Sure, Iowa just lost their first game of the year, 21-20. But how much do we really know? What was really important about losing to Pitt? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
Jake Christensen has officially played his way out of the starting lineup. There are myriad stories floating around about why Stanzi didn't see a single snap in the second half, and while none of them are anywhere near verifiable enough for publication (other than this nugget: "mutiny"?! Come on guys, Varsity Blues was an MTV joint. You can lie better than MTV), it's safe to say that bizarre, ineffectual one-minute drill by Stanzi to end the first half probably earned him a spot on the sidelines for two quarters.
And two quarters is it, because Stanzi is now your starter, according to Ferentz and the depth chart (pops to embedded PDF). This is probably for the best; Christensen was beaten into fear and insufficiency in 2007, and that sort of thing you just can't unlearn. After his offseason QB lessons with legendary NFL superstar Steve DeBerg, Christensen has now turned into the Big Ten's Dikembe Mutombo, a player of considerable athleticism and skills, but without the organic thought process to make it highly functional. He, like Mutombo, is like a robot on offense, deciding what steps his body will take before he executes them. The end result is awkward passes, pocket panic, and a game that cannot evolve as quickly as the play around him.
It's a genuine shame, because like Ladell Betts eight years prior, Christensen shouldered the load to the best of his ability, has little to nothing to show for it, and not one single time mouthed off publicly about it. Granted, Betts had plenty more room to gripe, but Drew Tate didn't, and that didn't stop the Five-Shooter, now, did it? We'll let Mike Gundy voice our opinion on the kid one last time, then tentatively relegate all Christensen talk to the trash bin of yesterday's news:
Stanzi is once again the Manzi against Northwestern, a role he has earned. While he's probably liable for a drive-killing Stanziball or two (or three), we're hard-pressed to imagine a scenario without injury or full implosion that involves a prominent role for Christensen from here on out. Shame that the era ends like this, but end it must.
Iowa's lone defensive weakness is at safety. On Pitt's first and third touchdowns, both long runs snaking through the Iowa secondary, FS Brett Greenwood was caught laughably out of position. The first run was especially egregious, as one unremarkable juke move left Greenwood with two broken ankles and utterly incapable of laying even a hand on the rusher five feet in front of him. Greenwood hardly made his presence known against this first tough opponent of the season (notable exception: saving a 20+ yard run with a dive tackle on McCoy's ankles in the second half), and we're thinking the comparisons to Sean Considine and Derek Pagel can wait until Greenwood cuts down on the mental errors that were famously absent from his predecessors' play.
Meanwhile, Tyler Sash (above), coming off a virtuoso performance against Iowa State, was downright pedestrian this Saturday, making some plays and missing just as many. We're not ready to give up the experiment on either safety so far (and looking at the depth charts, neither are the coaches), but they absolutely must perform at a higher level against a spread rush team like Northwestern--no position is put at higher stress levels against a spread offense than safety.
The cornerbacks, however, are doing just fine. It's safe to say Amari Spievey is doing just fine and will start until his career's over here. The Prodigal Hawkeye didn't miss a single tackle or lose coverage that we can remember, and he's still a sophomore in his first season of BXI action. We couldn't have known it at the time, but with Jordan Bernstine's problematic hammy, Spievey has become every bit as important an acquisition for the defense as Shonn Greene was for the offense. Bradley Fletcher has improved, yes, but without Spievey, we're either starting Shaun Prater (good, but definitely not ready) or Drew Gardner (horrrrk) right now. Those two are serviceable in spot duty. Spievey is undoubtedly a future NFL cornerback. The difference is palpable.
Meanwhile, after three unremarkable games, Kroul and Unusual Punishment have made their presence known once again. After Iowa went down 14-3, Pittsburgh tried to establish a running game, and it led to a two-quarter drought as the Panthers watched Iowa climb back into the lead. Statistics be damned; conventional rushing against Iowa is useless. Err, I mean, no! Anything but that! Please, opponents, don't rush up the middle on Iowa! We'd be doomed, I tell you, doomed!
Shonn Greene is doing an Earl Campbell impression for which he is unprepared. God bless Shonn Greene. Honestly. For someone who spent, as near as we can tell, almost two years away from the football field (first the ankle injury in 2006, then his academic hiatus), he is putting in a superhuman effort.
Greene currently ranks eighth in the NCAA in rushing offense, which is remarkable; not only did he not run up gaudy stats on cupcakes and MACrifices, but that career high he put up against Pitt came in essentially three quarters. In the fourth, Greene was completely worn out, barely able to peel himself off the field or walk without a noticeable limp. In this sense, Greene is like 2006-07 Tony Freeman, a physical specimen, but noticeably lacking in conditioning. Freeman improved there, and we have no doubt Greene will too. We just hope it'll be soon; if he gets to the level where he can register thirty carries in a game, Iowa probably wins it. And really, if Greene rushes 30 times, no game is off the table. The sooner Greene reaches this level is the closer Iowa gets to a high-level bowl game.
1--Brian Ray/The Gazette
2--Press Citizen / Matthew Holst
3--Press Citizen / Matthew Holst
4--AP Photo/Keith Srakocic