Oct 29, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Kansas State Wildcats defensive back DJ Reed (2) tackles Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Joel Lanning (7) from behind at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Joel Lanning revels in the grunt work. Need something decidedly unglamorous done? A gritty, down-and dirty job? He’s your guy.
It make sense, then, that the Iowa State junior quarterback has become his team’s short-yardage and toughness-based specialist. Lanning’s role behind center crystallized in Saturday’s 31-26 loss to Kansas State and he’s accepting it, as always.
It’s not about him. It’s about “us.”
“Playing for the seniors and not letting those guys go out with four losses in a row,” said Lanning, who will again split time with Jacob Park at quarterback when three-touchdown favorite Oklahoma comes to Jack Trice Stadium for Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. ESPN-televised Big 12 matchup. “We’ve got to keep fighting for them.”
Yes, reaching a bowl game is now mathematically impossible, but hopes for a strong finish remain.
And if that means Park becomes the Cyclones’ chief passer and Lanning plays the part of bruising, hard-nosed runner, so be it.
When wins are hard to come by, a lifelong winner assents to any role that can aid a much-needed turnaround.
“It’s what was working on Saturday,” Lanning said of the new twist to the ongoing quarterback rotation. “Jacob gave us some opportunities to win the game and obviously I’m all for whatever’s going to help us win the game. Obviously that’s what they thought was going to help us and it eventually kind of did. Got us back in the game a little bit. Yeah, I’m going to go in and run the ball as hard as I can when I get the opportunity and try to score. I just think that’s what was working that day and they’re going to stick to it.”
ISU has lost four straight games to start its conference slate. The Cyclones led at halftime in three of those setbacks. Three have been decided by a touchdown or less and at least on Saturday, they scored 16 unanswered points to keep it close instead of letting a lead slip.
“This is a relentless pursuit to get where we’re going,” said an always fired-up Coach Matt Campbell.
Lanning remains a duly-elected captain for that journey. Park simply holds the reins during the more free-flowing situations the offense faces. Campbell likes both of them — so much so that perhaps they’ll share the field sometime down the road.
“There’s got to be a point in time where both those guys are on the field,” Campbell said. “Joel deserves to play as much as Jacob deserves to play. Both those guys have really made positive yardage and made really good things happen for our offense. Is there a point in time where you see them together on the football field? I think all of those things are things we’ve got to continue to do because both of those guys in terms of ball in their hands and then production, those guys are leading our offense and doing really good things.”
Lanning’s rushed at least 10 times in all but one game this season. He carried the ball that number of times for a season-best 74 yards against K-State and hopes for more as the Cyclones (1-7, 0-4) prepare to face the No. 12 Sooners (6-2, 3-1). Park, meanwhile, posted his first 300-yard passing game against the Wildcats.
“On Saturday, that’s what was really working for me,” Lanning said of using his legs more than his arm. “For whatever reason the quarterback run game was working well and they wanted to stick to it so they gave me the opportunity to do it. If that’s what it’s going to take tor me to help this team win, to run the ball more, then yeah, I’m going to do it. I obviously felt good running. That was the most rushing yards I had all year, so I’ll continue to do it and keep moving forward.”
For the seniors and for the future. This season has been sort-of a test drive for the new coaching staff. They’re determining who has the “want-to” to attend to the details required to attain success. Lanning has that. So does Park. So do many other Cyclones, but separating the wheat from the chaff is an ongoing process that may extend into the offseason.
“It’s easy for kids to shut it down right now, right?” Campbell said. “What are you playing for? Here’s your record. But we can’t be defined by what the win and loss column looks like right now. You guys can define it and that’s our job and I understand all of that, but we have to define it within our walls, of are we getting better? What do we need to do to be successful? Can we not make the same mistakes twice? And can we put ourselves in position to win situational football and get over the hump to where we need to get to?
“So to me, that’s urgency, that’s attention to detail and want-to. And one of the things I am proud of is I think there’s more kids than not in our program that want to. We finally have trimmed it to where there’s a lot of kids that want to do it and are willing souls and I appreciate that. Are we totally there yet within our walls? No. Are we getting a lot closer today than where we have been? I really believe that. We’re not going to let up. I’m not going to let up. I’m the same guy every day. I hope we get that same mentality from our football team here by the end of the season.”