MANHATTAN, Kan. >> The nation’s most efficient passer during the first true weekend of the college football season was not Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, top NFL prospects Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, or even one of the highly touted quarterbacks in the SEC.
In fact, it was a quarterback who is known more for using his legs.
Jesse Ertz put together the kind of performance for No. 19 Kansas State in a Week 1 blitz of Central Arkansas that turned some heads. He was 10 of 16 for 333 yards and four touchdowns, three of them from 50 yards or more, for a school-record 319.8 passer rating — all in just three quarters of work.
“Jesse played really well,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “There were maybe two visible throws, maybe three that were truly off the mark. Outside of that I thought he threw it awfully well.”
It helps that Ertz is truly healthy for the first time in years.
He earned the starting job a couple of years ago only to tear ligaments in his knee on the first play of the season, sidelining him for the rest of the year. He returned last year to regain the top job, only to deal with a nagging shoulder injury that ultimately required offseason surgery.
Ertz still managed to threw for 1,755 yards and run for 1,012 yards, allowing him to join Jackson, South Florida’s Quinton Flowers and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald as the only quarterbacks in the nation with at least 1,500 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.
More important than the numbers, though, has been his leadership.
Ertz may have been a shaky youngster when he earned the job a couple years ago, but he is now the supremely confident veteran. He understands Snyder’s complex offense nearly as well as the coaching staff and conveys a sense of calm in the huddle. And when you combine the toughness he has shown the past few years, you get someone that the rest of the team is willing to follow just about anywhere.
“He gets on guys. He gets on me,” wide receiver Byron Pringle said. “But the most impressive thing I see Jesse do is run the offense. He runs it really well.”
Ran it to near perfection against the Bears last Saturday.
Central Arkansas kept stacking the line of scrimmage in an attempt to slow down the Wildcats’ well-regarded run game, and the FCS school was mostly successful in that regard. But that left huge holes in the secondary, plenty of man-to-man looks and gave Ertz a chance to show off his arm.
He got things going with a short TD pass to Isaiah Zuber, then hit Pringle with a 55-yard scoring strike. Just before halftime, he lofted a perfect pass down the middle of the field to Dalton Schoen, who took it 70 yards for another score. And late in the third quarter, Ertz hit speedster Isaiah Harris for a 69-yard touchdown that essentially put a tidy bowtie on his evening.
“We want him to throw the ball, whether it is the underneath ball or the deep ball. It kind of depends on what they give you,” Snyder said. “We did not throw anything that we would not throw in any other ball game. It was not any pre-conceived idea that all we wanted to do was throw it deep. We threw some other things in there as well, but we just tried to take what they gave us.”
Expect plenty of other teams to take a similar tack, including Charlotte, which visits this weekend, and Vanderbilt, which welcomes Kanas State for an SEC-Big 12 showdown the following week.
The Wildcats’ ability to pound the ball behind Alex Barnes and Dalvin Warmack — and yes, Ertz — was perhaps the biggest reason they won nine games and the Texas Bowl last year.
But if Ertz can throw the ball like he did in Week 1, perhaps Kansas State can improve on the total.
Improve on that bowl destination, too.
“We expect to win every game, and I mean that literally. We have big plans,” Ertz said before his big opening night. “And we’ve been working hard and we think we’ve got the pieces to do it. Not setting any limitations on what we can do.”