Iowa's Ricky Stanzi Must Give Defense Help Against Penn State

Kevin TrahanAnalyst ISeptember 20, 2009

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 01:  Ricky Stanzi #12 of the Iowa Hawkeyes runs upfield against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the Outback Bowl on January 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

In case you haven't heard, the Iowa defense is good.

After a five interception day against Iowa State, the Hawkeye defense held a red-hot Arizona offense to less than half of their normal yardage.

Iowa held Arizona quarterback Matt Scott to 50 yards passing and an interception. The Hawkeyes also held running back Nic Grigsby, the nation's second leading rusher heading into the game, to a whopping 75 yards and no touchdowns.

Iowa has built on its 2008 defensive performance, which was considered arguably the best in the Big Ten, and have turned their unit into one of the best, if not the best, in the country.

From the pass rush and the turnovers, to the run defense, this group has no weakness. And while it may be one of the best in the country, it will need some help from the other side of the ball to have a clear shot at an upset of No. 5 Penn State in Happy Valley.

Overall the offense has been solid, and the running game, which looked like 2009's biggest question mark for the Hawkeyes, has actually been the offense's most consistent unit. The receivers have come around from the past two years and the offensive line is solid as expected.

What about quarterback Ricky Stanzi you may ask? Well it's a lot more complicated than giving him a single grade.

The second half Ricky Stanzi has been phenomenal thus far and has lived up to the "Tom Brady" hype that he has received from some media members. He is poised, makes responsible throws, and looks like one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

The first half Ricky Stanzi is a different story. During the season's first two games, he was very shaky during the first half and tried to force way too many passes. He looked good to start the Arizona game, but then threw an interception on the second drive and wasn't the same until the second half.

Iowa's fate against Penn State will be determined by which Ricky Stanzi shows up during the first half.

It's obvious that the Hawkeye defense can hold Penn State's offense to very few points and they will be the toughest test that the Lions' offense sees all year. The secondary should come up with some more big plays and running back Evan Royster will likely be held to one of his worst games of the year.

The defense will keep Iowa in the game all night, but it will be up to Stanzi to decide the fate of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

If the second half Ricky Stanzi decides to go the extra mile and play during the first half too, there could very well be a stunned white-out in Happy Valley. The Penn State secondary hasn't played very well at all and Iowa's systematic play-action pass should be able to exploit the secondary if it can get going.

And although they need to pass, the Hawkeyes shouldn't be too aggressive with their play-calling. The downfield bombs have been ineffective thus far and should be eliminated from the playbook.

Iowa also needs to find a way to keep Stanzi from forcing throws. During the first half of many of the games this season, he has tried to make plays out of nothing and thrown way too many interceptions or had close calls. Stanzi needs to realize that throwing the ball away isn't a loss and the defense should be able to hold until the next series, when a big play could open up.

Hardly anyone has had success driving on the Hawkeyes over the past two years, but many of the points given up come from drives that start in Hawkeye territory due to Stanzi mistakes. If he can limit those, or better yet, make them non-existent, he will do his defense a huge favor on Saturday.

So in short, we know the defense can play, and they will almost certainly make Iowa-Penn State more of a game than Lions fans predict, but the final score lies more in the hands of Ricky Stanzi than anyone else on that field.

He has gone from sloppy to sensational over the course of a halftime, and while that may have been good enough to beat UNI, ISU, and Arizona, the second half Ricky Stanzi is going to have to play the entire 60 minutes to come out with a win in Happy Valley.