ISU defense prepares for two-quarterback Cowboy offense


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

OSU senior quarterback Clint Chelf scrambles for a first down during Oklahoma State’s 58-27 win over Iowa State on Saturday, Oct. 26, at Jack Trice Stadium. Chelf had 92 yards on the ground on nine carries.

Luke Manderfeld

The ISU defense has faced several offensive variations this season, most of which are the highly ranked Big 12 offenses. The Cyclones have faced a pass-heavy attack in Baylor, a run-heavy team in Texas and an “air it out” offense in Texas Tech.

But what Iowa State (3-6, 2-4 Big 12) hasn’t faced yet this season is two different offenses and schemes from one team. 

When Oklahoma State (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) travels to Ames this weekend for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff, it will bring with it a couple of quarterbacks — Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh — who both have different skill sets and play different packages. 

That poses a tough challenge for the Cyclones, as they have had to prepare for two completely different offenses and schemes.

“They’re different,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads. “This isn’t that a [quarterback is] hurt, and you’re preparing for another quarterback. This is different. Their package is different when [their quarterbacks] are on the field.”

Rhoads compared Oklahoma State’s system to Iowa State’s earlier this season. Now-starting quarterback Joel Lanning jumped into a wildcat formation, while quarterback Sam Richardson ran most of the offense. 

Rudolph, the Cowboys’ starting quarterback and the one who sees the most field time, has been the primary passer in the offense, and he’s had success in that role so far this season.

His 2,834 passing yards ranks 14th in the nation, and he does it while completing 64-plus percent of his passes, going 195-for-304. He isn’t one to turn the ball over much either, throwing only eight interceptions against his 17 touchdown passes.

Walsh has similar success but on the ground. Primarily playing in a wildcat formation, Walsh has gained 198 yards on 38 carries, an average of 5.4 yards per carry. He leads the Cowboys in rushing touchdowns as well, tallying eight in nine games.

But that isn’t to say Walsh can’t pass in Oklahoma State’s regular offense. Walsh is 20-for-26 passing this season for 319 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s been known to run some trick plays as well.

“[Walsh is] capable of going in there and running their base offense also,” said ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. “Is he in there to run the wildcat plays or is he out there to run regular plays? So we’ve had to prepare two ways this week.”

What the Cyclones have prepared for in practice this week is how to tell which quarterback is on the field. In a game of this magnitude with the crowd roaring, it can be easy to lose sight of who’s in at the quarterback position.

Burnham said the defense has a call to signify when Walsh is on the field. But even then, the defense needs to make sure it can focus on its preparation. 

“It’s got to be a mental switch when you’re on the field,” Rhoads said. “But you’ve got to spend hours preparing them on scout team for that personnel package.”

Iowa State implemented the two-quarterback system into its scout team this week in practice to try and simulate game situations.

Running back Nick Leach acted as Walsh on the scout team. Leach, a sophomore, gave the Cyclones a better look than other quarterbacks on the scout team at what Walsh will do Saturday

The ISU defense has prepared to stop the run when Walsh is in the game because of the extensive practice. Theother trouble with him, though, is that he can spearhead a trick play or a downfield pass that can throw off the defense and lead to big yardage. 

“One quarterback is going to run, it’s pretty obvious,” said linebacker Jordan Harris. “But we know they’ll try to get a trick play or something, so we’ll keep our eyes out for that.”

But what really makes the system effective for Oklahoma State is the athletes behind it. That success will be something the Cyclones will attempt to stop at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday. 

“They’re a good football team, so when you’ve got a certain number of individuals, you can have success with it, and it’s a good system,” Rhoads said.