The Cyclones have been pretty strong offensively this season, averaging 29.3 points and 380.7 yards per game, despite facing excellent competition. If there's one difference between last year and this year, it's that the Cyclones are more explosive. Through three games they have four plays of 40 or more yards. All last season, they had four, all of which were runs.
Much of the Cyclones' offensive success this year has been attributed to new quarterback Steele Jantz (6-3 224), a transfer from San Francisco City Community College, the same school that produced Green Bay Packer star Aaron Rodgers. Jantz's most obvious strength is his mobility. He often scrambles to create more time, and as such is always dangerous at the end of games. He also bounces back quickly from mistakes: after throwing early interceptions against Connecticut, he was 6-for-6 with a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. He's hit 10 different receivers this season. The Cyclones have excelled at coming back from behind this year, and Jantz is the primary reason why.
While Jantz helps in the running game as well, the team's top rusher is sophomore back Shontrelle Johnson (5-9 187). He topped the 100-yard mark once as a freshman, then hit it again when he ran for 108 yards on 18 carries against Iowa. He doesn't have great size, but has the vision and feel to find gaps in the defense. He's averaging almost five yards per carry.
Iowa State also has a nice-sized receiving corps, with each of the three slated starters standing at least 6-feet tall. But one of the most dangerous players is Jantz's JUCO teammate Aaron Horne (5-9 175). Darius Reynolds (6-2 208) might be the best of the bunch, as he showed last week in catching four passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He's caught at least one pass in 15-straight games. Josh Lentz (6-0 197) and Darius Darks (6-1 189) are veterans capable of getting open at key times. Darks is two catches from joining the Cyclones' top-10 career list, while Lenz led the team in catches last week. Tight end Kurt Hammerschmidt (6-6 265) is mostly a big blocker. He has two catches on the year.
Kelechi Osemele (6-6 347) is the anchor of the line and a potential first-round NFL draft pick at left tackle. The rest of the line — Ethan Tuftee (6-4 315), Tom Farniok (6-3 280), Hayworth Hicks (6-3 336), Brayden Burris (6-6 298) — is in its first year of starting, though Hicks has 14 career starts. They've been effective, and are helped by Jantz's ability to avoid pressure in the pocket.
The defense hasn't been quite as good, though they've been solid on that end, allowing 3.7 yards per carry and holding opponents to a 47.4 completion percentage.
The Iowa State defensive line is technically sound, if unspectacular. Jake Lattimer (6-3 247) and Patrick Neal (6-0 250) are undersized ends who can get to the quarterback. Stephen Ruempolhamer (6-3 298) and Jake McDonough (6-5 302) are solid tackles who help to plug things up inside.
The linebackers are the strength of the defense, especially with Jake Knott (6-2 243) on the outside. The preseason All-Big 12 pick has 33 tackles and three tackles for loss in three games, while middle linebacker A.J. Klein (6-1 243) has 22 stops and another one in the backfield. Sophomore Deon Broomfield (6-0 194) is basically a safety at the SAM linebacker spot.
Leonard Johnson (5-10 202) is one of the Big 12's top cover cornerbacks and is on the Thorpe Watch List. Jeremy Reeves (5-7 176) is undersized at the other spot. He had 10 tackles against UConn. Free safety Jacques Washington (6-0 208) is second on the team in tackles, while strong safety Ter'Ran Benton (6-0 208) is a cover safety who started at cornerback a year ago.
Zach Guyer (6-0 185) is in his first year as a kicker and has made one of his two field goals. Kirby Van Der Kamp (6-4 193) is an excellent punter. He's averaging 46.1 yards per punt and has put more than half of his kicks — 8-of-15 — inside the 20. Lenz and Johnson are the returners.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads deserves a load of credit for the Cyclones' fast start. Iowa State lost several key players from a year ago, and the fact that they've been so good speaks volumes for the program that Rhoads has established.