Iowa Hawkeyes Football: Is Ricky Stanzi His Own Worst Enemy?
I have a friend who played quarterback at a fairly high level; not Big Ten football-level, but he went pretty far.
He is a Wisconsin Badgers fan, so all things considered, he is somewhat dispassionate where it concerns the Hawks.
While watching an Iowa game, he turned to me and said, "I think the thing about Stanzi is that he is so good, and has so much confidence in himself, that he thinks he can make any throw, and succeed in any situation."
After he said that, I was left to wonder, "Is that it? Is Stanzi too talented for his own good?"
I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but when you consider the throws we've seen him make, in terms of pure ability, he might be the best Hawkeye quarterback since Chuck Long.
Furthermore, when you consider the comebacks he has mounted, the drives he has orchestrated, and the pressure he has seemingly scoffed at, it just boggles the mind.
How can somebody that good, that cool under fire, that picturesque, make such dunderheaded throws that the term Stanziball has literally been coined for him?
Maybe he's just that good. Maybe he just doesn't know how to give up. Maybe he doesn't see a play that he feels he is unable to make.
The question is how can Stanzi learn to rein in his confidence and his never-say-die attitude?
The reason he will need to do this is because I don't think Iowa can repeat last year's performance without an offense that pulls their own weight.
Last season, Iowa was the 83rd-ranked scoring offense in the country. Aside from Nebraska, no team came close to matching their 11-2 record with such relatively weak offensive production.
Mind you, I'm not hanging that on Stanzi.
After all, the offensive line was decimated with injuries. The probable starting running back was injured before fall camp started.
In effect, Iowa started two freshmen at tailback; two freshmen who, at the end of the season, were also often injured.
All-Big Ten tight end Tony Moeaki was injured throughout much of the season, and Iowa lost two key reserve receivers.
However, there is also no getting around the fact that Stanzi made his own share of mistakes. Being the leader he obviously is, I'm sure he would be the first to say that.
Nonetheless, being the leader he is, he is also the player that will need to be the first to push the offense to be much steadier and more productive.
The following slide show will try to break down the enigma that is Ricky Stanzi; the enigma that quite possibly could be the difference between the Rose Bowl and the Gator Bowl.
What does he do wrong? What does he do right? And why does he love the USA so much?
Yes, it was windy. Yes, Indiana had the kind of defense that just begged a quarterback to try and go long. Yes, by that juncture of the game, Iowa needed points.
However, four interceptions?
Yes, Ricky Stanzi threw four interceptions in the third quarter alone. Of course, in true Stanzi fashion, he came back in the fourth quarter.
In that quarter, he was untouchable, and led the offense to 28 unanswered points.
Nevertheless, the above video documents one of the interceptions, and it is Stanzi at his absolute worst.
Our man drops straight back. It is a seven-step drop. Indiana is rushing their front four and the line is doing a good job protecting the quarterback. Stanzi is in no way hurried.
On one side of the field, Iowa has a receiver running a go route . On the other side of the field, they've got a receiver running what looks to be a deep corner route.
Both of the backs are running a flat route to opposite sides of the field.
Finally, the tight end is running a 10-or-so-yard middle crossing route .
Meanwhile, Indiana seems to be in a cover 3 zone . Therefore, they are giving Iowa all of the underneath stuff, and protecting themselves against deep plays.
If you watch the video, you will notice that both of the Iowa backs are wide open. It is true that unless they break some tackles they won't gain much more than five-seven yards, but those are "gimme" yards.
Also, Iowa's tight end should have a good chance of making a 10-yard catch and the first down.
He will probably get clocked shortly after making the catch, but that is the nature of being the tight end and making plays in traffic.
Regardless, Stanzi has no intention of throwing underneath. He starts his drop by looking at his guy running the corner route, though I suspect that look is just a decoy.
As soon as he plants his foot, he immediately turns and throws right to his guy going for the end zone.
That receiver is blanketed.
End result: Interception.
I will note that a receiver playing at the top of his game could have bailed Stanzi out of that situation, and even made him look pretty good. However, that doesn't diminish the quarterback's poor decision.
The moral of this story is just what Hayden Fry used to say: Scratch where it itches.
In other words, if they're giving you the underneath stuff, take it. Force them to protect against the underneath stuff, which will open up plays downfield.
Not every play has to be a home run.
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
Stanzi tends to flourish when running rollouts, waggles, delays, and screens . This is certainly good news for Iowa fans, because Ken O' Keefe's offense has always been heavy on rollouts, waggles, delays, and screens.
I think part of the reason Stanzi is so good in this respect has to do with two elements of his play.
Firstly, his mechanics are strong . It is something a great many fans don't take notice of, but Stanzi sells his play actions, fakes and screens.
He makes the other team really believe the Iowa offense is going one way, when, indeed, they are going the other.
Secondly, Stanzi has the tendency to focus on his primary receiver. This is usually a considerable liability for a quarterback.
However, when the play is a rollout, waggle, delay, or screen, the quarterback usually has only one or two options.
Moreover, if the quarterback sells his fake extremely well, then the primary receiver is often wide open. Needless to say, this tends to result in huge gains.
The above clip shows two such plays. Admittedly, they're both against lousy defenses.
Furthermore, Stanzi completes both passes to Tony Moeaki, formerly Iowa's and now the Kansas City Chiefs' extremely talented tight end.
Nevertheless, against Michigan, watch how well Stanzi suckers in the entire front. Once they are suckered in, he simply wafts a pass over their heads to a wide-open Moeaki, who jogs into the end zone.
Then, against Georgia Tech, note how the linebackers all go the wrong way when Stanzi fakes the handoff. In fact, one of them falls down trying to recover from his mistake.
Again, would all of Ohio State's much more disciplined linebackers have been suckered in that badly? Probably not.
Regardless, against Georgia Tech, the end result was a 54-yard gain.
For The Love Of God, Ricky, Slide
I think it was during the Michigan State game. I watched the game in a bar surrounded by Hawk fans.
Stanzi was flushed out of the pocket, He scrambled for the first down, and as All-American MSU linebacker Greg Jones began bearing down on him, I yelled out, "For the love of God, Ricky, slide." The woman sitting next to me looked at me like I was crazy.
He never did slide, he took the full brunt of the hit—though I don't remember if it was Jones that got to him first—got up, and went on to the next play.
That play demonstrates who Ricky Stanzi is as a quarterback, and presumably, as a person. He refuses to quit on any play, for anybody.
It is not only demonstrated when he scrambles, but also when he passes. Do you remember Stanzi throwing the ball away at any point over the last two years? Once? Maybe twice?
Most quarterbacks throw the ball away at least twice a game. Backup Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg must have thrown the ball away five times against Northwestern.
Needless to say, you have to admire Stanzi's never-say-die attitude. However, ultimately it can be costly to the team.
After all, it goes without saying it's better to throw the ball away than to take a sack or throw an interception.
It is also goes without saying that Stanzi, or any quarterback, is worth more to his team healthy than injured.
I know Stanzi has gained a good 30 pounds since he was a freshman, but he's not Tim Tebow. In effect, he should do everything in his power to avoid getting tackled by Greg Jones.
The above video shows Stanzi taking one of those hits.
It is the Penn State game, third-and-two, and Iowa is running a read-option.
By the way, for all the criticism thrown at Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe over the years, that was an ingenious call.
Regardless, Stanzi decides to keep the ball. He runs past the first down line, and is a good five yards beyond the marker, at which point he would have been well advised to slide.
Instead, Stanzi just keeps on running, dragging out an extra two or so yards, as he is tackled by a Penn State safety.
Were the two yards worth it? Maybe. Would they have been worth it if he got injured? No.
A Hole In One
They say that the hardest single, physical act in all of sports is a hole-in-one. Certainly, in baseball, hitting a ball out of the park is something, and in basketball, nailing a three-pointer from the top of the arc is an accomplishment.
However, think about all that space in a game of golf. Just think about all that space on the green. Then think about getting that little ball into that little hole in one shot.
Well, I don't know what kind of golf player Stanzi is, but he can throw passes that I thought only people named Manning could throw.
The first play in the above clip was against Wisconsin. I was at the game with the friend that I mentioned in the introduction to this slideshow, who was rooting for the Badgers.
In the play, Iowa is on the Wisconsin 30. Stanzi gets flushed from the pocket, and takes off to his right. Meanwhile, Tony Moeaki was heading for the end zone.
Throwing off his back foot, Stanzi launches a perfect fade that lands right in Moeaki's hands.
Following the play, my friend looked at me, resignedly threw his hands up in the air, and said, "What can you do to defend against that?"
After all, the Wisconsin player defended the play perfectly. The only thing he could have done differently was shove Moeaki and take a pass interference penalty.
In a 40-yard space, Stanzi threw a hole-in-one; a perfect pass that was just inside the end zone, but was put in a place where only Moeaki could get it, and get one foot in bounds.
Meanwhile, the other play is from the Michigan game, and it was pretty much the exact same situation.
Iowa receiver Trey Stross is being covered perfectly by a Michigan defender.
Stanzi places the ball in the only spot where it is both possible for Stross to make the catch, and impossible for the Michigan player to make a play.
I recall reading Mgoblog's breakdown of the game a few days later. In the site's weekly breakdown, they assign positive or negative points to Michigan players based on their play-by-play performance.
In his assessment of that play, blogger Brian Cook noted, "Again they're going after Warren on a double move; Warren recovers and is in great position on this but Stanzi chucks it anyway and just happens to get it in the only place it can go, allowing Stross to lay out to make a diving catch. Indefensible. What's more is Stanzi threw this with Williams in his face. Just one of those plays where you tip your cap."
As both plays go to show, Stanzi didn't "just happen" to do anything. He is, or can be, that unbelievably good.
According to urbandictionary.com , Stanziballs are "Egregiously ill-advised throws by QB Ricky Stanzi, often times leading to a pick six."
What one usually finds is that most of the Stanziballs happen on short-intermediate passes, usually when Stanzi is throwing into highly trafficked areas.
For example, in the above clip, Stanzi seems to be looking at one of two options. He has Marvin McNutt on the outside, and Paul Chaney on the inside.
McNutt looks to be running a deep route, while Chaney seems to be running a quick curl. Meanwhile, Michigan is in a short zone, and is rushing their front four.
In truth, I have no idea what Stanzi saw, or what he was trying to do. One possibility is that he was trying to hit Chaney for a quick and short gain. If that was the case, then it was a good decision, but his throw was way off.
The other possibility was that he was trying to hit McNutt. If that was the case, then there seems to be two possibilities. The first is he thought Michigan was in man-coverage and felt a well-placed pass would be catchable.
The second was that he read Michigan's zone coverage, and either didn't see the Michigan defender that made the pick, or he threw the ball with absolutely no touch.
Any which way you look at it, it was a bad decision. If he'd waited another second, he might have had a chance to squeeze it into the seam, but that is conjecture.
One thing that is evident is that Ricky Stanzi's short and intermediate passing game leaves something to be desired.
As has been previously mentioned, he throws a beautiful long ball. He also is superb on play actions when he only has so many decisions to make.
Where he has struggled has been dropping back, scanning the field, and going through his progressions. Again, he had options in the above play. It just seemed like he made his decision before the snap, and was not going to change his mind.
Unfortunately, those sorts of short and intermediate passing routes are 75-80 percent of what will be expected of him in an NFL setting. If he is going to succeed at the next level, this is an area of his game that he will have to shore up.
Cool As a Cucumber In a Bowl of Hot Sauce
Sometimes I think Stanzi lights his own hair on fire just to prove he can put it out.
What I mean by that is he seems to consistently put his team in the crosshairs, only to be the player that rescues them.
In 2009, Stanzi threw four pick-sixes. I'm not sure who threw the most pick-sixes in FBS football, but I would imagine Stanzi is near the top of the list.
Furthermore, he threw 15 total interceptions, which tied for the most of any quarterback in the Big Ten. This was despite missing two and one-half games due to injury.
In 2009, his quarterback efficiency rating in the first quarter was a respectable 133. His second-quarter efficiency rating was a lousy 109. His third-quarter efficiency rating was a slightly less lousy 115.4.
His fourth-quarter efficiency rating was a whopping 184.3.
He led Iowa to four wins when trailing after three quarters, which tied Minnesota for the most fourth quarter comebacks in FBS last season.
As Dr. Saturday points out, "when Stanzi goes the distance...the Hawkeyes have a chance to win any game the defense can keep within striking distance."
The above clip is the final drive in the Michigan State game. In that contest, Iowa went into the fourth quarter trailing 3-6. More notably, with one-minute-and-thirty-seven seconds remaining in the final quarter, Iowa trailed 9-13.
Up to that point in the game—after 58-minutes-and-twenty-three seconds of play, Stanzi had completed 39 percent of his passes for 78 yards with zero touchdowns. It is also worth noting he hadn't thrown any interceptions.
In the final one one-minute-and-thirty-seven seconds, Stanzi completed four of nine passes for 60 yards, including one huge and unforgettable touchdown.
Love Him Or Leave Him
In the end, there is nothing that I've written here that Ricky Stanzi isn't well aware of. For all his 22 years, he knows considerably more about football than I do.
Moreover, Ken O'Keefe, his position coach, knows considerably more about football than either of us.
It is just a matter of progressing as a football player and implementing what he's learned.
I, for one, believe that there is no way Iowa can repeat the success of 2009 without Stanzi cutting back on his mistakes. He has to become the world-class player all Hawkeye fans know he can be.
All indications are Stanzi is doing everything in his power to be that world-class quarterback.
In the end, love him or leave him, Stanzi will define this offense and this team.
Let's hope we see a lot more of the Stanzi that makes opposing fans throw up their hands, and walk away knowing they got beaten by a great player.