Williams: A case for starting Grant Rohach vs. TCU

AMES — Never trust a depth chart, ever again.

As it does every Monday morning, Iowa State football released its latest depth chart for the upcoming week at around 10 o’clock and like most do, this one had a minor surprise within it. Redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Rohach was listed as the starting signal caller over sophomore Sam Richardson, who was benched in the second quarter of Saturday’s 41-7 loss to Kansas State after a 6-for-12, two interception start to the contest. 

The word “or” was nowhere to be seen. That surely meant that Paul Rhoads and offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham had made a decision for Saturday’s homecoming game with TCU right? Grant Rohach was about to earn his first career start, correct?

Chalk this up as a lesson learned on making assumptions based off of a lousy piece of paper. 

“Right now, I don’t know who will be the starter come Saturday,” Rhoads said during his Monday press conference. “It could easily be Sam who runs out there.”

That is when the head scratching began. Even Rohach seemed confused.

“I actually got a text from a cousin who said, ‘Congrats on starting.’ I had no idea that was on the depth chart,” Rohach said. “Obviously, every week there is going to be a competition for the quarterback spot. All I can control is how well I play and how efficiently I run the offense.” 

Iowa State’s quarterback situation has been, still is, and probably always will be a curious one under Paul Rhoads. 

To the outsider, it is hard not to wonder why Rhoads wouldn’t have given Rohach’s cousin and you, the Fanatic, a break by leaving the depth chart the way it has been leading up to Saturday’s date with the Horned Frogs. Richardson (or) Rohach? It’s a competition. Reps are even. The whole, "You’ll find out on Saturday," company line. 

Why tease us? 

This is all gamesmanship, which leaves us confused and proves what I already noted above – to never trust a depth chart, ever, ever, ever, again. 

Iowa State’s offense enters week 11 of the college football season ranked 108th (of 123 schools) nationally in total offense. A point can be made that it doesn’t really matter who takes the first snap for Iowa State on Saturday. There are more problems within this offense than just this one position. 

But allow me to attempt to make an argument as to why Rohach should earn his first start.

We have never seen the California native play in a game in which his team wasn’t already trailing by multiple scores when he got the opportunity to play. 

Rohach’s first appearance in an Iowa State uniform was on the road at Baylor. The Cyclones were already trailing 20-0. Against that offense, on the road, that’s as good as being in no-man’s land.

Against Oklahoma State two weeks ago, Iowa State had already dug itself into a significant hole when Rohach took the field in the second quarter (for an injured Richardson).

The Cyclones were trailing on the road to Kansas State 10-0 when Rohach entered last Saturday’s loss to the Wildcats.

Playing quarterback in the Big 12 is hard enough. Doing it as a freshman on a beaten down, inexperienced offense when you’re already behind by multiple scores is an entirely different animal. Offenses are conducted differently when you’re losing by 20 than they are at 0-0 after the opening kick. Guys start to press, as does the backup QB. 

“Coaches tell me that I just need to calm down. I know it too," Rohach said. "That’s the most frustrating part. When I have those angry reactions, it’s because I know I can make those throws. I feel like with every rep, that is going to continually improve and those mistakes are going to go down.”

Perhaps taking his first reps in a game when his team isn’t already down two or three scores will make a difference for Rohach? Might as well find out, right?  

I have no idea if Rohach is Iowa State’s quarterback of the future. Richardson might very well be the preferred man down the road. But I do know the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

Sam Richardson’s road has been rocky this season and he’s banged up. Nobody is doubting that. But Richardson is also 1-9 as a starting quarterback at Iowa State. With bowl eligibility out the window, the thought of giving Rohach an opportunity to perform when he isn’t already behind the 8-Ball doesn’t seem like a horrible idea to me. 

If it doesn’t work out, the staff can always go back to Richardson. Rhoads has proven time and time again that he isn’t afraid to make that switch.