Who's On Campus
Quarterback is always a position of focus and emphasis, whether the team is winning or not. Last year, the Hawkeyes had a new face at quarterback for the first time since 2003. Jake Christensen had an inconsistent season as the starter, and some of his struggles were affected by the inconsistency at every personnel group on the offense. Christensen contributed to his inconsistency as well; he struggled with short passes and at times had trouble finding the mark. Then there were other times when he did find the mark, and the ball was dropped. There were times where he held on to balls too long and was sacked, and there were other times when he was running for his life due to inadequate blocking.
By the time the end of the season rolled around, Christensen's raw statistics were not stellar, as the cumulative effect of an inconsistent offense and a first year starting quarterback came to bear. Jake started every season last year, and his experience is going to be very hard for another player to overcome. Building depth at this position will be one of Ken O'Keefe's biggest priorities this spring.
Christensen had an efficiency rating of 116.9 and threw for 2,269 yards and 17 touchdowns. He completed 198 of 370 passes and threw only six interceptions. He threw three or more touchdown passes in three games (Syracuse, Indiana and Western Michigan) last year. His passing yardage total was the 12th best in a single season at Iowa. He posted personal highs against Indiana when he completed 24 of 42 passes for 308 yards.
Backing up Christensen last year were sophomores Arvell Nelson and Ricky Stanzi (6-4, 215). Both played sparingly. Stanzi played in only two games. Nelson is no longer on the team. Stanzi and redshirt freshman Marvin McNutt (6-4, 195) are listed even in the number two spot.
The truth of the matter is that Stanzi didn't play enough to get any sort of read on his abilities, and Iowa missing out on a bowl game, while it may have helped recruiting this past year (according to the coaching staff), affected the growth and development of some of the younger players. Stanzi's height can be an asset, but right now, Hawk fans have a few plays from the Syracuse game and a couple of open practices to go on.
McNutt is an intriguing prospect because of his athleticism; I say that strictly in the sense that he was offered scholarship to play basketball, including one to Missouri Valley power Southern Illinois. McNutt, a lefty, still has a long way to go before he is ready to take snaps in the Big Ten and his time under center this spring is one step along the path of his development. It's his first spring on campus; this is Stanzi's second.
Who's On the Way
Three quarterbacks are part of Iowa's 2008 signees and could be a factor when regular season practice begins in August; David Blackwell (6-2, 210), James Vandenberg (6-2, 195) and John Wienke (6-5, 225) signed letters of intent with Iowa in February.
Blackwell may wind up at wide receiver at some point in his career, but he will get a sniff at quarterback this fall. He was forced to sit out his senior year due to a knee injury, but he was still good enough for the Hawkeyes to offer. LSU, the defending national champions, also offered Blackwell as a linebacker. On his career, he had 63 receptions for 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns. He played both quarterback and wide receiver during his junior season, and finished his career 87-149 with 1,108 passing yards and 12 passing touchdowns. He also rushed 94 times for 861 yards, including 726 yards as a junior.
Vandenberg was a record setting quarterback in the state of Iowa, leading Keokuk to last year's Class 3A state championship. He holds 12 different Iowa high school passing records, including career passing yards (7,709), touchdown passes (93), single season passing yards (3,729 as a senior) and single season touchdown passes (49 as a senior). He ranks sixth all-time nationally in single-season completion percentage (70%) and 10th nationally in career completion percentage (64.6%).
Wienke led his Tuscola team to the state championship game in Illinois' Class 1A division, similar in size to Iowa's Class 1A and 2A schools. He finished his career with 6,070 passing yards and 68 touchdowns, and threw just nine interceptions in 620 attempts. His statistics were primarily accomplished in two seasons as a starter.
An interesting note on Christensen, Vandenberg, Wienke and former Iowa quarterback Drew Tate; all four of those passers playing in spread offenses at the high school level. Iowa does not utilize many aspects of the spread offense in its attack.
The 2008 Outlook
The play of the quarterback can affect every aspect of an offense, and every aspect of an offense can affect the play of the quarterback. That might sound cliché, or obvious, but it's simply the truth.
Iowa needs improved play at this position this year, while it also needs the offensive line and wide receiver positions to carry their weight to give the overall offense a chance at success in 2008.