Entering the 2016 season, one of Iowa State’s main concerns is winning the turnover battle. From head coach Matt Campbell to positions coaches, the Cyclone coaching staff is stressing ball security on offense and forcing fumbles and interceptions on defense.
Junior quarterback Joel Lanning’s mission is clear for this team. He took over as the main signal-caller for Iowa State halfway through the season last year. While turning over the ball isn’t a problem for him–only four interceptions in six games with substantial playing time–his accuracy is.
Joel Lanning said he's spent a lot of time doing feet work stuff. Thinks it will help improve his accuracy. #Cyclones
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) August 18, 2016
Lanning finished 2015 with a 55.4 percent completion rate, but in his five starts, the Ankeny, Iowa, native completed above 51 percent only once. If Iowa State wants to improve upon its 3-9 season, Lanning’s accuracy needs to improve accordingly.
Taking a look at the top six teams in the Big 12, their starting quarterbacks had an average completion percentage of 64.6. The bottom-four teams: 53.3. Clearly, this stat matters.
At times, Lanning showed he possessed the accuracy to be a solid leader for the Cyclones last year. When he finally took over for incumbent starter Sam Richardson during the second half of the Baylor game, Iowa State looked like a whole new team. Lanning put the ball only where his receivers could get it, and it showed on the stat sheet.
Lanning completed 12 of his 17 passes — a 70.6 completion rate — for 144 yards and three touchdowns. His accuracy helped the Cyclones put up 20 points in that half. (However, Baylor had established control of that game by halftime, leading 35-7. This is why that game is not considered “quality playing time,” in case you were wondering.)
Another example of how good Iowa State can be when Lanning is accurate is the Kansas State game. Against the Wildcats, Lanning completed 75 percent of his passes and tossed three touchdowns. However, as most of Cyclone fanatics know, some head-scratching play calls and costly turnovers allowed Kansas State to take the win from Iowa State’s grasp.
However, Lanning has endured bad moments as well, reflected in his erratic passing. The primary example of this deficiency was the Oklahoma State contest.
In the first half against the Cowboys, the Cyclones dominated. Iowa State was up 24-14 heading into halftime. In the first half, Lanning was 6 for 10 for 128 yards and one touchdown.
Then came the second half.
Lanning’s accuracy took a dive, allowing the Cowboys to come back. He completed only 5 of his 12 pass attempts– 41.7 percent–for a pitiful 34 yards and one interception.
On first down, Lanning had a decent completion rate of 58.7 percent. On second down, his passing percentage dipped to 57.1 percent. On third down: 49.1.
As we can see from Big 12 team performances during the last five years, Lanning’s 2015 completion rate (55.4 percent) won’t give Iowa State a winning season
In the last five years, there have been 17 losing seasons throughout the Big 12. The average completion rate for those 17 losing seasons was 55.6 percent. For the 33 remaining conference winning seasons, the average completion rate was 63.2-percent.
During new head coach Matt Campbell’s four seasons as the head man of the Toledo Rockets, his quarterbacks averaged a 60-percent completion rate–indicating that Lanning’s accuracy issues should be fixed this year.
"I feel like I'm getting the ball out much quicker mainly because my footwork is better." – Joel Lanning pic.twitter.com/3BzoayxcXN
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) August 18, 2016
We can’t blame Lanning alone for these accuracy issues. His offensive line often failed to give him enough time to step up in the pocket and make an accurate throw. His protection may be worse in 2016. Nevertheless, Lanning is the one making these passes. If Iowa State wants to improve on its 3-9 record from last year, Lanning has to do his fair share.