantz’s teammate at City of San Francisco junior college, said.
Jantz connected on eight of his 16 passes for 113 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Barnett and Capello weren’t able to showcase their arms like Jantz and Tiller, but they both did some things well. Barnett rushed for 58 yards on nine carries, and completed 9-of-18 passes for 62 yards. Capello added 68 yards through the air on nine completions and 58 yards on the ground.
“I thought all four quarterbacks had bright spots today,” Rhoads said. “I thought they all moved our football team at times.
“Nobody’s eliminated themselves (from the No. 1 spot), and nobody’s a step above anybody else.”
A theme all spring for the Iowa State defense was getting pressure on the quarterback. Mission accomplished on Saturday.
The Cyclones notched six sacks and 16 tackles for a loss in the scrimmage.
“We played a lot of games up front, we were getting to the quarterback and throwing a lot of stuff at them,” nose guard Brandon Jensen said.
Jensen was one the guys harassing the quarterbacks. The redshirt freshman currently sits third on the depth chart, but that could change after recording two sacks on Saturday.
Stephen Ruempolhamer, Jeremiah George, Willie Scott and Nick Kron also recorded sacks.
Despite not getting their hands’ on the quarterbacks, Jake McDonough, Roosevelt Maggitt and Jacob Lattimer all played well. McDonough is noticeably bigger this spring but still had the speed to chase the quarterbacks out of the pocket.
Scott also made his mark. He notched eight tackles – four for a loss – and picked up a fumble that he ran in for a would be touchdown had he not been called for a celebration penalty.
Aaron Horne may not look intimidating but he will scare opposing coaches. The slippery receiver did good things every time he got his hands on the ball in the spring game.
“Aaron Horne stood out today catching the ball and turning up some big plays,” Rhoads said.
Horne caught Jantz’s 50-yard bomb and tallied eight catches for 124 yards. The junior also scored on a reverse from 16 yards out.
Horne is the type of player that’s hard to find on the football field. Standing just 5-foot-9 and 167 pounds, Horne hides from defenders before making a big play. On his 50-yard touchdown catch, he used his quickness to elude the defense.
“I just read A.J. (Klein), the linebacker that was on me,” Horne said. “He bounced outside, when he rolled outside, I took a jab step and went straight up field.”
While it was up-and-down day overall for the Iowa State receivers, Horne and teammate Darius “Money” Reynolds made plays.
Reynolds showed a knack for attacking the football and snatching it before defenders could knock it away. On the first play of the game, the senior skied for a Jerome Tiller pass and a 45-yard gain.
Reynolds went on to catch two touchdown passes from Tiller and finished with five catches for 126 yards. On his first touchdown, Reynolds outmuscled a cornerback, snared the ball and coasted in the end zone for a 40-yard TD.
– The play of the day may have been Aaron Horne’s 16-yard touchdown scamper. When Horne crossed the goal line, big Kelechi Osemele was 13 yards past the line of scrimmage lead blocking. Osemele was absolutely dominating a poor cornerback.
– Jeremiah George was around the football all game, tallying nine tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.
– All four running backs played well. Shontrelle Johnson led the bunch with 59 yards rushing. Sophomore James White showed a good burst through the line of scrimmage, and Jeff Woody ran hard every time he touched the ball.
– Starting left guard Ethan Tuftee hurt his left ankle early in Saturday’s game. Luckily, x-rays were negative and Rhoads said he might have been able to play if the Cyclones had a game next week.
– Jevohn Miller continued to impress the coaches. The freshman stepped in front of a pass and picked it off in the third quarter. His plans for the postgame? Going to the prom.