Steele Jantz was one of the few Iowa State players who didn’t have a role in the team’s 41-7 dismantling of Texas Tech last season.
Instead, he sat on the sidelines and watched as his replacement, redshirt freshman quarterback Jared Barnett, gashed the Tech defense for 236 total yards and two touchdowns in his first career start.
It wasn’t the last solid performance for Barnett, who threw for 376 yards and rushed for 84 in a shocking upset of Oklahoma State a few weeks later.
With Barnett cruising, it seemed like Jantz — who had the starting job earlier in the season, then lost it after compounding his struggles during a four-game losing streak with a foot injury — was watching his chances to be the Cyclones starting quarterback slip away.
“It was hard,” said Jantz, whose regular season ended after throwing just four passes in a loss to Texas A&M last Oct. 22. “I’ve had injuries before — it’s been a long journey for me — but the hardest part was losing those four games and feeling like you had a chance to do something different.”
Now Jantz is eager for a second chance to do just that.
Though Barnett sizzled in several Big 12 appearances last season, he struggled mightily in Iowa State’s loss to Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Jantz came on in relief in that contest, creating enough doubt about the position for Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads to open up the quarterback competition during spring ball and fall practice.
Jantz won the job by showing he had improved as a runner and by making better decisions with the ball, traits he demonstrated throughout Iowa State’s non-conference schedule, which it finished 3-0 with wins against Tulsa and Iowa.
“It looks like (Jantz) gives them more balance running and making decisions,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “They run a lot of the option stuff where he reads tackles, reads ends. He’s not just a guy that hands it off. He makes a lot of decisions after the ball is snapped.”
In Iowa State’s offensive system under new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham, who coached tight ends and receivers during his previous three seasons at the school, much is expected of the quarterback.
In addition to going through pass progressions, the signal-caller has to decide where to go on the zone-read option play — the Cyclones use it on about one-third of their run plays — whether that’s handing off, making the pitch outside or running it himself.
“It boils down to decision-making,” Jantz said. “The coach has to trust the quarterback in this offense.”
Jantz has been efficient as a passer, averaging 243 yards per game with six touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s part of a balanced rushing attack that also features James White (51.3 yards per game) and Shontrelle Johnson (55).
The goal for Iowa State’s offense is to control the ground game and, subsequently, the clock, relying on a defense — led by veteran linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein — that hasn’t allowed a touchdown since the season opener.
“They are a very physical team,” Tuberville said. “They play hard. We are not going to come in and catch them flat-footed at all.”
Much like Texas Tech (3-0), Jantz and Iowa State are eager to prove success during non-conference play wasn’t a fluke. Fair or not, the winner of this game will likely enter the conversation as a Big 12 contender, with the loser ending the night with a mountain of doubt in its way.
Rhoads believes Jantz is ready to face such an atmosphere in his second season with the Cyclones.
“There’s no question he’s a better quarterback than he was a year ago,” Rhoads said. “He’s anxious to have this opportunity. I’m sure redemption is on his mind. He knows he did not play well against Big 12 competition last year. Like anything else, he anxious to go out there and prove a lot of people — who don’t know if he’s capable of that — wrong.”
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