SPECIAL FOOTBALL EDITION: Season-ending loss fuels Cyclones for next season


Photo: Jordan Maurice/Iowa State Daily

Defensive back Lenord Johnson attempts to tackle Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison on Friday, Dec. 30. Jamison ended the game with 27 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

Jake Calhoun

NEW YORK — For the type of season it has been for the ISU football team, its ending proved bittersweet.

The Cyclones’ surprise 2011 stand of winning four games against favored opponents and six games overall for the second time in three seasons was capped off with a 27-13 loss to Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl on Friday at Yankee Stadium in New York.

“The program’s come a long ways,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads, who led his team to its second bowl appearance in his three years at its helm. “It’s a primary thing that I talked to our football team about afterwards, I think this was a very good season.

“As we move forward, that’s not going to be good enough.”

Rhoads said despite having beaten two ranked teams — 41-7 at No. 19 Texas Tech on Oct. 29 and 37-31 in double overtime vs. No. 2 Oklahoma State on Nov. 18 — finishing the season with a loss in a bowl game “does not fulfill the expectations” of the program.

“The foundation of the program is to win bowl games and win championships, so we couldn’t pull one out [at the Pinstripe Bowl],” said senior cornerback Leonard Johnson.

“But I’m pretty confident and sure that coach and the boys are going to go back to the drawing board and find a way to get the job done next year.”

Getting back to the drawing board will be spearheaded by leaders on the team like A.J. Klein, who finished the season with the team high in total tackles with 117 and a pair of sacks.

“There are some things that I think we could build on, some positives we could build on for next year,” the junior linebacker said. “At the same time, preparation is going to start right away for next year.

“I don’t believe we lived up to our expectations of our own team, but I am very proud of the team and what we’ve done and what we have accomplished this year.”

Klein, who was named the team’s first-ever Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, also had a 78-yard interception returned for a touchdown on Oct. 15 against Missouri — the third of his career.

Almost completely mirroring Klein was fellow junior linebacker Jake Knott, who notched 114 total tackles this season and finished the season with 74 solo tackles — seventh most in the nation.

Knott, who was named a 2011 All-American Honorable Mention by Sports Illustrated, said the season-ending loss is not as bittersweet as it appears.

“This might be a blessing in disguise for what happened [at the Pinstripe Bowl] and how humbling that is to our team and how much that makes us just want to go back to work,” Knott said.

“I know just by looking at the underclassmen that they want to get back to work tomorrow if they could and I’m the exact same way.”

On offense, it was a tale of two quarterbacks this season for the Cyclones (6-7, 3-6 Big 12), who saw both Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett starting under center at some point in the season.

Jantz started the first seven games of the season before Barnett took the reigns at the position, both leading the team to a 3-0 record in their first three starts before dropping their last games.

“We’ve got to get better,” Barnett said of the team. “Every aspect — offense and defense — [has] got to get much better. Of course we’re going to have the same goals next year, but our expectations for ourselves are going to be higher.

“We’re always going to hold ourselves to a higher standard because we had what you would call a ‘good season’ this year.”

Even though Barnett had one less loss as a starter than Jantz, he trailed his teammate statistically in passing yards by 318, pass completions by 28 and passing touchdowns by four in one less start.

However, Barnett has thrown five fewer interceptions and rushed for more yards by 190 despite having started one less game than Jantz.

Even though the season ended with a loss, running back Jeff Woody said it cannot take away from the high points for an ISU team that was favored in just two of its 12 games this season.

“From the doubts that we had from the outside world coming in and being able to prove to the nation that we could compete with all these teams and we’re not going to lay down to anybody, I thought that was great,” Knott said. “That was kind of a trademark of this team.”