By Rob Gray
AMES — It’s a defensive football players’ dream.
Sucker the quarterback into a bad throw.
Snare it, square up, and sprint toward the end zone.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a knack for it,” said Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein, who has made it a recurring nightmare for foes — and logged his team-record fourth interception return for touchdown in Saturday’s 24-13 home loss to Texas Tech. “It’s more just being prepared and knowing what the offense might throw at you and just capitalizing on an opportunity when it presents itself.”
It’s also a potent weapon for a Cyclone team (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) that seeks to upend No. 15 Texas Christian (4-0, 1-0) in Saturday’s 2:30-p.m. Fox Sports Net-televised conference road opener at Forth Worth.
“I swear he’s just glue to the ball,” said ISU nose guard Jake McDonough, who played a role in Klein’s latest pigskin heist and hustle.
How did Saturday’s unfold?
“I kind of just read the quarterback’s eyes as he was coming out of the pocket,” said Klein, who also notched 11 tackles in the setback. “Jake McDonough had some good pressure and forced a bad throw. I was fortunate enough to undercut the throw and ...”
Off to the races?
At first, yes.
“I started looking back over my shoulder to see where some guys were — if there were any guys chasing me,” Klein said. “I saw the quarterback and I thought (ISU nickelback) Deon (Broomfield) was actually another guy. He was gaining on me. But once I hit the 25-yard line I think I started to slow down a little bit. I was getting tired, I’m not going to lie. It was coming off a long drive.”
It’s an annual tradition for Klein.
“It’s kind of amazing, really, what he’s done,” Cyclone defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “I don’t have an answer for it.”
Klein returned two interceptions for touchdowns in 2010 and added another last season.
Saturday’s arduous 87-yard jaunt past the pylons halted a seven play, 52-yard first-quarter drive by the Red Raiders and gave ISU a 7-0 lead.
“If you’re looking for a big play, you’re looking at him,” said another Cyclone who knows something about big plays — linebacker Jake Knott.
Klein’s touchdown infused his team with positive momentum that Tech eventually punctured with 17 straight second-half points.
So if it seems Klein’s pleased with his record-setting performance, that would be grossly misleading.
“You have a positive play like the (pick six), but then to come back — I take it personally, the third and 11 where they scored (their first touchdown),” Klein said. “I end up missing a tackle to save a touchdown. That’s something that I take personally and that’s something the whole defense takes personally because, one, it was a miscommunication on coverage. (We) had to make that play and we didn’t get it done.”
Klein broke a tie in the school record books with former Cyclone Brent Curvey by scoring his fourth career defensive touchdown.
He also tied an NCAA record in the category for a linebacker.
He found out about that accolade through a family surrogate.
“From my brother in law,” Klein said. “He brought it up. It’s cool, but, at the same time, coming off a loss like that, individual stats don’t mean much.”
Unless he gets more pick six-based plaudits — and they lead to wins.
“You can get two or three in a game if you’re doing the right thing,” Klein said. “I think it’s being in the right place at the right time.”