New Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell held his first spring game on Saturday. The Cyclones have some holes to fill on the roster but do feature some proven playmakers who could help Iowa State push for a bowl game during Campbell's debut season. Here's a look at what we learned during Iowa State's spring game.
1. The offseason will be critical: Although progress was made during the spring, the Cyclones head into the offseason with plenty of question marks. The offense combined for 329 total yards on 92 plays, with neither the Gold (2.5) nor the Cardinal (4.4) offense managing more than 5 yards per play.
“We’re not where we’d like to be, we’re not where we need to be,” Campbell said.
The first-year coach told reporters he was happy with his team’s progress during the spring but remains convinced the next three months will be critical, as he wants his players to take ownership over their individual development while the coaching staff takes a backseat during the offseason.
2. Joel Lanning is improving: The Cyclones quarterback showed he can be a run-pass threat while starting the final five games of 2015, finishing with 1,247 passing yards and 330 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. Lanning was one of the bright spots of the spring game, going 11-for-19 for 161 yards, including a beautifully accurate 47-yard strike to Dondre Daley for a touchdown. No other Iowa State quarterback passed for more than 36 yards in the scrimmage.
“Joel has great ability and I think you saw some of that,” Campbell said. “I thought he really managed today really well. I leave here today feeling confident about our quarterback position and confident about Joel Lanning.”
3. There’s not much to learn about Mike Warren: Iowa State’s sophomore running back could end up shouldering a significant burden for the Cyclones' offense in the fall after averaging 18.9 carries per game as a redshirt freshman. Warren, who finished with 1,339 yards and 5.9 yards per carry in 2015, didn’t see any action in the spring game because there was little to learn about the dynamic running back. He’s a proven playmaker and keeping him healthy is one of the keys to Campbell’s first season.
“I know what Mike Warren can do,” Campbell said. “I wanted to see what some of those other guys can do.”
Mitchell Harger had 15 carries for 48 yards to lead Iowa State in both categories during the spring game, meaning overall depth at the position could be a concern in the fall.
4. The Cyclones could have a disruptive defensive front: Defensive tackle Demond Tucker, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, didn’t disappoint with a pair of tackles for loss and a sack during the scrimmage. In total the Gold defense, which was largely composed of defensive starters, finished with nine tackles for loss and three sacks. Gabe Luna and Jordan Harris led the way with six tackles and two tackles for loss apiece.
5. Iowa State may have found an answer at center, but solidifying the offensive front remains a priority: Although Campbell didn’t cement Julian Good-Jones as a starter, the redshirt freshman had a strong spring at center. As Iowa State looks to rebuild a line that lost four starters (and saw starting tackle Jake Campos sit out spring drills due to injury), Good-Jones looks like he will be a big part of those plans.
“Julian has solidified the interior of our offensive line,” Campbell said. “The competition doesn’t stop now, nobody has really earned anything. We ask a lot of our center. He can play anywhere along the offensive line but we thought, ‘Hey, let’s let him anchor that interior and see what he can do for us.’”
The rest of the offensive front is still a question mark, evidenced by the 45 carries for 52 yards combined from both offenses. The battle to find the best five players for those starting spots could last deep into preseason camp.
“They’re still a work in progress,” Campbell said. “They’re going to have to have a great offseason. We’ve got pieces but playing offensive line takes a mentally tough, physically tough guy to do it. I see the beginning phases of that but we’ll see what happens over the next three months.”