Oct 1, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Trever Ryen (19) blocks for Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Joel Lanning (7) against the Baylor Bears at Jack Trice Stadium. The Bears beat the Cyclones 45-42. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Someday, Iowa State football fans will look back and say, “Remember when we had two quarterbacks? You know, every week, every game?”
Yes, someday either Joel Lanning or Jacob Park — both of whom have delivered high (and not-so-high) points for a generally improving offense — will be “the man” behind center.
That day seems far away now, though, as the Cyclones (1-6, 0-4 Big 12) need all hands on deck yet again with defense-driven Kansas State (4-3, 2-2) coming to town for an 11 a.m. homecoming-framed kick.
“I think that rotation is all about those guys right now — and their continued development and really their consistency in which they play; really what tools they give us once the game starts,” said ISU coach Matt Campbell, whose team is coming off its one and only bye week of the season. “But to be honest with you I think it’s too early to say that one way or the other, and the reality for us is both those guys are going to have the opportunity to play and opportunity to give us a chance to be successful in a football game.”
That’s fine with them.
Still — and honest.
“Absolutely,” said Lanning, who’s thrown nine touchdown passes to three interceptions. “Nothing’s changed in that aspect. We’re still talking, helping each other out on the sidelines. We’re even talking in practice, about what we’re seeing and stuff like that. It’s just good communication between us two and it just helps us slow the game down a little bit, for both of us, so it just helps us out in the end.”
Someday, it will help in getting wins — and the Wildcats have been a particular thorn in the Cyclones’ side for several seasons.
Kansas State has won eight straight (mostly tightly-contested) meetings and boasts the nation’s third-best rushing defense (94.9 yards per game).
The Wildcats rank third in the Big 12 in penalty yardage and first in time of possession. They will grind you — unless you find a way to tear up their time-honored blueprint, as the Cyclones nearly did last season in Manhattan before the mother of all meltdowns occurred.
“I think they’re the most sound and disciplined team probably in the country, definitely in the conference,” said star ISU receiver Allen Lazard, who added he’s as healthy as he’s been all season. “Obviously they don’t have the big recruits — not the big four or five-star guys and stuff — but they’re definitely disciplined. They do what they’re coached to do and they make plays.”
That starts on defense, where big Jordan Willis looms on the edge. The former three-star recruit leads the conference with eight sacks this season. To call him a disruptor of any quarterback — let alone a quarterback rotation — would be an understatement.
“(Willis), he’s really good and the linebackers are back, some of those guys,” Lanning said. “It’s going to be a good game. We know what to expect from them. They’ve been the same defense for a while now. They’re good at what they do. We’re going to have to try to go in there and disrupt them, but it will be nice to play out here in Jack Trice with the home field advantage.”
And back to the quarterbacks.
Both Lanning (140.6) and Park (121.1) boast a higher quarterback rating then K-State starter and Iowa native Jesse Ertz (116.9).
The Cyclones rank ninth in the Big 12 in passing offense, averaging 240 yards per game through the air.
The Wildcats lag far behind in last, accruing just 167.6 aerial yards per contest.
That’s rarely been their forte, however. K-State pins its hopes on running the ball (184 yards per game) and stopping the run. It’s a solid winning formula — and one ISU obviously aims to mimic and surpass, no matter who’s pulling the trigger behind center.
Bottom line: The Wildcats thrive in close games. The Cyclones are finding their way, trying to break free of past disappointments. No one player makes that change happen, but often one or two plays (or play calls) swings the outcome when these two teams meet.
“Every year it’s been like a back and forth game,” Lanning said. We just know we’re going to have to play (through) the fourth quarter. We can’t just play the first three quarters like we have been and cutting it off in the fourth.”