Commentary: Man of Steele demoralizes Hawkeye defense


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AMES — For most of last week, Steele Jantz’s name served as a punch line for Iowa fans’ jokes.
By the end of the week, Jantz’s electrifying performance against Iowa served as the reason those same fans — and the Hawkeye defense — couldn’t sleep.

The uniquely named Iowa State quarterback punished the Hawkeyes again and again, going 25-of-37 for 279 yards and four touchdowns while also netting 42 yards on the ground. No other player was more responsible for Iowa State’s 44-41 triple-overtime victory, which spoiled Iowa’s bid for a fourth-straight win in the series.

But just how could a junior-college transfer play so well in his second career Bowl Subdivision start?
Maybe it was as simple as Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said it was.

“Some guys rise up when the spotlight is the brightest,” he said. “He certainly has in two football games.”

The difference between those two games was consistency.

Jantz was mostly abysmal through three quarters in the opener against Northern Iowa, going 12-of-25 with three interceptions. The Agoura Hills, Calif., native finally flourished in the game’s final 10 minutes, throwing and running for scores while leading the ’Clones to a 20-19 win.

That was nothing compared with Jantz’s Cy-Hawk début.

Scrap his mishandled snap fumble on the game-opening drive, and Jantz directed a 60-plus-minute picture of magnificent football.

You name it, Jantz did it. And the Hawkeyes couldn’t stop it.

Designed quarterback-keepers. Broken-play scrambles. Sprinting circles around helpless defensive linemen to extend plays. He “always seemed to find somebody open,” Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey said.

No single play embodied all of Iowa’s Jantz-induced headaches more than the one that unfolded with less than 1:30 to go in regulation, as Iowa State faced a third-and-goal on the Iowa 4.

Jantz took the snap from shotgun and scurried toward the line of scrimmage. What appeared to be a designed jump-pass was quickly snuffed out when Iowa’s coverage stymied the tight end. The Iowa State pocket buckled and gave way to defensive linemen Lebron Daniel and Mike Daniels, converging on either side of Jantz. Daniels appeared poised for a sack until Jantz spun free and squirmed away, beginning a sprint toward the far sideline. Daniel’s pursuit was spirited, but Jantz needed little more than a second to escape.

The 6-3, 224-pound junior looked intent on reaching the end zone all by himself. But just before reaching the line of scrimmage, he first faked a pass to the back of the end zone, then actually fired one immediately after. The ball sailed over the outstretched arms of a leaping Shaun Prater and into the hands of receiver Darius Darks.

The score and ensuing extra point not only tied the game at 24 but seemed to seal the Hawkeyes’ fate even before the first of three overtimes began. Jack Trice Stadium’s second-largest ever crowd of 56,085 was on its feet and could sense victory. Iowa’s defense was battered and on the verge of demoralization.

Defeat was still three overtimes away, but that happened, too — see Jantz’s 4-yard touchdown strike in the first OT or 13-yard scramble on third and 9 in the second.

Daniels’ postgame reaction told the story of dejection. The Blackwood, N.J., native put the brunt of the defense’s repeated collapses squarely on his shoulders, probably to an unfair extent.

“I feel I let my teammates down … I didn’t make the play when it was important or any other time,” Daniels said. “They trusted me to be the captain, and I didn’t step up as a captain today.”

One look at a Twitter timeline or Facebook immediately after Iowa’s loss — or even before — predictably revealed a blame game well underway. People blamed Keenan Davis for a dropped ball in the third overtime. They blamed Greg Castillo’s inability to cover Cyclone receivers. They blamed Marvin McNutt’s virtual absence for three quarters. They blamed the inability of Daniels and his teammates to finish plays on the defensive line.

Sure, all those factors were blameworthy. But the biggest culprit wasn’t in a Hawkeye uniform.
Blame Jantz.

Follow DI Pregame Editor Jordan Garretson on Twitter.

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