Nov 11, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Zeb Noland (4) throws a pass against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Cyclones 49-42. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Zeb Noland loosened up, then eyed his helmet.
It was clear his roommate, friend, and fellow Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt was hurting — so much so that he’d have to leave the No. 24 Cyclones’ thrilling, but disappointing 49-42 loss Saturday against No. 12 Oklahoma State.
Noland took a deep breath as passing game coordinator Jim Hofher officially passed on the word.
“He said, ‘Just get ready to go,’” Noland said. “So that’s what I did.”
ISU’s redshirt freshman quarterback ably replaced an ailing Kempt — who has an apparent shoulder injury — on his team’s last drive of the first half.
All he faced: 91 yards of Jack Trice Stadium turf and a Cowboys defense intent on driving him into the ground to maintain a 21-14 lead.
“I knew I was prepared for it,” Noland said.
All he did: Strap on his helmet, go 2-for-2 with 15 and 21-yard intermediate strikes to Allen Lazard and Trever Ryen, and lead the Cyclones to a game-tying touchdown capped by Joel Lanning’s one-yard run.
“For him to come in and step up the way he did — to give us a chance, is something huge, something special,” said Lazard, who became the second player in program history to eclipse 3,000 receiving yards in a career. “We’ve been through three quarterbacks this year. And like I said I’m just super-proud of that guy. Super-proud.”
Arguably, ISU’s been through four this season, when you include former starter Jacob Park, who remains on indefinite leave. Two are clearly still standing and it’s hoped that Kempt, a fifth-year senior who won his first four starts, can mend sooner rather than later.
Until that happens, the job is Noland’s, even as Lanning, a star linebacker, continued to get a handful of key reps at quarterback and also produced a spectacular touchdown pass to Lazard that put ISU up 35-31 early in the fourth quarter.
“He kept us in the game,” Lanning said of Noland. “That’s what we needed from him.”
Noland finished 17 of 28 for 263 yards and one controversial end zone interception that ended the game.
He started 5-for-5 and showed an ability to deliver short and deep passes powerfully and accurately.
“I just think the ability to push the ball back down the field,” ISU coach Matt Campbell said of Noland’s strengths. “I think, Zeb, that’s the one thing he does with outstanding precision, is he’s got a big arm and he can push that ball vertically.”
Noland helped drive the Cyclones down for a potential game-tying score late in the game.
Just 2:55 remained. The Cowboys had scored 15 straight points. Noland, unfazed, started the drive with a 30-yard connection with Lazard and continued to operate calmly down the field as the clock ticked down.
Two quick-hitter to Marchie Murdock followed, but a fateful fourth and 13 loomed after a third-down sack with under a minute left.
Noland dialed up bruising back David Montgomery, who kept the drive alive with a series of cuts and shed tackles, rambling to the four-yard line, with no timeouts remaining.
“I told him on the fourth or whatever it was that he was getting the ball,” Noland said. “He was ready for it. He said, ‘All right.’ All I had to do was give him the ball and I know he’s going to make plays.”
The last play — the gut punch — occurred on second and goal with half a minute left. Noland lofted a pass to Murdock in the end zone. Cowboys defensive back A.J. Green leaped over the top and appeared to simultaneously clutch the ball with Murdock as they wrestled to the turf.
Officials ruled it an interception. So that’s how Noland’s stirring first stint at quarterback ended — no complaints, no excuses. Pretty impressive, overall.
“Sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don’t,” the Georgia native shrugged.
And sometimes, your chance comes when a good friend gets hurt.
“What killed me was when (Kempt) came out after halftime I could tell — after he changed (to street clothes), I could tell he was hurting,” Noland said. “It hurt me because that’s my roommate every week. And me and Kyle are a lot closer than people know, because we literally spend every day with each other. We prepare together. So it hurt me inside to see him down but I knew that it was best for him. I just hope that he’s going to be all right.”
Either way, ISU should be “all right” at quarterback, despite many twists and turns during this remarkable and topsy-turvy 6-4, 4-3 season.
So what’s the main difference between Kempt and Noland?
“Kyle is a guru,” Montgomery said. “He knows everything. He knows everything before it happens. Zeb is a —he going to blaze it to you. There’s going to be fire coming off of it.”
A little water goes with it, too, though, as he seeks that even-keel balance that’s become a Kempt trademark.
“I’m just going to try to be the same guy,” Noland said.