AMES, Iowa -- Austen Arnaud can’t argue with the numbers. Injuries forced him out of two games, but as a junior, he completed a lower percentage of his passes than in his sophomore season. He threw fewer touchdowns, more interceptions and almost 800 fewer yards. In Paul Rhoads’ first season, he wasn’t ignorant of the shortcomings of his quarterback.
“He’s a man when he runs the ball, but the right steps, the right placement, the height of the ball—all that kind of stuff -- he did very inconsistently last year,” Rhoads said.
The most important measure for a quarterback is wins, and though Arnaud didn't meet his expectations as a passer, seven wins is far from failure. Few pegged the Cyclones as a bowl-eligible team before the season began.
To reach a bowl, he did what he was more comfortable doing: running the ball. As a senior, his third season as starter, he’s looking for more development as a passer, hoping to find as much comfort throwing as running.
“He’s got a calmness about him out on the field that didn’t always exist last fall,” Rhoads said. The Iowa game (a 35-3 Cyclones loss) -- he was in a panic. We had five turnovers that were the result of his play. And he’ll be the first one to tell you, ‘Wow, horrible game.’ But I talked to him about playing within himself, and I see him doing that this spring.”
Fellow dual-threat quarterback Jerome Tiller, a sophomore, has helped push along Arnaud in his final set of spring practices. Tiller started last season’s upset win over Nebraska, but despite Tiller’s improvements, Arnaud has gripped the starting job with his own development.
“Without a doubt, [Arnaud’s] got a great sense of urgency,” Rhoads said, adding that Arnaud’s maturity allowed a positive response to Tiller’s challenge. “We don’t do this, but I’ve been in places that we did. If we were to vote as a coaching staff who’s the most improved player, offensively and defensively, it might be Austen Arnaud. And that’s just because of his commitment to the position and learning it first.”