Texas defense present unique challenge by fleet-footed Jantz

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With conference play beginning, the competition is about to get a whole lot better. Naturally, the quarterbacks will, too.

But before Texas can get their hands on OU’s Landry Jones or Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, it has to go through Steele Jantz. The Iowa State field general doesn’t have a household name like Jones and Weeden do but he’s kept his team unbeaten just like the Oklahoma-based gunslingers have.

Jantz can throw. He’s got six touchdown passes in three game and he’s also the team’s second-leading rusher. Jantz will be first the dual-threat quarterback the Longhorns will face this season but they’re hoping Jantz doesn’t help Iowa State hand them their first loss of the season.

“Steele Jantz? Sounds like a heavy metal band,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “He plays like it, too. You have to defend two plays with him: the play they call and the play he makes. That’s what makes them explosive. That’s a challenge that keeps you up at night because it’s very hard to scheme against.”

Most of the quarterbacks Texas has faced haven’t tried to run much. UCLA’s Kevin Prince ran for 26 yards on three carries, including a 19-yard sprint in the Longhorns’ last game. Collectively, quarterbacks have taken off just 16 times against Texas.

But Jantz will test Texas through the air and on the ground. The junior has rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns this year and can also use his mobility to extend plays and hurt teams with his arm.

“He can make a play that’ll last for eternity,” said senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall. “We broke down film on him and he had some pretty good runs. We just need to bring a friend to the quarterback when we get there.”

The Longhorns will be looking to bring Jantz down Saturday. But they’ve only registered two sacks this season, none of which have come from their starting defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. The next closest thing to a sack Texas has had is when Randall nearly stripped Prince two weekends ago. Randall and the rest of the defensive line will need to wreak havoc when the Longhorns go to Ames this week.

“The quarterback decides whether he gets sacked or not,” Diaz said. “UCLA’s [Kevin Prince] had a choice when Keenan Robinson was coming at him. He had a choice on that play to be sacked or put the ball in harm’s way. And he put the ball up, Blake Gideon tipped it and Adrian Phillips caught it.”

To its credit, Texas has notched 28 quarterback hurries (to their opponent’s five) this season. Jeffcoat and Okafor each have three while senior linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Robinson have five apiece, sharing the team lead. As long as the Longhorns can pressure Jantz into making poor decisions, they might not rack up a bunch of sacks but they’ll give themselves a good chance to win.

“The first guy’s not always going to get the sack,” said sophomore defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. “He makes the quarterback move outside the pocket. Then, someone can make the sack while he’s running away.”

However, Jantz is often at his best when he’s running away. He’s much quicker than any of the other players that have taken snaps against Texas and when pressured, Jantz can avoid oncoming defenders and find receivers open downfield. Jantz has proven to be prone to making mistakes as he’s thrown six interceptions but when he’s out of the pocket is when he’s most dangerous.

“We are based on pressure,” Diaz said. “What we talk to our players about is pressuring the quarterback and a lot of quarterbacks will do things under pressure that they won’t do otherwise.”

As good as Jantz has been in leading Iowa State to a 3-0 record, the Cyclones could just as easily be 0-3. Their three wins have been by one, three, and four points, with the three-point victory coming in a triple-overtime triumph over Iowa, Iowa State’s first over their in-state rival since 2007. The Cyclones haven’t exactly made mincemeat out of their opponents but they have displayed their ability to come through when it matters most.

Brown mentioned that he’s heard some compare to Jantz to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers and Jantz have similar builds (both are around 6-foot-2, 225 pounds) but Jantz isn’t winning a Super Bowl anytime soon.

That doesn’t mean he can’t beat Texas.

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Texas defense focused on pressuring Jantz