Richardson under pressure as Lanning shines under center

Redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Lanning will play during the 2014-15 football season. The football media day took place Aug. 10 at Jack Trice Stadium and Bergstrom Football Complex.

Max Dible

There isn’t a quarterback controversy in Ames. Not yet, anyway.

Quarterback Sam Richardson’s first pass of the game against Texas Tech on Saturday was an interception, and at no point in what was arguably the worst performance of his career did Richardson’s play substantially improve. Still, the coaching staff remains faithful in his capabilities.

“I’m not ready to throw [Richardson] to the wayside,” said ISU offensive coordinator Mark Mangino. “I think he’s proven that he can play. He’ll get his mojo back. I’m confident he will this week. But we do know that we have Joel [Lanning] who we have a great deal of confidence in right now. 

“I’m not ready to create any scenario other than right now [Richardson] is the quarterback.” 

Richardson finished the game in Lubbock, Texas, 10-for-21 with one touchdown and three interceptions, while backup Joel Lanning continued to impress ISU coaches during his time on the field. Lanning ended the day 5-for-9 for 41 yards and rushed for 17 yards and a touchdown on six carries.

Lanning has appeared in every game this season, save for the loss to Iowa at home on Sept. 12. He’s been utilized as a change-of-pace, run-first quarterback thus far, but the improvement on the practice field as well as on Saturdays has Mangino and company watching his progress keenly.

“His accuracy has gotten so much better than when we first got here,” Mangino said, also lauding Lanning’s reads and pass delivery. “[Lanning] is really developing. I’m really excited and I’m not afraid at any time — none of us are — to put Joel on the field.”

Contemplating Lanning in a starting quarterback role may be a premature discussion. Through five starts in his final season as a Cyclone, Richardson is completing 62.6 percent of his passes and averaging 7.1 yards per pass attempt — numbers that will be career highs if they hold through to the end of the season.

Richardson has thrown six interceptions as opposed to eight touchdowns, but three of those picks came against the Red Raiders. He has also been sacked 15 times — three sacks per game — and consistent pressure from opposing defenses has played at least some role in Richardson’s adjusted quarterback rating of 47.3.

That rating is an all-encompassing, quarterback-performance statistic and would be the worst of Richardson’s career if it holds through the final seven games of 2015.

“The impression I get of [Richardson] is I think he’s a confident guy, but, every once in a while, he loses that sense of urgency,” Mangino said. “Every play needs total focus every time you do it. He’ll be alright. He knows where he wasn’t efficient.”

Mangino went on to say that he doesn’t feel like urgency is a problem for his team as a whole. The word, at least for the ISU offensive coordinator, implies panic when applied to the collective group. Mangino asserted that is an inaccurate characterization of his offense.

“There’s no panic here,” he said.

Richardson didn’t feel panic played a role in his struggles against Texas Tech, but he admitted he was pressing after opening the game with an interception — a turnover that quickly put his team at a 10-0 disadvantage. A number of Richardson’s passes sailed on him, which he identified as the primary problem.

“Sometimes when you’re put in a situation like that, you can’t try to push to make plays,” Richardson said. “I was definitely pressing a little bit, trying to make a few too many plays, and it was a negative outcome for us. 

“But I wasn’t freaking out by any means or anything like that.”

Richardson wasn’t freaking out about the success his backup had Saturday, either. Nor was he threatened by the praise heaped upon Lanning by the ISU coaches.

“He’s really played well. He’s a great friend of mine,” Richardson said. “He’s obviously playing at a high level when he gets in there. I work with him a lot. We watch film together all the time, and I’m definitely trying to give him the knowledge that I have.”

It is clear in all the rhetoric coming from the team that Lanning is Iowa State’s future. The pertinent question as Big 12 powerhouses Texas Christian and Baylor loom remains — is that future now?

ISU coach Paul Rhoads wouldn’t confirm any thoughts on that, instead leaving the possibility of Lanning receiving increased snaps against TCU open-ended.

“Could be,” Rhoads said. “Not saying it won’t happen. Not saying it will.”