AMES — Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz soberly digested the game tape of last Saturday’s 9-6 win over Iowa.
There were good times: A red-hot start and first-drive touchdown pass to Aaron Horne.
There were bad times: Three giveaways inside the Hawkeyes’ 11-yard line.
“And four turnovers overall,” said Cyclone Coach Paul Rhoads, whose 2-0 team welcomes FCS foe Western Illinois for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Jack Trice Stadium. “We’ve won too many games losing the turnover battle and you’re just not going to keep doing that. Correctable mistakes — already looked at ‘em and have a better understanding why.”
So has Jantz, who completed his first seven passes and is hitting on 69.1 percent this season.
The parts of the tape that made him wince featured downfield balls targeted for Horne, Chris Young and Quenton Bundrage, among others.
He saw near misses that need to connect.
“It’s hard to watch because they’re so close,” Jantz said. “Obviously we’d have loved to have those.”
ISU offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham noted Jantz did hit on two big pass plays, a 40-yarder to Horne and a 42-yarder to tailback James White.
“We did have a couple other opportunities where I felt like we were behind them but just didn’t play catch,” Messingham said.
Expect more deep-strike chances against the underdog Leathernecks, who have yielded an average of 213 yards through the air in wins over Butler and Indianapolis.
They’ve also amassed six interceptions, however, meaning precision and decision-making progress will be required.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Rhoads said.
They’ll face it as decided favorites — according to offshore oddsmakers, anyway.
It’s a never-too-comfortable role reversal for an ISU team picked to lose 13 of its last 14 games against schools from BCS conferences.
The Cyclones’ record as underdogs in those contests? 7-6.
“You take it with a grain of salt every step of the way,” said ISU linebacker and current Big 12 defensive player of the week Jake Knott. “You know that all the recognition and all that stuff could easily be gone the next day. … It’s what can you do for me today, not what have you done?”
One thing the offense could do to improve dramatically: Finish drives.
The Cyclones rank 101st out of 120 FBS team in red zone offense, managing points on seven of 11 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
“If not a theme, it’s definitely something we’ll be focused on a lot,” Jantz said of improving that percentage.
Rhoads stressed this game’s not merely a tune-up.
It’s another test that happens to come before a bye week and the Sept. 29 Big 12 home opener against Texas Tech.
“There’s not one position group, there’s not one facet of our game coming out of (watching film) that there wasn’t room for improvement,” Rhoads said.
But if there’s one aspect that jumps off the page the most, it’s the turnovers.
Jantz threw two interceptions in Iowa territory last week, including one at the goal line.
He also struggled with a zone-read exchange with tailback James White, who was saddled with a red-zone fumble.
Rhoads noticed something after that miscue, though.
A positive sign from a negative play.
“They each pointed the finger at themselves,” Rhoads said. “And when you start having that kind of ownership and you’re not looking at it as somebody else’s fault — ‘It’s not my fault, it’s somebody else’s fault‘ — you’re improving and heading in the right direction.”
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