Finally healthy, Noland fighting for backup quarterback spot

Iowa State backup quarterback Zeb Noland warms up prior to the spring game on Saturday.

Aaron Marner

Eight football seasons have come and gone since Iowa State last had one quarterback start and finish the season. At least two quarterbacks have thrown 50-plus passes every year since 2009, so if history is any indication, Jacob Park won’t be the only quarterback taking snaps in 2017.

Of course, Joel Lanning could see some time at quarterback. He practiced there last week and has more experience as a college quarterback than anyone else on the roster, but as a full-time MIKE linebacker, Lanning can’t be fully committed to playing offense.

That leaves a question mark at the backup quarterback spot. Zeb Noland may be the answer.

Noland missed his entire true freshman season last year after he tore his ACL during the early stages of fall camp. He missed offseason workouts after last season and was only partially healthy for spring practices.

“So far it’s been good,” passing game coordinator Jim Hofher said about Noland’s recovery. “Because he obviously missed all of training camp other than the first few days last year, all of the season, very limited in the spring. He’s doing a fine job.”

Noland, who hails from Watkinsville, Georgia, is more of a pocket passer than other recent Iowa State quarterbacks like Lanning. Because of that, Noland said, his knee injury might not have been as bad as it would be for a running quarterback.

“[Running] wasn’t the biggest part of my game but I knew that I could do it and get away from somebody,” Noland said. “In the spring I was still in a lot of unnecessary pain but now I’m completely good and ready to go.”

Noland’s game being different than that of Park and Lanning is both a good thing and a bad thing. For one, he can provide a different skill set than the other quarterbacks and be tougher for teams to defend. On the other hand, Noland also forces the offense to change slightly because of his different skill set.

“He’s an agile enough athlete but he’s not going to be mistaken by anybody as a run around, scat back kind of guy, but he has to be able to be prepared to escape,” Hofher said. “The quarterback does have to escape at times whether it’s up inside or it’s an escape outside to keep a play alive. He had a play yesterday in practice that was a really good thing to see for him.”

For Noland, the key is getting confidence in his abilities after missing workouts all season last year. He’s familiar with the offense — “Every day at practice I signaled so I knew every play, every signal, why they called this play, why they called that play,” Noland said — but he doesn’t have the on-field experience that others gained last season. That’s something head coach Matt Campbell said has hurt Noland this fall.

“It really wasn’t a healthy offseason, it was rehab until about the end of June,” Campbell said. “Zeb really has been fun to watch these first few days because it’s the healthiest Zeb has been. It’s been great to watch him move in and out of the pocket with some confidence right now.

“Zeb really had a great start to things a year ago, it was great for him to get those first 15 spring practices.”

Noland, of course, isn’t the only candidate for the backup quarterback spot.

Kyle Kempt threw two passes last year and completed them both. As a redshirt senior, Kempt has more experience and the advantage with seniority. However, those two passes he completed last season were the only two pass attempts of his four-year college career, which has spanned three schools at two different divisions.

That means Noland’s lack of experience isn’t quite as detrimental.

“Whoever will be the next in when necessary, needs to have an understanding of what we’re doing on a game plan, the plays, execute them with confidence, handle and manage the offense,” Hofher said. “[Noland], Kyle Kempt, [injured true freshman quarterback Devon Moore], they’re all trying to learn how to do that to the very best of their ability.”

For Noland, the focus for now is on simply getting back to his former self. He was the No. 60 pro-style quarterback according to 247Sports when he committed to Iowa State. The talent and potential is there, according to the coaches. The issue is confidence and experience, and Noland is focusing on himself this fall rather than the backup quarterback battle.

“Just control what you can control,” Noland said. “I can’t control that I got hurt but I can control how I come and prepare every day for practice.”