AMES — The bruising runs. The ability to spin off tackles for an extra couple of yards. The howitzer of an arm.
Wait — that’s where Iowa State starting quarterback Joel Lanning fails, in a good way, to be a clone of former Kansas State playcaller Collin Klein, who gave the Cyclones fits in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
“He’s the same guy,” ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “He’s the same guy that throws the ball a heck of a lot better — and that’s not saying anything about Collin Klein. But Joel is the complete package.”
Start No. 2 for Lanning comes Saturday at 6 p.m. at No. 14 Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1). The Sooners are 25-point favorites. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Lanning likely doesn’t care. He simply wants to build on his 64-yard rushing and 188-yard passing performance that helped the Cyclones (3-5, 2-3) blank Texas, 24-0, last weekend at Jack Trice Stadium.
“Offensively, I think we just need to quit hurting ourselves,” Lanning said. “There’s a few plays, like with myself, where I could have thrown the ball to the receiver instead of throwing off my back foot and the ball was diving on me.”
So Lanning didn’t play a perfect game in his debut as the ringleader of the offense. He won’t need to be flawless Saturday, either, but improvement must continue to flow from week to week if ISU is to regain any hope of climbing back into bowl contention.
“Just keep focusing on him making good decisions,” Cyclones offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said. “They’re not always going to be the best decisions, but just good decisions — game management-type decisions where he’s moving chains. Throwing it when he needs to do that. Running it when he needs to do that. Every snap for Joel is again a chance for him to learn. He’s still in that learning curve and still pursuing excellence.”
Lanning is actually more muscled than Klein, who led the Wildcats to a pair of seven-point wins over the Cyclones by rushing for a combined 191 yards and four touchdowns.
Klein battered opposing defenders with a 6-5, 226-pound frame. Lanning’s six pounds heavier and three inches shorter. His wrestling background feeds his penchant for sweeping the legs out from under would-be tacklers, which he did a few times against the Longhorns while converting 11 third downs into first downs on the ground and through the air.
“Their QB is good,” Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford lamented this week to the Austin American-Statesman, ”but we made him look like Cam Newton.”
The Cyclones will settle for Collin Klein. A powerful runner. A gamer. But with a much more potent arm.
“Earlier in the year when we put in the package that we did with the counters and the powers, it was like you were watching (Klein) work," Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said. "The patience that he displayed, the lateral movement square, and then finding his hole and pushing his way through it as opposed to a fast type of zone-read play, where he’s just hitting it, which we’re still running of course. So yeah, I think that’s a fair comparison.”
Dishing out hits requires absorbing them, too. Lanning wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’a how I’ve grown up playing the game,” said Lanning, who converted 11 third down against Texas with his feet and his arm. “Like I said earlier, wrestling made me a more physical person because it’s just you and another person out there and you’ve got to do whatever you can to win. But, yeah, that’s just part of my game. Just something that comes out of me on Saturday.”
Used to come out on Fridays.
After Lanning dropped Longhorns safety Jason Hall during a 20-yard run last weekend, Rhoads said ISU’s leading receiver, Allen Lazard, told him he could relate to Hall’s subsequent aches and pains.
Lazard had taken on the brunt of a Lanning run before.
“I remember my sophomore year, we were playing at Ankeny for their homecoming,” said Lazard, who played for CIML rival Urbandale. “We played them a pretty tight game towards the beginning and they ran that weird offense and stuff. One thing led to another and I was playing back at safety and I see Joel running straight at me. I was probably, like, 170 at the time and he ran me over and screamed right in my face. It about put the fear of God in my eyes. So it’s good to be on his team, on the other side of the ball.”
Lanning said Lazard’s mentioned that encounter to him before, but it’s mostly dissolved into his voluminous memory bank of hard hits.
“I was younger, so I don’t really remember that play,” Lanning said. “But I don’t know, I did get a little crazy in high school sometimes.”
Crazy. Klein-like. By any description, Lanning’s take-no-prisoners running style is revving up Cyclones players on both sides of the ball.
“It gives me an energy boost,” deep-threat receiver Quenton Bundrage said. “Just seeing him go out and lower his shoulder showing that he’s not scared, it just makes me elevate my game. He’s a bigger guy, so he can do that. He’s not going to run around you, which he can (do), but you’ve got a guy like Joel — I would do it, too.”
And if you think Rhoads might prefer Lanning to avoid contact more often, you’d be wrong. Rhoads simply wants his quarterback to get down if the situation calls for it. Football’s a game wrought with peril. Players can get hurt by hard hits or making simple cuts. You never know, so in the case of Lanning, he just goes.
“I think Joel’s got to be Joel and I think with that there’s always a risk of what could happen,” Rhoads said. “There was time when (longtime starting quarterback) Sam (Richardson) was getting hurt where people didn’t want me to run the quarterback. Then when Sam wasn’t running it they wanted me to run the quarterback. When Kansas State was having great success with their quarterbacks (Klein and Jake Waters), nobody ever talked about them getting hurt, but this year’s quarterback (Jesse Ertz) got hurt the third play of the game, or the season — they lost him for the season. So you can’t run scared and when you have a philosophy and you’ve made a decision on what it is you have to do to be successful you’ve got to stick with it.”