Gridiron: Todd Sturdy, Joel Lanning attempt to bring tweaked offense into Texas


Coaches Todd Sturdy and Mark Mangino talk with redshirt junior quarterback Sam Richardson at the first fall practice Aug. 4.

Ryan Young

ISU coach Paul Rhoads made a decision Monday morning that nobody saw coming — Mark Mangino would no longer be the offensive coordinator.

While making the announcement to the media, Rhoads said that he and Mangino had several items they couldn’t agree on. He still has not hinted to whether Mangino walked away from the program or whether Rhoads let him go.

Regardless, the season must continue. And with the veteran coordinator, who has been coaching in the Big 12 for the past several decades, no longer in command of the offense, someone had to fill his place.

Enter Todd Sturdy.

“It’s gone good [so far],” Sturdy said. “I’m pleased with where we’re at right now. Obviously it’s a lot of work. [I’ve] got to roll the sleeves up. I look forward to the opportunity.”

In the past four seasons, Sturdy has worked as a wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator for the Cyclones. But his recent move to offensive coordinator isn’t a new one for the Tipton, Iowa, native.

Sturdy served as offensive coordinator at Washington State prior to his arrival at Iowa State in 2012. In 2011, Sturdy’s group ranked ninth nationally among Football Bowl Subdivision schools in passing offense.

Before his move to Washington State, Sturdy led Eastern Washington to the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals in 2007 as its offensive coordinator, guiding an offense that set school records for touchdown passes, with 36, and pass completions, with 287.

Even with the impromptu promotion, Sturdy said he feels comfortable with his new responsibilities.

“I’ve called plays in so many games, and I feel very comfortable doing it,” Sturdy said. “So, I’m not saying I have all the right answers or do all the right things all the time like everybody else, but I’ve done it a lot, and I feel comfortable doing it.”

And while the coaching transition may seem daunting to some, running back Mike Warren said that the transition has been relatively easy so far.

“There’s a lot more energy, definitely, and everything has picked up a lot,” Warren said. “It’s just really fast paced when [Sturdy’s] out there.”

But there is an added challenge to Sturdy’s new job.

Redshirt sophomore Joel Lanning has taken over as the starting quarterback, replacing fifth-year senior Sam Richardson.

Richardson has run into some trouble lately, which started against Texas Tech in early October. In the Cyclones’ 66-31 loss, Richardson went just 10-for-21 for 139 yards and threw three interceptions.

His troubles continued into last week’s game against Baylor. Richardson completed just 3-of-11 passes for 12 yards and threw two interceptions before being replaced by Lanning midway through the game.

The move brought new life to the offense, as Lanning threw for 144 yards and three touchdowns against the No. 2 Bears — something the Cyclones hope to see more of this week.

“[Lanning’s] performance all year has been solid,” Rhoads said Monday. “His performance in the second half [against Baylor] especially was earning him the role and the opportunity to start this game.”

On top of Lanning’s ability to throw the ball — he has thrown for 264 yards and four touchdowns in just 29 attempts this season — the Ankeny, Iowa, native brings something else to the table: a legitimate rushing threat under center. 

Lanning started out this season playing in a package that allowed him to run. In his 24 attempts this season, Lanning has rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown, averaging about three yards per carry.

While he isn’t even close to being the team’s leading rusher, the new look has given the ISU offense a change of pace. Sturdy said he’s noticed the change, adding that the success on the ground has rubbed off on other parts of Lanning’s game.

“I think if you just watch him run the football as a quarterback, I think that says it all,” Sturdy said. “He’s very competitive. That carries over to everything, every part of his game. But if you just watch some of his runs, I’d say, well, ‘Boy, there’s a competitive guy.’”

Lanning’s run game has helped out the offense as a whole too. Sturdy said that the packages so far with both Lanning and Richardson have really opened up the offense and have caused the defenses the team faces more problems.

“I think the package we’ve been using has been really effective,” Sturdy said. “I think it has put a lot of pressure on the defense. Obviously, if the quarterback can run the ball, you’ve got some numbers in the run game. That way [the defense has] a hard time accounting for as far as fitting the run.”

Warren has exploded in the backfield lately as well. He ran for 769 yards in the past five games, averaging 153.8 yards per contest. He was just added to the list of Doak Walker candidates, an award given annually to the nation’s top running back, and is the top freshman rusher in the FBS with 797 yards heading into Saturday’s game against Texas.

With Sturdy in charge, Warren doesn’t see much change coming to the run game, saying the Cyclones just want to keep improving the ground attack as much as possible. But if Sturdy decides he wants to tweak something, Warren said he’ll listen.

“We all like coach Sturdy,” Warren said. “He’s a good person. We try to give our best for him, just go out there and do what he says.”

While neither Rhoads nor Sturdy would hint as to what changes were being made to the offense, they did say that some change is coming.

And even with Lanning preparing for his first start, Sturdy said he felt confident with this offense. It’s not perfect by any means, but Sturdy said they’re working on it and expect to be fully prepared by the time they take the field on Saturday night.

“We’ve got a good offense, and we have to continue to get better doing the things we’re doing,” Sturdy said. “We’re doing a great job running the football. There’s obviously some areas that we would like to get better at, but you can’t put the wishbone in or whatever it’s going to be. That’s just not the case.”