Cyclones’ Knott named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week


Linebacker Jake Knott catches an interception in Saturday’s game at Jack Trice Stadium against Northern Iowa. Knott had 11 tackles and one interception to help the Cyclones beat the Panthers, 27-0.

Jake Lovett

ISU sophomore linebacker Jake Knott had 11 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble Saturday night against Northern Iowa.

Knott led the way for the Cyclones’ in their 27-0 win over Northern Iowa, the first shutout for Iowa State since a 23-0 victory over Northern Iowa in 2006. His performance earned him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.

“You put up those kinds of numbers in a shutout win, I would hope you’d gain some recognition,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads on Monday. “He’s been consistent with his tackle numbers. His speed, his hustle has been tremendous through four games.”

Knott’s play Saturday night was overshadowed by the big plays made by the ISU defense. The Cyclones had two defensive touchdowns in one game for the first time since a 2005 matchup with Colorado.

The Waukee native twice said he was “honored” by the Big 12 selection.

“It’s not something that you really are thinking about … Kind of taken aback,” Knott said.

Through four games this season, Knott is second on the Cyclones’ defense with 35 tackles. Knott is fifth in the Big 12 with 8.75 tackles per game.

However, he leads the team with his three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

“I just want to do my job every time, and if they throw the ball my way or run the ball my way make sure I’m the one to make a play,” Knott said. “I think that coaches are just putting me in the right spot at the right time. When they do that, I’ve just got to make the play.”

Rhoads said his pair of sophomore linebackers — the Big 12’s second leading tacklers with 10.25 per game — have not exceeded expectations, despite being a spot of concern entering the season.

The two — along with the injured Matt Tau’fo’ou — came into the season as question marks, being asked to fill in for the three departing starters from 2009.

“I wouldn’t say they’re exceeding expectations,” Rhoads said, “but I do believe they’re fulfilling expecations. We expect them to keep getting better and better as this year goes along, let alone as their careers go along.”

A reunion

Saturday’s game against Texas Tech will mark a pair of firsts for Rhoads as ISU’s head coach.

It will be his first matchup with the Red Raiders, but will also be the first time he will go head-to-head with first-year Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville — the head coach at Auburn when Rhoads served as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.

Rhoads said it will not be the first time that he has met with his former boss since they each took their new jobs, as they see each other throughout the year at Big 12 coaches’ meetings.

While the two coaches only worked together for a season before Rhoads took his job at Iowa State, he said he maintains a friendly relationship with Tuberville, the fourth-winningest coach in Auburn history.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for what he’s done in this profession,” Rhoads said. “I saw him in May … and it was like we had just left Auburn the week before.”

Rhoads referenced Tuberville’s calm demeanor several times Monday — “Tommy’s heart rate might be about 48 beats a minute,” he joked — but said more than anything else, Tuberville showed him how best to manage the coaches and players around him.

“The way he managed and treated people,” Rhoads said, “he delegated, he expected people to be accountable and do their job and he allowed them to do their job.”

An unknown at quarterback

ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud re-injured his left shoulder in the game’s first series on Saturday against Northern Iowa.

Sophomore Jerome Tiller jogged onto the field for the Cyclones’ second offensive series, and stayed in the game for its remainder, keeping Arnaud on the sideline.

Following the game, Rhoads said he wouldn’t know his starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against Texas Tech until everyone else did.

“For those of you that were not here, not aware, are slow learners or are repetition guys,” Rhoads said, “you’ll know the starting quarterback when that person comes out with the first offense Saturday night.”

Arnaud practiced at near-full speed Sunday night — although the Cyclones practice in just helmets and without pads on Sunday nights — and is expected to continue practicing the rest of the week.

Rhoads said Arnaud’s health will be monitored throughout the week, but the two quarterbacks’ performances will be graded during practice and both factors will go into deciding the starter.

“He practiced fully yesterday where a week ago he didn’t really practice until Wednesday,” Rhoads said. “Normally a player is not removed from a starting position because of injury. That being said, I anticipate Austen will out there with the first team when we take the field.”

Rhoads said Monday that no matter who is behind center, the offense’s efficiency must improve for the Cyclones to be successful.

The ISU offense is 106th nationally through four games, averaging 295 yards per game.

“If you’re going to be productive as an offense, it starts with the quarterback,” Rhoads said. “Whoever is taking the snaps needs to be making accurate throws and good decisions on the field.”

While ISU fans may see a difference in the quarterbacks’ style of play — Arnaud throwing from the pocket more than Tiller, who scrambles a bit more — members of the ISU offense say the differences are much more subtle on the field.

“Austen’s been out there, he’s played a lot of games in this conference,” said ISU running back Alexander Robinson. “That experience of what you’re going to see on game day, I think that’s big. That’s something that you can’t replace.

“I think that’s the biggest difference between the two of them.”

Depth in the secondary

Junior cornerback Anthony Young was second for the Cyclones with nine tackles Saturday night.

Fellow cornerback Leonard Johnson was fourth with five tackles, seven different members of the secondary registered at least two stops and sophomore Jeremy Reeves returned an interception for 94 yards and a touchdown.

The depth at secondary isn’t a surprise to Rhoads, and having seven players rotate through four positions is something he considers encouraging.

“It allows you to keep players fresh,” Rhoads said. “I’ve always had a philosophy that the more players you can play, the fresher football team you have at the end of the second and fourth quarters, the fresher football team you have at the end of the season.

“Everybody approaches practice differently because they know they have an opportunity to get on the field, they know they have an opportunity to contribute to victory.”

Reeves, who saw limited action in 2009, has worked his way up through the depth chart to earn playing time this season.

The Allen, Texas, native said that playing in a group as deep as this one pushes each member to consistently work hard in practice to keep their spot on the field.

“This unit is probably the best unit I’ve ever played with,” Reeves said. “You’ve always got to work hard, because anytime you get your spot taken, you can take somebody’s spot.

“You’ve got all of those guys that you play with every day and we always come together every week to better ourselves.”

Sedrick Johnson makes a turnaround

Sedrick Johnson has already exceeded his output from the 2009 season.

Through four games, the receiver from Troup, Texas, has 12 catches for 87 yards this season after amassing 13 catches for 72 yards all of last year.

Saturday against Northern Iowa, Johnson helped the ISU offense convert a key third down late in the first half.

“I think his third-down catch after the fake field goal was as big a play as there was in the game,” Rhoads said. “Sedrick went up and caught a ball above his head and converted a huge first down for us, and then you see the rhythm start and you see the momentum change.”

Following Johnson’s first down, Robinson took the ball through the heart of the UNI defense for a 6-yard touchdown run to make the score 13-0.

During the 2009 campaign, Johnson struggled with lingering injury and trouble catching the ball, causing him to fall out of favor and lose playing time.

Johnson said he’s improved in both his route running and catching the ball, making him a better target for the quarterbacks.

The junior now has 37 catches for 311 yards in his career.

“Sedrick has really been a bright spot for that receiving corps from the standpoint that he’s catching the ball with his hands, the quarterbacks are confident that they can go to him,” Rhoads said. “Even if he puts one on the ground during the course of the game, they’ll come right back to him.”