AMES — Jake Knott simply did what comes naturally.
That’s making a play on the football — with his hand, arm, leg, or head.
“Anytime things are turning for the worse, you need a big play,” the Iowa State linebacker said.
Knott’s helmet-forced fumble early in the second quarter spurred a 24-point splurge from the Cyclone offense, setting an opportunistic tone for an only mildly tense 38-23 triumph over slightly-favored Tulsa at Jack Trice Stadium.
How big was Knott’s noggin in turning around a 16-7 deficit?
“A play we needed, a play we had to have and a play that we capitalized on, as well,” said Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads, who saw his quarterback, Steele Jantz, and resurgent running back, Shontrelle Johnson, both shine offensively. “And that’s a big part of it that we probably haven’t done as much in the past. A year ago we did not give our offensive football team enough fields like that to work with. We gave it to them and took advantage of them multiple times today.”
The loose ball Knott coaxed from Tulsa receiver Bryan Burnham’s hands was recovered by Durrell Givens at the ISU 49-yard line.
Jantz — who threw for a career-best 281 yards while totaling three touchdowns passing and rushing — guided the Cyclones to consecutive touchdowns after the takeaway.
“That was huge,” Jantz said of the Knott-Givens fumble. “A couple guys on the defense kept telling me they were going to get the ball back so when they do, it just so — it makes us want to score even more, not to mention the momentum.”
ISU would not trail again, though Tulsa did pull within 31-23 with 9:12 left, only to sputter down the stretch.
Jantz completed 32-of-45 passes and a pair of touchdowns, one each to Josh Lenz and Ernst Brun.
He threw one interception — on a deflected ball delivered a bit high to tight end Kurt Hammerschmidt.
“Without watching film, I thought I did all right,” said Jantz, who completed passes to nine different players. “I’ve got to watch the film, but there were some good things and some bad things.”
One good thing: ISU’s rushing attack once it got rolling.
The Cyclones managed 61 yards on the ground in the first half, but racked up 99 after the break — a number diminished by a pair of deep sacks of Jantz.
Johnson carried the load, darting and twisting for 120 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in his first action since seriously injuring his neck last season in a loss to Texas.
“It’s awesome to have him back,” said Lenz, who made a career-long 43-yard touchdown catch to put ISU up 7-0 early.
The Cyclones improved to 4-0 in season openers under Rhoads.
The crowd of 54,931 was the largest in program history to witness a home opener.
Givens complemented his fumble recovery with an interception.
Safety/linebacker Deon Broomfield added a pick, as well.
And ISU’s defensive line struck for two sacks — one each from reserves Rony Nelson and Nick Kron.
“It was awesome to see those guys come through,” senior nose tackle Jake McDonough said. “The depth we’ve gained at D-line is huge for us. We’re not afraid to throw in guys from the two-deep and three-deep. We’re always fresh.”
And searching for the next game-changing play.
Just like Knott.
“It’s fun when you get a turnover,” he said, “and you sit back and watch the offense go to work.”