NDSU quarterback Wentz makes it clear he’s the guy
AMES, Iowa — Maybe it was the run early in the third quarter when Carson Wentz took off running and leaped over a couple of Iowa State defenders for a 20-yard gain. The image of a 6-foot-6 quarterback jumping that high and that far was something else.
That was just one play.
Oh, there were many more. Add it up and you just witnessed one of the most impressive debuts by a Bison quarterback ever. It’s one of those debatable subjects, I suppose, but a 34-14 win against a Big 12 Conference team established whatever everybody within the program knew: That this guy is the guy.
So much for thinking the loss of 23 seniors would send this team backward, at least for now. So much for thinking losing the greatest quarterback in North Dakota State University history, Brock Jensen, would send this offense backward.
The train is still on the track and it is still motoring at high speed. All the hype heading into the game was what new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino would bring to the Cylones’ offense.
Problem for Mangino was the best quarterback on the field was wearing a white jersey.
“I thought he handled the pressure very well,” said NDSU quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg. “The first quarter we probably had little bit of some play clock issues, but he got better and better with that. Throwing the ball, he was on par the whole game.”
On par? Wentz was a birdie machine, finishing 18 of 28 passing for 204 yards and, perhaps more importantly, no interceptions. He picked up some key third-down conversions, especially in the first half when the Bison were in danger of getting too far behind.
There were those who follow this program who said look out for Wentz’s arm, which is stronger than Jensen’s. What we didn’t know is how he would react under pressure like Jensen did.
Jack Trice Stadium in Ames had a near-capacity crowd of 54,800 with all the bells and whistles like a video board Missouri Valley Football Conference teams could only imagine. They made some noise in the first quarter when the Cyclones took a 14-0 lead.
It would have been very tempting for a first-timer under center to panic. It didn’t happen.
“He was very composed,” Hedberg said. “That’s just his demeanor. He’s very competitive and very confident in his abilities, and I think that carries over to his being poised on the field.”
His teammates sensed the poise — they voted him a team captain despite him being a junior.
When asked what he saw of his quarterback in the huddle, senior receiver Zach Vraa pointed to leadership.
“That’s definitely what we need from a quarterback,” Vraa said. “We needed something to calm us down. When it’s zero-14, it’s something you really need.”
John Crockett’s 80-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 was a nice calming influence, too. Every player and coach no matter what side of the ball pointed to that. Wentz said it helped take the pressure off of him.
“Things came easy for me after that,” he said.
By the second half, this turned into an FBS beatdown reminiscent of the 44-14 win at Central Michigan in 2006. Of course, the difference is CMU plays in the Mid-American Conference and ISU plays in the Big 12 — you know, one of the power five leagues that are seeking to more or less run their own show.
CMU, by the way, was one of the very few FBS schools to make a play for Wentz coming out of high school at Bismarck Century. NDSU won that battle, despite having Jensen for three more years.
On Saturday afternoon, that recruiting victory paid off.
“I think Carson will continue to improve and get better,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman. “He probably wishes he had a couple of throws he could take back. Maybe there were a few checks at the line of scrimmage that could have been different. But he’s our guy, and we’re going to ride him.”