Defense Will Keep Iowa in Close Games, But Ricky Stanzi Will Have to Win Them
That's how far the Iowa Hawkeyes were from being undefeated in 2008. Instead, a possible trip to the BCS turned into a 9-4 season and a trip to the Outback Bowl.
And while that's certainly nothing to be ashamed of, the Hawkeyes can't help but think what could have been.
The main reason for the shaky play in close games was the quarterback competition between Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi. Iowa couldn't settle on a quarterback early in the season, largely because neither player could establish himself as the starter.
This inconsistency and lack of leadership early in the season caused three straight early season losses that were decided by a total of nine points.
Finally, Stanzi established himself as the starter, winning six out of the last seven games, including an upset win over No. 3 Penn State, a 55-0 thumping of Minnesota, and a 31-10 drubbing of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. But by then, it was too late.
While the Hawkeye passing game was less than impressive during those first six games, it was the defense that kept Iowa in all of those games. And this year should be no different.
The Hawkeyes return eight starters from the nation's 12th-ranked defense, including All-Big Ten linebacker candidate Pat Angerer, and Amari Spievey, who is arguably the best corner in the conference.
Once again, the Iowa defense will keep the Hawkeyes in every game, but the difference is, this year they have a quarterback who can help them win the close ones.
Unlike 2008, the Hawkeyes are settled on their quarterback for 2009. After winning the starting job, Stanzi quickly became a leader on the Iowa team.
He improved steadily every game and proved that he has what it takes to win the the clutch, after leading the Hawks on their winning drive against Penn State.
Stanzi recognizes the difference between this season and last.
"Things are different this year. I'm not trying to win a job. I'm trying to build on what I accomplished last season," Stanzi told the Quad City Times.
"I'm still competing with the guys behind me on the depth chart, but I feel like I have a pretty solid foundation to build on."
This foundation will be the difference for Iowa in 2009. They finally have a veteran that they can count on and this experience will help the Hawkeyes to prevail in those close games.
Stanzi's tested experience in the clutch will certainly come in handy this season. With road trips to Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State, the Hawkeyes will certainly need their quarterback to step up.
Like I stated earlier, the defense will keep them in every game, but Stanzi must be the one to win those games.
Last season, Iowa didn't have a proven quarterback to call on. But this year, Ricky Stanzi's veteran leadership will be vital to this team's success. If he can step up like he did at the end of 2008, the Hawkeyes will finally be able to win the close ones.
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