AMES — A backup when the season began, Zeb Noland now is the man behind center — again.
After Kyle Kempt injured his knee against Iowa in the Cyclones’ first game, Noland was thrust onto the field against No. 5 Oklahoma last Saturday.
He responded by throwing for 360 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-36 passing in a 37-27 loss.
He’ll be back at quarterback Saturday when Iowa State (0-2, 0-1 Big 12) hosts Akron (2-0, 0-0 MAC) at 11 a.m. inside Jack Trice Stadium.
Noland said he benefited greatly from getting significant playing time against Oklahoma State and starting against Baylor last season as Kempt nursed an arm injury.
“The game is really fast and you can try to imitate it at practice as much as you can, but when the live bullets are coming, they aren’t just coming by you and tagging you on the shoulder as a sack,” Noland said. “That’s a whole lot different than those guys running right at you and having the offensive line actually retreating toward you and not just going around you.”
Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell was happy with the job Noland did. Starting different quarterbacks is something Campbell’s gotten used to at Iowa State. The Cyclones haven’t had a quarterback go wire-to-wire in a season since Austen Arnaud in 2008.
Campbell has gone through four quarterbacks in his first two years and change.
“(Being ready) was a lesson that was learned here a year ago,” Campbell said. “Bam, all of the sudden you get thrown in, in a really challenging situation. What I’m really proud of is the response of, both times, our guys have really stood up and responded to the opportunity.
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“I think that’s such a big lesson for all of our players because when the opportunity comes along, and you get your shot — are you going to take advantage of it? Obviously, Kyle did that a year ago, and Zeb certainly did that this past Saturday. I think it’s shown that our kids are buying into that belief and understanding.”
While Noland was impressive for much of the game, six of his 11 incompletions came in the fourth quarter, including an interception.
“There were a couple times — any quarterback is going to make a bad decision here or there — but it’s decision making,” quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon said. “He has to make good decisions, not most of the time, he has to make good decisions all of the time. There are a couple plays in there that he’d like to have back where he didn’t make the right call.
“That’s the biggest thing he has to do moving forward is continue to understand that it’s a 60-minute game and he played pretty well for about 55 minutes and then didn’t in the end. That’s tough. It’s tough to be consistent for 60 minutes but you have to when you play quarterback.”
It’s Gordon’s job to be critical of his quarterback and try to get him better. But he also recognizes the growth Noland has made from last season.
Noland had a gunslinger mentality when he arrived at Iowa State — and still does to an extent. But a year with the steady, surgical hand of Kempt guiding Noland has reeled him in a bit.
He still has the big arm that can stretch the field, but he recognizes singles and doubles can be productive, too.
“He’s grown in a lot of ways when he does things he should do,” Gordon said. “He’s really good when he makes good decisions. You can see he can step in and throw some really good balls — he did that on Saturday. I think he’s starting to understand the value of ball security and what that means as a quarterback. That’s where we’re trying to continue the development right there.”
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Now that Noland is the guy, at least for this week, that bumps true freshmen Re-al Mitchell and Brock Purdy into the No. 2 quarterback spot.
No player wants to think about suffering an injury, but Noland understands their position and is doing his best to aid them in the event he goes down.
“I think they’ve done a great job,” Noland said. “I’ve tried to help them as much as I can because they are in the role I was in. I tell them they have to keep being prepared and keep being ready. You may get limited reps, but you have to make every rep count no matter what because you never know.”
Mitchell early enrolled at Iowa State in January and Purdy arrived in the summer.
“Since they’ve been here, they’ve done a great job every day of trying to not be a freshman,” Gordon said. “They’re working hard at it, they’re both really smart guys and they do understand they’re a snap away from being out there. I don’t know that it’s gotten more intense. They’re really good competitors as it is. It’s just maybe a little bit more real now that they’re one snap away. The field is a little closer than it was a month ago.”
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