By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams
NEW YORK CITY – The flight back to Iowa will seem a lot longer after that doozie.
Iowa State’s offense struggled to find any rhythm at all as the Cyclones stumbled to a 27-13 New Era Pinstripe Bowl loss to Rutgers on Friday evening in Yankee Stadium.
The loss was disappointing for a team that was playing its best football at the end of the regular season, but Iowa State’s situation at quarterback heading into 2012 will be the water cooler conversation coming out of this game.
After freshman quarterback Jared Barnett started the contest by going 2-for-7 with a fumble, head coach Paul Rhoads elected to give junior Steele Jantz an opportunity to provide a spark. In his first two plays, Jantz ran for two first downs. All was well. But the Houdini act that won Iowa State games early in the season never showed it’s face in the Bronx on this balmy December evening. Jantz went 15-for-31 on the night as Iowa State’s offense struggled to only capture 311 yards against and aggressive Rutgers defense.
What’s that smell? Ah yes. It’s a quarterback controversy. We’ve got all winter, spring and summer to hash that out though.
Here are more thoughts on the 2011 New Era Pinstripe Bowl…
PLAYER OF THE GAME
A.J. Klein – He’s the Big 12’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year and the junior linebacker recorded 16 tackles in the game. In a game where Iowa State’s offense didn’t do much of anything, this one is a no-brainer in my opinion.
Defense – As I’ll touch more on in "Three Down," Iowa State struggled in the trenches against a physical Rutgers football team. But even so, Iowa State’s defense did its job to win this football game. The offense gave Wally Burnham’s crew no help at all by turning the football over three times. A takeaway or two would have been nice, but the Scarlet Knights only gained 369 total yards in the game. Besides giving up an 86-yard bomb to Brandon Coleman that locked the game up for Rutgers, Iowa State’s defense played fairly well considering the circumstances.
Kick return – I’m not sure exactly what Courtney Messingham did with Iowa State’s kick return team in 2011 but the staff shouldn’t change a thing heading into next season. Jarvis West and Aaron Horne combined to average just over 25 yards per return on Friday and that’s after a touchdown was taken away due to a penalty (more on that later as well).
The future – I know that it’s easy to get frustrated after a loss like what went down in the Pinstripe Bowl, but don’t let one game skew the fact that this football program appears to be one that is clearly on the rise. Fan support is through the roof. Stability within the coaching staff will not be a problem for the foreseeable future. The talent level within the program has improved every year that Paul Rhoads has been head coach. While the future at quarterback is now a bit of a puzzle, Iowa State will be in a much better spot at that position this spring than it was heading into 2011. I think that the wide receiver and running back positions will improve over the offseason as well.
Who will Iowa State’s new offensive coordinator be? That’s an even bigger question than the one at quarterback in my opinion.
Spring football is just around the corner and I still think that 2013 could be a special one for Iowa State football. While the Iowa State team that played in Yankee Stadium on Friday looked like the one that we saw during its four game losing streak earlier in the season, that shouldn’t make fans lose sight of all of the progress that has been made.
Quarterback play – Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz combined to go 17-for-38, while the duo accounted for all three Iowa State’s turnovers as well. Iowa State’s offensive line play was suspect all evening long, but quarterback play was a glaring issue.
After the game, Rhoads said that his decision to go with Jantz over Barnett in the second quarter didn’t have anything to do with an injury. Rhoads cited Jantz’s superb preparation for being part of the reason that he made the switch.
My opinion? Well for one, Barnett didn’t exactly look like Joe Montana in the first quarter. Barnett missed a couple of easy throws early and looked out of whack from the time the ball was kicked. I’ve always thought that we would eventually see Jantz play some quarterback again at Iowa State. But the problem is, Jantz wasn’t sharp either. He’s not injured anymore so that’s no longer an excuse. Jantz looked rusty. He looked like a guy who hadn’t played ball in a few months (hello captain obvious).
At the end of the day, Rhoads and his coaching staff know who’s preparing well and who isn’t. You might not like the decision, but you have to take them at their word for that.
Barnett entered the bowl game on a roll. Jantz had been irrelevant for over a month. Both men had chances to make a statement in the postseason. Neither quarterback took the bull by the horns.
So heading into the spring, here’s the scenario. Paul Rhoads (and whoever Iowa State’s new offensive coordinator is) have a turnover prone senior who has a ton of upside in Steele Jantz. There’s the sophomore with some accuracy issues who happens to be a fantastic leader and a very smart quarterback (and a very sharp kid in general) in Jared Barnett. And then there’s the guy who is playing Barnett’s role from last spring, Sam Richardson (within this scenario, I am assuming that Jerome Tiller will be a non-factor).
It looks like I’ll have a lot to write about in the offseason. Stay tuned.
Third downs/turnovers – These two stats pretty much tell the story. Iowa State went 2-for-13 on third down conversions (ironically, so did Rutgers). The big one though? Iowa State’s three turnovers compared to zero by the Scarlet Knights. That’s what Rutgers’ defense does. That team ended 2011 9-4 for a reason. They’re the Kansas State of the Big East. Rutgers doesn’t bring much flash to the table, but they do the little things right. They win football games. Much like Bill Snyder, Greg Schiano constantly coaches in circles around his Big East colleagues. If you can’t tell, I’ve got a ton of respect for that guy. He’s a top 15 coach in America in my opinion.
The trenches – Rutgers’ offensive and defensive lines dominated Iowa State for 60 minutes. There isn’t much more to add to that statement.
Jeff Woody – Jeff Woody had only touched the football two times before his 20-yard touchdown run (one that my Cyclone Reaction co-host said was the best of Woody’s career) in the fourth quarter. I would have liked to have seen Iowa State call Woody’s name a little more earlier in that football game.
Jarvis West – Even though his kickoff return for a touchdown got taken away, Jarvis West still gets a helmet sticker. Every time that he touches the football, I feel like West might take it to the house. West is a guy who I can’t wait to watch over the next three seasons.
Aaron Horne – He could have gotten Player of the Game honors in my opinion. Horne led Iowa State in receiving by catching five passes for 46 yards, but his performance on special teams is what made the junior so valuable. Horne averaged just over 20 yards per kick return and he broke open a punt return for 20 yards as well. Unlike most Cyclones on the offensive side of the ball, Horne played a very solid football game.
Jake Knott – Knott tallied seven tackles and like always, was everywhere.
Leonard Johnson – For the most part, Iowa State did a nice job of containing Rutgers’ star wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. The All-Big East junior only caught six passes for 62 yards and in a game where Iowa State struggled at getting pressure on the quarterback, Leonard Johnson had a lot to do with that.
Kirby Van Der Kamp – The sophomore averaged 41.5 yards per punt and pinned two inside the 20. He did his part.
— I don’t feel like Iowa State wasn’t ready to play or anything like that. The Cyclones only committed four penalties for 25 yards in the game. It isn’t like we saw a dozen mental mistakes from the Cyclones. Iowa State got dominated up front all day long and failed to execute when they had chances to do some damage. More from captain obvious here, but Iowa State turned the football over three times to zero by Rutgers. Ball game.
— One more note on Leonard Johnson. Iowa State’s pass rush was non-existent on Friday. Even so, the senior held future NFL wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in check. Johnson’s draft stock just keeps rising. The Cyclones will miss him in 2012. Leonard is about to make some money.
— I hate to be the "what if" guy, but what if Barnett would have connected with Josh Lenz on the first drive of the ball game? Party of me feels like the young freshman got a little bit rattled by a few poor throws. Oh well. It’s time to move on. Iowa State has a solid young quarterback in Jared Barnett. He’s a phenomenal leader and his teammates look up to Barnett. That’s a crucial characteristic for the guy leading the huddle.
— The New Era Pinstripe Bowl is a first-class bowl game. Coming into the game, I kind of thought that the Yankees would put this down in the pecking order of their priority list. My experience in New York was the complete opposite. In fact, the good people who work for the Yankees were more pleasant to work with than some athletic departments in the Midwest.
— I’m going to write more about the game, the future of Cyclone football and my experiences in New York in the coming days. Stay tuned and have a very happy new year.