AMES, Iowa — Iowa State has four guys who can play quarterback.
But Joel Lanning is better as a linebacker, Jacob Park is on a leave of absence and Kyle Kempt is battling through an undisclosed injury, leaving freshman Zeb Noland as the possible starter for Saturday’s game at Baylor (1-9, 1-6 Big 12). Kempt’s health is crucial for Iowa State (6-4, 4-3) given that he and Noland are the only available quarterbacks left with two games to go.
Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said Monday that Kempt is “day-to-day” and he will probably know by Wednesday if Kempt will play this weekend.
“It’s nothing where it needs surgery or anything where it’s going to be an extended period of time,” Campbell said. “He was able to practice (Sunday), which was a positive.”
Campbell has yet to say what is wrong with Kempt other than he got beat up in a 20-16 loss at West Virginia on Nov. 4. Kempt started last week’s 49-42 loss to Oklahoma State and threw for 101 yards and a touchdown before being pulled for Noland.
In the first extended action of his career, Noland gave the Cyclones a reason to be optimistic.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Noland was not a big-time recruit coming out of Watkinsville, Georgia, completing less than half of his passes as a senior. He redshirted a year ago and was then beaten out by Kempt, a walk-on, for the backup job in fall camp.
Kempt later emerged after Park stepped away from the team for undisclosed reasons following a loss to Texas in late September, completing 66.9 percent of his passes with 11 TDs and just three picks in six games.
But the coaching staff concluded last weekend that Kempt couldn’t keep playing, forcing Noland into action against the 12th-ranked Cowboys.
Noland was 17 of 28 passing for 263 yards and he drove the Cyclones to Oklahoma State’s 3-yard line before throwing a game-ending interception that many Iowa State fans — and Marchie Murdock, the receiver on that play — thought should have been ruled a touchdown.
“To come into a critical situation and a competitive environment like it was, I was really proud of him,” Campbell said of Noland. “We graded him out with a winning percentage from the game, which is really hard to do…his ability to adapt throughout the game was outstanding.”
Campbell pointed out that Iowa State has thrived despite its quarterback drama in part because of how talented its receivers are.
Iowa State has four different receivers with at least 400 yards, and the Cyclones and Washington State — a dedicated passing team — are the only programs with five players who have caught at least 30 passes in 2017.
“Those guys have made it easy for whoever has come in to be so productive,” Campbell said. “We’re fortunate in that regard.”