BOWL GRIDIRON: Highs and lows of 2012 ISU football season


Coach Paul Rhoads leads his players’ run through the tunnel before the game against Texas Tech on Saturday, Sept. 29, at Jack Trice Stadium. Cyclones lost 24-13. 

Jake Calhoun

Big wins and close losses were aplenty in the ISU football team’s 2012 season.

The Cyclones (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) have met numerous milestones en route to their berth in the Liberty Bowl — their third in four years under coach Paul Rhoads. Record attendance and big plays littered the highly-anticipated 2012 campaign. 

Unbeaten conference mark… Again

For the first time since 1999-2001, Iowa State went 3-0 in consecutive seasons by going undefeated in nonconference play.

The Cyclones began their season with a 38-23 win against Tulsa in a contest where everything seemed to click. Running back Shontrelle Johnson turned in one of the rare 100-yard rushing performances for Iowa State against the Golden Hurricane, tallying 120 yards on 18 carries (6.7 yards per carry) and one touchdown.

Johnson’s performance came in his debut after sustaining a season-ending neck injury in October 2011 against Texas.

“I put on 10 pounds since last year,” Johnson said after the game. “My numbers in the weight room increased dramatically, and I just feel like a more complete back, a stronger back.”

Iowa State carried that momentum into its annual Cy-Hawk rivalry game against Iowa. Iowa State had not won consecutive games in the series since 2001-2002 during the years of Dan McCarney’s tenure as coach.

Despite three offensive turnovers inside the red zone and a stagnant array of offensive play-calling, the defense held its own in the 9-6 victory against the Hawkeyes that was sealed by the surreal tip-and-catch interception by linebacker Jake Knott.

“For something like that to happen, when you understand the rivalry and you’ve been here and seen it all, it’s kind of a dream come true,” Knott said of his game-winning interception.

The ISU defense played a critical role in stifling the Hawkeyes’ running attack, holding it to 68 yards — the lowest it has allowed in the series since 1999.

Following a 37-3 win against Western Illinois of the Football Championship Subdivision the following week, Iowa State headed into conference play with high hopes and high expectations. 

Quarterback carousel, Part 2

The Big 12 Conference has often been lauded as the deepest conference in the nation for some time. Although having 90 percent of its teams become bowl-eligible this season can attest to this, the Big 12 still veiled itself as uncharted waters for Iowa State with new additions TCU and West Virginia.

Iowa State began conference play with a home contest against Texas Tech, which had boasted the nation’s best offense and defense thus far. Even though Tech had a seemingly easy nonconference schedule leading up to that game, it held Iowa State to 189 total yards of offense en route to a 24-13 victory at Jack Trice Stadium.

Quarterback Steele Jantz’s abysmal 73 yards passing led to his benching the next week in favor of former starter Jared Barnett. Last season, Jantz was benched after going 0-4 against the Big 12 as a starter in favor of then-redshirt freshman Barnett.

With the help of senior receiver Josh Lenz, Barnett helped spur the Cyclones’ first-ever victory against then-No. 15 TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. In that game, Lenz had four total touchdowns — three receiving and one passing — to lead the Cyclones to their first 4-1 start since 2002.

However, beating a favored team on the road had become more of an expectation at that point.

“You have to give all the credit to coach Rhoads and Iowa State,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson after the game. “They came into our house, beat us fair and square, and pushed us around. That is only our fourth loss in four years.”

But after a heart-breaking loss to Kansas State and a discombobulated offensive performance against Oklahoma State the following weeks, Jantz soon found himself in the starting role once again. 

Homecoming ‘razzle dazzle,’ Knott says goodbye

Jantz had an easy task ahead of him against the nation’s worst defense in Baylor. Until that point, Jantz was 0-5 against Big 12 opponents.

In a bizarre game that began with an onside kick, Jantz led the Cyclones to a 35-21 victory after turning in a 36-for-52 performance for 381 passing yards and five touchdowns — all career-highs.

That game, however, proved to be Knott’s final game as a Cyclone. The senior linebacker had surgery on his shoulder the following Monday after playing through the pain of an 11-tackle performance in which he also forced his 10th career fumble with Baylor at the goal line, preparing to score in the first quarter.

“It was like he was a little boy at Christmas opening up presents [getting to play against Baylor],” said Laura Knott, Jake’s mother, at his farewell news conference. “He was so happy. I knew it was going to be hard for him, but as a mom, to see him happy for just a short period of time, it was just a relief.”

Playing without Knott — sixth all-time leading ISU tackler with 347 career tackles — would prove tough, but it was a task that had to be met.

Quarterback carousel, Part 2.5

Overwhelming losses to Oklahoma and Texas had the Cyclones gasping for air at 5-5, giving them two chances to attain that elusive sixth win.

Even though Jantz officially got the start, it was redshirt freshman Sam Richardson who stole the show in the Cyclones’ 51-23 win against Kansas on Nov. 17.

Richardson, who had yet to throw a pass at the Division I level, went 23-for-27 for 250 passing yards and four touchdowns to torch the Jayhawks on their senior day.

“I was talking to him, and I was like, ‘Look, you’ve got this. Just run the show,’” said center Tom Farniok after the game. “’We’re going to protect for you, and we’re going to run the ball good. Just you do your thing, and it will work out good.’”

Richardson and Co. fell short in the regular season finale against West Virginia to lose three of their last four.