One year ago, I felt confident that, barring injury, Jake Christensen would be taking most if not all of the meaningful snaps in Iowa's games. I was more than just a little bit off on that, as I was for the majority of Christensen's Iowa career. I wish the kid well, as I hope all Iowa fans do, on his future endeavors, but things just didn't work out under center for him in Iowa City.
Stanzi was given an opportunity to compete for the job, and he rose to the challenge and delivered several memorable moments in 2009, but there were also some growing pains.
Turnovers in the redzone is something he is going to have to outright eliminate this year if Iowa is going to have the kind of year that many people think they can have. Were the Hawkeyes road schedule not so brutal, say half of their league road games were flipped around and they played those games at home, then I could see several publications picking Iowa to win the Big Ten.
As it stands, that's ain't gonna happen; you have to play the games on your schedule, and Iowa is in for a challenge in that department, on the road, in 2009.
That means they must get mature play from Stanzi. He showed that mettle last year against Illinois, after the Hawkeyes failed to punch it in the endzone on several trips to the Illinois redzone in the first half, plus his own fumble deep in Iowa territory that instantly led to an Illinois defensive touchdown. He did the same in the second half of Iowa's big win against Penn State, including a final drive for the ages where he advanced the ball with both his arm and his feet.
Stanzi showed poise in those instances, perhaps even beyond his years and certainly beyond his game experience. I don't think it's out of the realm of reality to assume that Stanzi will make strides in the decision making department this year and elevate his play. That's not to say he won't make some mistakes; every quarterback makes mistakes. But sometimes, the passes a quarterback doesn't complete, or a throw he doesn't make, is a decision to throw it away or eat it where it doesn't knock you out of field goal range. The little things add up in a big way over the course of a 12 game regular season.
In the Kirk Ferentz era, there has been just one quarterback to throw for more than 2,600 yards in a season, and that was Drew Tate. Tate turned that trick in each of his three seasons as Iowa's starting quarterback, including his injury plagued 2006 campaign where he missed two entire games due to injury and was never 100 percent in any contest. Brad Banks threw for 2,573 in 2002 and he was dangerous with his feet, too. Banks had a phenomenal passer rating and touchdown to interception ratio, too.
So you had one player that was just a flat out school-yard passer, and one that was a part of one of the two or three best teams in Iowa history.
The rest of the time, you have 2,269 yard efforts by Christensen in 2007, 2,040 yards by Nathan Chandler in a 10-win 2003 season and a 2,028 yard effort by Kyle McCann in a bowl winning 2001 season. Combine that with just six of Ferentz's ten seasons where an Iowa back has topped the 1,000 yard rushing mark, and you see a team that just cannot afford to have its quarterback putting it in tough spots, the way it did last year at times. The farther we get from 2008, the more I see that season as a huge opportunity that went a little bit by the wayside; if Iowa had a settled quarterback to start last year, a veteran that could deliver effectively on third down, we could have been talking about a special, special year.
In the end, I am not going to scoff at nine wins by an Iowa football team, ever.
In 2008, Stanzi and Christensen combined to complete 186 passes in 317 attempts (.587), 16 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. That came on 2,352 yards through the air. Stanzi completed .591 percent of his passes on the year, and had 14 TD passes to go along with 9 INT's. He threw for 1956 yards, playing in all 13 games and starting 11.
I think Iowa is going to have a good to very good ground game again in 2009, and I also expect teams to focus on taking away Iowa's ground game. If they can't do that, they have little chance, which has been the common theme for stopping the Hawks during much of the Ferentz era. I also think teams are going to test Stanzi, and bring a lot of different blitz looks. Until Iowa makes a opponent pay not just once but twice deep, for scores, what is the downside to this strategy? Again, if you have read my offerings for any amount of time, that is a common refrain and we have seen that on the field. But it's easier said than done.
Here is what I expect to see from Stanzi in 2009, and I will say that unless he is injured, I don't expect anyone else to take any meaningful snaps under center this season:
ATT COMP YDS TD INT
STANZI 320 195 2,600 19 7
2,600 yards, over the course of a 13 game season, is just 200 passing yards per game. That's not going to wake up the echoes of my youth, where Chuck and Chuck would hit the 200 mark by halftime in some contests, but this Iowa team is built around balance on offense, establishing the running game to set up their play action passing game and a defense that can get the offense out of a jam. Kirk Ferentz has said this several times; there is no shame in punting. There's also no shame in throwing the ball into the third row of the bleachers when you are facing 3rd and 7 at your opponents 13 yard line.
Last year showed us that points on the board matter when you have a defense like the Hawks have had more often than not. I think this year's defense can be really good; so does Norm Parker.
The offense needs to strike and be dangerous, but it also needs to ‘do no harm' along the way. With experience returning on special teams as well, possibly a few more game breakers in the passing game and a defense that may be one of the league's best, Stanzi will be just fin putting up 200 passing yards per game as long as his touchdown to interception ratio is 2.5 to 1.0 or better.