AMES - Shontrelle Johnson wasn't sure he would ever play a football game again after suffering a season-ending injury last fall.
He not only played in Saturday's game against Tulsa, but the speedy tailback rushed for 120 yards and scored a touchdown in the Cyclones' 38-23 triumph over the Golden Hurricane at Jack Trice Stadium.
"That's a good win," Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads said. "That's a good football team. They'll win a lot of games this year. The guys were stronger and smarter today than they were last year. That's the mark of a program going in the right direction."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Iowa State wide receiver Aaron Horne makes a catch against Tulsa during the Cyclones’ season-opening home win at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday in Ames.
Quarterback Steele Jantz also showed that he may be moving in the right direction, throwing for 281 yards and two scores in the win and showing why Rhoads went with him as the team's starting signal caller.
"I saw a lot of things from Steele today," Rhoads said. "I saw a more composed QB. He made good decisions, he ran well and he threw the deep ball better than even we had seen in practice this season. The short ones were still not as good, but he is still learning. That means there's still some upside."
Rhoads knew the team would be challenged, and he was right. The Cyclones scored first but needed to rally from a 16-7 deficit in the second quarter. The game also was not decided until the Cyclones applied the finishing touch with 2 minutes to play in the game.
The late TD that put the game out of reach for Iowa State was Johnson's 5-yard scamper to paydirt. Johnson carried it 18 times as the feature back and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.
"It is definitely good to have him back out there," Rhoads said. "He's a good player. He runs the ball angrily. He's a dynamic player."
The Cyclones compiled 441 yards of offense in the win but allowed 358 yards to Tulsa. Each team rushed for 160 yards but Tulsa needed 11 less carries to do so. Trey Watts led the Golden Hurricane with 125 rushing yards and averaged 12.5 yards per rush.
Tulsa quieted a strong, near-sellout crowd at Jack Trice Stadium early in the game, scoring 16 unanswered points after Jantz connected with Josh Lenz for a 43-yard TD. A safety got Tulsa on the board and then the Golden Hurricane got a TD run from Ja'Terian Douglas and a TD pass by Cody Green to Thomas Roberson. It eventually took a big play by Iowa State's defense to slow Tulsa.
"We tackled very poorly today to be honest," Rhoads said. "That will be the first 30 minutes of our film session. Tulsa ran some things early that we did not see on film. But once we settled down and figured it out, we played better."
The big play by the defense came when senior linebacker Jake Knott forced a fumble on a Tulsa receiver following a pass completion. The Cyclone defense recovered the fumble and a few plays later, the ISU offense converted the turnover into points.
"Things weren't going well for us there for a while, and we needed a big play," Knott said. "It felt good to make the play and it felt even better when the offense was able to capitalize with points. The offense was really clicking today."
Jantz scored on a 5-yard TD run to cut the Tulsa lead to two and then the Cyclones grabbed the lead back following a Jantz touchdown strike to Ernst Brun from 7 yards out. A late field goal with no time on the clock by Edwin Arceo gave the Cyclones an eight-point advantage at the break.
"There were some good things out there and there were some bad things out there," Jantz said. "We were close on a few plays early, but we had time to adjust to what we were seeing. We were able to capitalize on that just before halftime."
The Cyclones extended the lead in the third quarter following a touchdown run by James White. Tulsa cut the lead to eight early in the fourth quarter on another TD pass by Green. But the Cyclones put the game away with the Johnson touchdown.
"I wasn't sure I was ever going to get to do this stuff again," Johnson said. "It was great to just be out there with my teammates."
The Iowa State defense struggled early and then settled in as the game went along. The 358 yards and 23 points allowed were high but they made plays when they needed them. None were bigger though than the fumble forced by Knott early in the first half.
"We just had to get the cobwebs out early," said Knott, who also led the Cyclone defense with 11 tackles. "We had to get up to the tempo of the game. Once we got used to seeing what they were doing, we played much better."
The Cyclones (1-0) will next play instate rival Iowa, which survived a major scare from Northern Illinois in Chicago, winning 18-17 on a late touchdown run. But Rhoads and the Cyclones refused to look ahead to the Cy-Hawk Series matchup at Kinnick Stadium.
"We want to focus on this win for a little bit, but we'll start focusing on Iowa next week," said Lenz, who finished with a team-high eight catches and 96 yards.
Both teams excelled in the red zone. The Golden Hurricane scored all three times they were inside the 20, while Iowa State was 5-of-6. Green had never thrown for more than 80 yards in a game. The former Nebraska Cornhusker was 23-of-49 for 198 yards and two scores. The Iowa-Iowa State game next Saturday in Iowa City kicks off at 2:30 p.m. and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.