When Kansas State visited Stanford to open the 2016 season, quarterback Jesse Ertz played in a live game for the first time in over a year. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first outing of the 2015 season. Ertz was a tad rusty against the Cardinal in a 26-13 loss.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound signal caller struggled early in the game. He looked hesitant to throw the ball and spent most of the first 20 minutes scrambling. As the game progressed, however, Ertz did as well.
Ertz gradually gained more feel for the game in its middle section, just before and after halftime. However, through the first three quarters, Ertz threw for only 73 yards with an interception. It was easy to think that Ertz would never get off the mat, but in the fourth quarter, the Burlington, Iowa native showed flashes of greatness.
On Kansas State’s only touchdown drive, Ertz completed two beautiful passes–a 44-yarder to Dominique Heath and his lone touchdown pass, a 15-yarder to Isaiah Zuber. Ertz finished with the fourth quarter with 134 passing yards and a touchdown. Overall, Ertz threw for 207 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Cardinal.
“I’d hate to say he was timid. I think he hit some struggles,” said Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder on Ertz’s performance against Stanford. “Part of it was myself initiated and part of it was he hit some like just indicated in the second half. Everybody knew where he was going to throw it, and defenders were back, and created some problems for him. But it was a mixed bag.”
Ertz has all the physical tools to be a solid signal caller for the Wildcats. He has the perfect frame, a strong arm and respectable mobility. However, Ertz will need to find his comfort zone to become the upgrade at quarterback Kansas State fans expect him to be. The rest of September should enable Ertz to grow and become an effective gunslinger for Kansas State. He does need to avoid hits, however — his mobility was extremely limited for much of the Stanford game.
After facing the Cardinal, the Wildcats will have three more weeks remaining in the non-conference portion of their schedule: a bye in Week Two; home against Florida Atlantic in Week Three; and Missouri State in Week Four. These next three weekends should help Ertz’s game grow in a multitude of ways, the first one giving him needed rest.
Let’s say more about Ertz in the first 20 minutes against Stanford: Whenever he had solid protection from his young offensive line, he looked indecisive. He was unsure if he should throw or run. When Ertz did throw the ball, he sometimes sailed the pass over his intended receiver’s head–which can be attributed to discomfort in the pocket.
Granted, Ertz did have to play against one of the best defenses in the country in his return, which typically doesn’t translate to success. However, Florida Atlantic possesses one of the nation’s worst defenses and Missouri State is an FCS opponent, which means Ertz’s post-injury and early-season jitters could subside before Big 12 play starts for Kansas State.
These next three weeks will also help Ertz to finally get in sync with his receivers–primarily Byron Pringle.
Ertz and Pringle were billed as a dynamic quarterback-receiver duo that during last year’s abysmal 6-7 season, but against the Cardinal, they were nonexistent.
The quarterback targeted the receiver 10 times during the Stanford game. None of those passes connected.
Wildcats showed promise on defense. Offense struggled most of the way. Jesse Ertz will need to settle in and improve as season progresses.
— Kellis Robinett (@KellisRobinett) September 3, 2016
The two never appeared to be on the same page.
During one moment of the game, Ertz had Pringle wide open in the end zone but waited until he was triple-covered to throw the ball. Ertz also threw a pass toward the sideline–he expected Pringle to run an out route–but the receiver ran a post route instead. If the two can build a rapport over the next three weeks, this Wildcat offense can evolve into an efficient unit that could make Kansas State a dark-horse Big 12 contender.
If Ertz can find his comfortable place and build a solid connection with Pringle and the rest of his receivers–he completed an abysmal 44.7 percent of his passes–the Wildcats could become a scary team as the season progresses.
These next three weeks can certainly help Ertz grow.
It’s time for the quarterback to not only plant his feet, but plant some lessons in the fertile soil of America’s Breadbasket.