AMES, IOWA — Iowa State wrapped up its spring season Saturday with a scrimmage at Jack Trice Stadium in front of an estimated 7,500 fans. There was plenty to see from a relatively young defense and from an offense that has some continuity entering its second year in this system.
While the stat sheet will head for Paul Rhoads’ toilet (as he said), there was still plenty to be gleaned from Iowa State’s 60 minutes worth of scrimmaging.
Here are five takeaways to get started.
1. There’s still no quarterback battle
There was no way this was changing with one scrimmage, but there will be no quarterback battle when Iowa State returns to the field in August. Sam Richardson is the Cyclones’ No. 1 man at quarterback and, barring injury, that isn’t changing.
That doesn’t mean Rhoads was perfectly satisfied Saturday.
While spring stats must be taken with a grain of salt — the offense is familiar with the defense and vice versa — Richardson was 11-of-23 for a 48 percent completion rate. Joel Lanning (27 passes) finished with a mark of 41 percent and Grant Rohach (18 passes) was at 72 percent.
“Not pleased overall with Sam or Joel’s completion percentage as it ended up, but Grant’s was fantastic,” Rhoads said.
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t happy overall.
“From my vantage point in a scrimmage situation, my No. 1 priority [is] I want to see how those guys are operating the offense and how they’re communicating and how they’re taking what they get from the sideline and what they see on the field and the execution of plays,” Rhoads said. “I wasn’t disappointed with any of those guys.”
So Richardson is still the No. 1 guy while Rohach and Lanning will likely enter fall camp still battling for the No. 2 spot, although Rhoads has said that if Richardson goes down Iowa State will likely use both Lanning and Rohach in his place.
2. The defense has taken a leap
A spring game doesn’t offer a full picture, but Iowa State’s defense appeared to be improved from a season ago or at the very least has the potential to be.
Demond Tucker made his presence known on multiple plays in the middle of the defensive line, and the secondary made plays and showed depth with the likes of Nigel Tribune, Sam Richardson and Jomal Wiltz.
“I thought as a defense they tackled well,” Rhoads said. “I thought they limited space that the offense had to work with, and that’s something critical to our success as we move forward in this league whether it be run game space or quick pass game space. It’s something that’s been a priority to us.”
3. The offense has focus points
Iowa State’s offense was depleted this spring with multiple top receivers limited or non-participants, but it should have the weapons and experience to be competitive during the 2015 season.
Saturday, there remained hiccups to be ironed out.
“Offensively we’ve had too many balls batted down and with some of the things we’re trying to do as an offense, that can’t take place,” Rhoads said. “You can’t operate an offense efficiently without having a good center-quarterback exchange, and that plagued us today. Those will be priorities heading into the August for the offense for sure.”
The good news is that August is four months away.
In terms of the center-quarterback exchange, the issue will likely be solved with reps. Iowa State is attempting to replace four-year starter Tom Farniok at center and started the spring by trying JUCO transfer Patrick Scoggins there.
Scoggins struggled to get the snapping down (he had always been a guard), and Rhoads admitted Saturday that the Cyclones may have forced it (Scoggins has looked good at guard). Jamison Lalk had some miscues Saturday, but has overall performed fine in the previous spring practices.
“Jamison, surprisingly enough, has been pretty consistent with his snaps. He wasn’t as much today,” Rhoads said. “Right now with the depth that we have at the guard position I think the logical choice is to leave the fifth-year guy there at center and let him run with the ones when camp opens.”
4. The young backs need reps
The three-headed monster in the backfield was really two Saturday as Martinez Syria has missed recent weeks after jamming his neck.
Sure, guys like Mitchell Harger (13 carries) and Clifford Kwaw-Mensah (12 carries) racked up carries, but the focal point of Iowa State’s run game in 2015, in addition to Syria, will be Michael Warren and Tyler Brown.
Brown showed breakaway speed, taking a short pass for a 45-yard touchdown. Warren averaged 5.1 yards per carry on eight carries. The backfield will be young in 2015 and still needs reps to improve.
“We’ve got to run more physical and behind our pads more,” Rhoads said. “These guys are strong in the weight room and they’ve got to continue to learn how that applies on the football field. That’s with their eyes up and being able to bring their hips and all that strength behind that force as they run.”
5. JUCO transfers are ahead
Iowa State fans got their first look at the mid-year JUCO transfer in the scrimmage, and that list included Tucker, Scoggins, Wiltz and Jarnor Jones.
Coaches have raved about the progression of each of the players at various points this spring, and Tucker and Jones showed glimpses of their explosive play Saturday. Overall, Rhoads said all seem to be ahead as spring ball reached its conclusion.
“I would argue that Patrick, Demond, Jay and Jomal are all ahead of the curve based on six years of other mid-year college transfer that we’ve had,” Rhoads said. “Boy, that’s very pleasing.”