Believe it or not Cyclone fans, Spring football is upon us! Matt Campbell and his new mini-series #WinInTheDark start putting the pads back on Monday March 19th, and there have been some significant changes since the last time we saw this team play in the Liberty Bowl on December 30th.
I started out with five storylines, but turned out there were a few more things that got me excited, so I ended up with Seven Storylines Heading into Spring Football for Iowa State
Who Is Calling the Plays?
Matt Campbell addressed the media last Friday and answered a multitude of questions regarding the new position coaches, as well as who will call plays for Iowa State moving forward. This man doesn’t care whether your title is Grad Assistant or Associate Head Coach, he knows it is a full team effort when it comes to the offensive gameplan.
“We will kind of wait and see on what we do, maybe once we come out of spring we will have a better idea on exactly will that term (offensive coordinator) be used somehow, someway,” said Campbell. “It’s really been a collective effort even back from our days at Toledo to our first two years here.”
My take on this is two-fold.
First, Campbell is going to take his time. He is very much a loyal guy, and wants to find someone who knows and understands the bread and butter of this offense. He wants to run an efficient smash-mouth offense that starts from the inside-out.
Two, people don’t realize how different of a role this is compared to most institutions. There are many minds who take an active role in this offense, so it’s not just one guy making 100% of the calls. On top of that, Campbell’s hands are all over the offense, from game-planning to play-calling, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter to me who the new OC is – as long as CMC is our head coach.
Quarterback Battle Between Noland and Kempt
This will be a battle to talk about all spring and summer long. The incumbent is returning quarterback Kyle Kempt who somehow, someway (by the grace of all the gods out there) was granted a sixth year of eligibility. It was about time NCAA.
P.S. you still owe us a few more…
These two signal-callers couldn’t be more different in the way they play. Noland has a rocket for an arm, and Kempt’s is the equivalent of Peyton Manning’s last season. Sorry, Kyle. Kempt is Mr. Take Care of The Football, and has 8 starts to his name, while Zeb is green as can be, with only 2 games under center. Both have their pros and cons for this offense, and, to be honest, we will probably see both on the field in 2018.
Who will be the starter versus SDSU on September 1? My guess is Zeb Noland, but what do I know, I’m just a hack blogger.
New Faces in Secondary
The biggest void to fill on this roster is in the defensive backfield. Lost are 38-game starter Kamari Cotton-Moya and do-it-all star/safety/nickelback Evrett Edwards. They were always dependable, (other than playing in the bowl game, I guess…) The other starting safety lost to graduation was Reggie Wilkerson, who played admirably in the strong safety role in his only season.
ISU struck out on transfer J.T. Ibe from Rice, but still has its eyes on Illinois transfer Patrick Nelson, among any other potential graduate transfer safeties. The good thing is, the cupboard is not bare, it’s just really young.
The likes of Braxton Lewis and Lawrence White (who started in Liberty Bowl), as well as up and comers Keontae Jones, De’Monte Ruth and JUCO transfer Greg Eisworth can fill those voids, but it will be the work of Secondary Coach D.K. McDonald to get these boys ready for Big 12 play.
This Team Goes Where the O-Line Takes Them
While ISU lost one of its best position coaches in Offensive Line Coach Tom Manning, and they also lost a gaping hole in the left side of the line in graduating seniors Robby Garcia and Jake Campos. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that ISU ran the majority of the time to the left, as they were the most efficient running behind the buttocks of Campos and Garcia.
The front-runner at the left tackle spot would have to be Sean Foster, but he needs to work on his technique and strength, most importantly in the lower body. Robert Hudson or Bryce Meeker could vie for that position as well. At left guard look for a battle between Josh Mueller and Oge Udeogu. Mueller played in the goal-line set last year and looked explosive at times, and Udeogu returns from offseason surgery.
Wide Receivers (So Many to Choose From!)
ISU lost 63% of their catches from a year ago, but bring back a bevy of talented pass-catchers at the position. Hakeem Butler will no doubt be called upon to make the majority of the catches, and I think he will stay inside at the “Z” position in his pseudo tight end role, as he stretches the defense out of the slot.
Look for Matthew Eaton to try and fill the big shoes left by future NFL draftee Allen Lazard, as his size and strength fit well at the “X” position. Not far behind him is a leaper in Jalen Martin.
My “Marchie Murdock Breakout Star” will be none other than redshirt freshman Josh Johnson, who was highly touted out of high school, can run any route before turning on the jets. A wildcard is true freshman Joseph Scates, who has an uncanny ability to get up and make the big play.
The “M” position that is perfectly suited for Deshaunte Jones, who had sort of a sophomore slump. Look for him to bounce back in ’18.
Who takes over Lanning’s MLB role?
Joel Lanning led all Cyclones in tackles a year ago, and was named an All-American. Truly amazing that he did so in his first year as a linebacker. Who will fill that void? My guess is in-state sophomore Jake Hummel, who is a steady influence and got his cherry popped playing special teams a year ago. He will battle it out with Tymar Sutton for the third and final linebacker spot between Willie Harvey and Marcel Spears, Jr.
Fresh Legs in Kicking Game
Last but not least, newly minted Special Teams Coach Joe Houston has his hands full with two newcomers in the kicking unit. Kicker Brayden Narveson, all 190 pounds of him (although he looks 160), is the shoe-in to replace Garrett Owens, and has quite a leg, making a 51-yarder in high school.
Punter Corey Dunn and his 40-year old looking self comes highly touted out of Australia. The Aussie can literally punt the ball with both legs. I kid you not. He can pooch punt in either direction, and will be a force to reckon with come fall.
Stay tuned to WRNL, as the Annual Spring Game takes place April 14th in Ames, IA.