A year after Kyle Kempt stunned the college football world by leading the Cyclones to an upset of then-No. 3 OU, Zeb Noland did his best to accomplish the same feat a week ago.
While Iowa State ultimately fell short, dropping a 37-27 decision, Noland starred in his second career start, completing 25 of 36 passes for 360 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Now, the Cyclones’ success may hinge on how Noland replicates Kempt’s progress on the learning curve.
With Kempt out for at least another week because of a knee injury suffered late in the loss to Iowa, Noland has another chance to stake his claim to the position. His effort against the Sooners showed his strengths as a passer and what he still needs to do to succeed in the Big 12.
The sophomore quarterback, listed at 6-foot-2, is shorter than Kempt and doesn’t have the pocket presence or the ability to see over the defense that Kempt does. But what he does have is a rocket arm.
Both of his touchdown passes were bombs — a 51-yard strike to Hakeem Butler in the second quarter, and a 57-yard pass in the third. Indeed, three of Noland’s four touchdown passes have covered more than 50 yards.
Arm strength hasn’t been the issue; it’s accuracy, and the ability to move the team down the field when the deep ball is taken away. The Oklahoma game should quiet some of the skeptics; his 25 completions came all over the field, and eight different players caught at least one pass.
His one interception came late in the game in the hurry-up offense, where he had to force the ball into traffic in an effort to make something happen.
“I thought he made great decisions,” said coach Matt Campbell.
“Even at the end, that’s not his fault. He was pressured and just trying to make a play at the end of it, but (I’m) really proud of him. Every opportunity he’s gotten, he’s taken advantage of it.”
Akron isn’t in the same category as Oklahoma, but the Zips won’t be an easy foe for the 0-2 Cyclones.
Terry Bowden’s crew is coming off a road upset of Northwestern and has most of the key players back from the team that fell 41-14 to Iowa State a year ago. Motivation won’t be a problem for the Zips. Nor should it be for an Iowa State team that’s still searching for the first of the six wins it needs to become bowl-eligible.
Kempt is a sixth-year senior, so this will be Noland’s team in 2019 at the latest. His performance over the next week or two could decide whether he assumes that leadership role sooner rather than later.
–WR Hakeem Butler was the biggest beneficiary of quarterback Zeb Noland’s success against Oklahoma, catching five passes for 174 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His ability to catch balls in traffic, and evade tacklers after the catch, is among the best in the country.
–S Greg Eisworth is coming off a career-high 14-tackle game against Oklahoma. He also forced his first career fumble. He and the secondary had an up-and-down game against Oklahoma and will be looking for more consistency this week.
–RB David Montgomery had a mere 28 yards and a touchdown on his 21 carries against Oklahoma. He also got the ball out of the Wildcat formation, which had mixed success but will likely be a part of the offense again this week against Akron.
–LB Bobby McMillen tore his ACL against Oklahoma and is out for the season. It’s the second knee injury in three seasons for the special teams contributor.