Efficient: That’s the word Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell applied to the two-quarterback system the Cyclones ran against the San Jose State Spartans.
Ever since Iowa State was defeated 42-3 by in-state rival Iowa, the talk in Ames focused on the leader under center for the Cyclones: captain Joel Lanning or former Elite-11 signal-caller Jacob Park. Against the Spartans, the two gunslingers showed they can both contribute to the ISU offense in an effective way.
When Iowa State took on the TCU Horned Frogs in Week 3, Campbell went with Lanning for two drives, then Park with two drives, and then repeated the process. When the Cyclones took on the Spartans, the two-quarterback scheme was more of a “go with the flow, stick with the hot hand” situation. That proved to be effective for what had previously been a relatively bland offense.
The Cyclone offense averaged a mere 14.3 points per game in its first three games of the 2016 season. The same unit exploded for 44 points against San Jose State, thanks to both quarterbacks combining for five touchdown passes.
“Both guys were extremely efficient,” Campbell said after the San Jose State game.
“I don’t even know what the numbers were, but the reality of it is we were efficient. You see us positive on third down. You know, the offenses that I’ve been a part of that have been successful were efficient. We’re efficient in situational football. We haven’t been that, but we certainly were today.”
As Campbell mentioned, Iowa State–primarily the quarterback position–hasn’t been efficient except for the game against the Spartans. Not to take a dig at San Jose State, but the Spartans aren’t a Big 12-caliber team. It begs the question: Which quarterback has been more efficient for this ISU offense?
Looking at both quarterbacks’ numbers, both could make a convincing case. Lanning–who started the year as the No. 1 signal-caller for the Cyclones–was 5 of 8 for 136 yards and two touchdowns, while Park was 15 of 19 for 165 yards and three touchdowns while adding 35 rushing yards on one carry. However, while examining the little things both players do, Park may be the more efficient option.
Entering this game, Lanning’s biggest question mark was his accuracy. He has underthrown and overthrown wide receivers countless times in Iowa State’s four games. Park is clearly the more accurate thrower.
Well… how can you take out Jacob Park? There's been no doubt that he throws it better #Cyclones
— Austen Arnaud (@ADArnaud4) September 24, 2016
In the three games he has played, Park has placed his throws where only his receivers can grab them. Despite his notable accuracy–his completion rate has improved throughout each game–Park has also shown intangibles that allow him to possess great precision.
On Park’s first touchdown pass against San Jose State, he dropped back to pass and did a little pump fake. Spartan defenders bit on the fake, which allowed Cyclone pass catcher Dondre Daley to get separation. Park easily hit him in stride for a 26-yard score.
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) September 24, 2016
Heading into Saturday, the prevailing notion had been that Lanning is the better runner in this two-man comparison. Against San Jose State, however, Park showed some wheels on his 35-yard run. Although Park possesses all the necessities to be the leader of Iowa State’s offense, he has yet to completely show it to the Cyclone coaching staff.
Campbell spoke on the topic:
“I think we continue to see what works. That’s why practice happens. That’s why we’re so critical that you come out and practice hard,” he said. “I’ve always been a big believer that you play how you practice, and you earn the right to play. I know sometimes people aren’t that, but that’s me. They’re still competing and still competing for reps.”
Campbell is no stranger to a two-quarterback system. That is why, if the two-signal-caller scheme continues to work, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cyclones utilize the system for the rest of the year. However, if Iowa State must choose between the two, Park may soon become the sole field general for this Cyclone offense.