116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
By Rob Gray, correspondent
Within the past two weeks, Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz has gone from intriguing newcomer with a catchy name to cool customer with a Facebook fan page.
The City College of San Francisco transfer has never played a road game - as he will tonight at 7 on ESPN2 at Connecticut - outside the state of California, but is familiar with tough, albeit informal, game day conditions.
“One time, my dad took me and my brothers to Compton, California, to play at the park and I'll never forget that game,” said Jantz, the reigning Big 12 offensive player of the week thanks to his four-touchdown, 311-total yards performance in last week's 44-41 triple-overtime win over Iowa. “It was rough. We brought flags and they said, ‘We don't play with flags.' So we had to play tackle.”
That was about a decade ago.
Tonight, Jantz and the Cyclones ascend the nationally televised stage at East Hartford with one less day of recovery and practice than usual.
Therefore, this week's schedule underwent a makeover, as habits shifted and players tried to rest sore bodies.
“(Monday's) normally an off day,” ISU Coach Paul Rhoads said early this week. “(Monday's) now Tuesday for us. (Sunday) was Sunday and Monday for us as a coaching staff. So you have to juggle the schedule, you have to condense the schedule. You change what the normal routine for a week is and you have to adjust.”
High-energy linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein - who totaled 15 tackles in the Iowa win - said the abbreviated week of preparation included more time devoted to the healing process.
“You've got take care of your body,” said Knott, who owns a team-best 22 tackles this season. “You've got to sleep more and you've got to eat better. You've got to get in the ice tub. Different things like that to take care of your body.”
Klein said “if you can get off your feet, get off your feet. Try to stay rested.”
The Huskies' offense has been spotty, particularly at quarterback, where three players have combined for one touchdown pass. But their fluid, adaptive defense has been salty, allowing an average of just 214 yards while forcing four turnovers in a routine, 35-3, home win over FCS Fordham and a troubling, 24-21, loss at Southeastern Conference also-ran Vanderbilt.
“They're a physical group,” Rhoads said. “They pursue all over the field. ... They will look as good as any football team we play, and they show that on paper.”
And they'll have solid fan backup up Rentschler Field.
The Cyclones have basked in the support of two of the biggest crowds in Jack Trice Stadium history in nerve-fraying, combined four-point wins over Northern Iowa and the Hawkeyes.
Tonight, any uplift flows from within or from teammates, not awe-struck classmates.
“The biggest thing with playing on the road is not getting caught up in the hype,” said ISU cornerback Leonard Johnson. “You go to different stadiums, it's more of their fans. You feel like, ‘where's our fans at?' and if they show up, you try to find them - search and see if you know anyone. But the biggest thing is playing under that pressure of their fans. It's loud. It's all good, but when it's not coming from your fans, it messes up your game a little bit.”
Order remains, however - despite the short week.
“You have to cram a little bit,” Jantz said of the quick turnaround, “but over the course of a week it's really not much more per day.”
A recuperative bye week beckons after Friday's test and a 3-0 start remains a distinct possibility before Texas comes calling on Oct. 1.
“We're kind of looking forward to that challenge,” Knott said. “We're looking forward to getting back out there and we're staying focused, so we don't have a letdown or something like that (today).”
When ISU has the ball
Protect Jantz. The Hayworth Hicks-refortified offensive line allowed one sack and just two hurries last week against Iowa.
Go large. The Cyclones need to stretch the field a few times with receivers Aaron Horne, Josh Lenz, Darius Reynolds and others.
Open it up. Shontrelle Johnson ran for 108 yards against Iowa and he and James White must have room to dart and sprint.
Defuse the crowd. ISU plans to use hand signals when, or if, the UConn fans at Rentschler Field get especially boisterous.
Forget history. The Cyclones are 1-4-1 all-time against the Big East and suffered through a 37-20 loss to the Huskies in 2002.
When UConn has the ball
Load the box, again. Huskies true freshman running back Lyle McCombs fuels the offense with 277 yards, four touchdowns.
Create back-end havoc. ISU's notched just two take-aways this season, both fumbles.
Dial it up. Blitzes on UConn's quarterbacks could yield a bonanza of the above. All the Huskies' playcallers are unproven.
Go man. The Cyclones' corners are stout, which means zones and double coverages can be abandoned while bringing pocket pressure.
Block it out. Just 34,562 fans attended UConn's home opener, but they're calling for a “blue out” tonight. Can't let it get in one's head.