You know the drill: Every Thursday from now until mid-August, BHGP breaks down the depth chart, position by position, from most certain to least certain.
Last season, Rick Stanzi took the big leap forward off the field; he went from wide-eyed sophomore to offensive leader and face of the program. There was progress on the field, as well, though not on the same scale. The STANZIBALL remains, and will until the end of his time here. Which is like, woah, eight months from now.
Rick Stanzi (#12, Senior, 6'4", 220 lb., Mentor, OH)
Yes there were times, I'm sure you knew
Where I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all, and I stood tall, and did it my way
And so the end is near, and Ricky faces the final curtain on his quixotic career as Iowa's top signalcaller. It is a career destined to enter the pantheon of Hawkeye quarterbacks, not for his somewhat pedestrian individual statistics but for the spectacular results. Since taking the helm midway through the 2008 season, Stanzi is a remarkable 18-3 in games he started and finished; last season, he was 10-0 in such games. More importantly, he has grown into a dominant force in the fourth quarter:
2008 Northwestern: In his first Big Ten start, Stanzi fumbled and threw a pick in the first half as the Hawkeyes relinquished a 14-point lead. With his soon-to-be Doak Walker Award-winning halfback on the sidelines, Stanzi took over at his own 28 with 4:15 to play and down six. He completed six of eight attempts, taking Iowa to the Northwestern 8 before the drive stalled.
2008 Michigan State: Down three with 8:00 to play, Ken O'Keefe turned to his superstar tailback, running Shonn Greene (and Jewel Hampton) into the Spartan line 8 times and throwing just one pass. Greene famously came up short on 4th and 1 from the MSU 21. It was the last time KOK avoided his signal-caller down the stretch, and it was the last time a Stanzi-led Iowa offense failed to convert when trailing in the fourth quarter. And it was October 4, 2008.
2008 Illinois: With 14:00 to play, Illinois led the Hawks 24-9. Stanzi covered 64 yards with three completions to cut the lead to 8, then scrambled for 14 yards on 3rd and 10 with 3:30 to play, setting up first and goal at the 5. Shonn Greene scored on the next play, and Stanzi hit backup tight end Allan Reisner for the two-point conversion to tie the game. Unfortunately, nearly 3:00 remained on the clock. The defense buckled, leading to a game-winning Illini field goal with 24 seconds left on the clock. Clock management was never again an issue, and Stanzi has not lost a game he started and finished since.
2008 Penn State: The watershed moment. Down 2 to the undefeated, third-ranked Nittany Lions with 3:45 to play, the Iowa offense took over at its own 29. Stanzi took a sack on the first play from scrimmage, then completed four passes to methodically move the Hawkeyes down the field. He hit Brandon Myers for 11 yards on a key 3rd and 10. He hit DJK for 10 on another key 3rd and 6, taking an erstwhile 42 yard field goal and making it a chip shot. There were no clock issues. There was Daniel Murray.
2009 Arizona/Penn State/Arkansas State/Michigan/Wisconsin: Stanzi began employing a new weapon: The fourth-quarter game-killing scoring drive. In all five of these games, Iowa held a precarious lead early in the fourth quarter. In all five games, Stanzi engineered a scoring drive to extend the Hawkeye lead beyond one possession. Given the effectiveness of the 2009 Iowa defense, an 8-point lead was effectively a death sentence for the opposition.
2009 Michigan State: Through a fluke in the schedule, the Hawkeyes returned to the scene of last year's crime for a night game with Sparty. The game turned into a slugfest, and Stanzi struggled mightily. An MSU touchdown with 1:37 put the Spartans up by 4. With 1:37 remaining, Stanzi took over, driving Iowa 67 yards on three completions and a scramble, then hitting Marvin McNutt for the winning touchdown on the game's last play.
2009 Indiana: The game where it all came together, and not a moment too soon. Stanzi was horrendous in the third quarter, throwing four interceptions into a 30 mph wind as Iowa fell behind by 10 points. He then opened the fourth with two consecutive bombs, connecting with McNutt for 92 and DJK for 66. He then engineered another game-killing drive, hitting Moeaki for 19 on a short field and letting Brandon Wegher do the rest with a late-game reliance on the run not seen since late 2008.
2010 Georgia Tech: The consummate example of the New Ricky Stanzi Experience, as Georgia Tech wilted under the Hawkeye defense. GT's only first half points came on an intercepted Stanzi pass return for a touchdown (the prototypical STANZIBALL). But in the fourth quarter, with the Iowa lead cut to 3 points, KOK went back to Brandon Wegher and the offensive line, using the pass less as weapon and more as decoy, as Iowa chewed up clock and yardage on another long game-killing scoring drive.
Stanzi's ability to engineer a comeback put a premium on his arm when Iowa was behind. Stanzi's game management, i.e. his ability to throw a completely inexplicable pass at any given moment, left the running game in charge when protecting a small lead. I would say we should expect the same offensive philosophy, but with 60% of the offensive line lost to graduation or early entrance, Iowa might not have the luxury of a grind-it-out running attack. He's both Iowa's savior and its Achilles heel. The ability to come back from the dead, and the ability to throw a mind-boggling interception at any time, are now genetic traits; love him or leave him, Stanzi is #1.
The Heir Apparent
James Vandenberg (#16, Sophomore, 6'3", 205 lbs., Keokuk, IA)
The Mandenberg emerged as the clear QB2 last season, surpassing classmate John Wienke and planting himself at the top of the totem pole for 2011. In his first collegiate start, he played the game of his brief career (20/33, 233 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT) in the de facto Big Ten championship game at Ohio State, a performance that would be impressive if turned in by his then-injured superior. An interception in Iowa's one overtime possession turned Vandenberg's carriage back into a pumpkin, though, and the overtime loss -- moral victory as it was for the young signalcaller -- was a loss all the same.
Sandwiched around the OSU game were two performances that could charitably be described as lackluster. Entering after Stanzi limped off in the second quarter against Northwestern, Vandenberg was nowhere near ready for prime time, going just 9/27 passing for a meager 82 yards as the offense ground to a halt against a thoroughly mediocre Wildcat defense. It was this game that made expectations for the next week's clash in Columbus nosedive; despite holding a better record and arguably better resume, Iowa entered the OSU game a 17-point underdog due solely to the lack of experience behind center. A week after the 'Shoe, Vandenberg reverted to his Northwestern form, going 11/24 for 117 and a pick against a Minnesota defense that finished the season fifth in the conference in passing defense. Iowa scored just 12 points on a touchdown and two field goals that day; the stoutness of the Iowa defense and the bumbling ineptitude of Tim Brewster's ever-changing offense were the only things keeping Floyd of Rosedale south of Albert Lea.
The Northwestern debacle can be chalked up to a lack of reps. The Ohio State game was a profile in courage. The Minnesota game is HELLO DANGER WILL ROBINSON. There was nothing -- cold but not miserable weather, home crowd, healthy offensive lineup -- preventing a solid performance against the Gophers; it's not as if Minnesota's defense was in any way better than Ohio State's. Nothing explains it, that is, but inexperience. If Iowa's season goes according to plan, reps will again be in short supply. It means this post may come much later in 2011. For the final year of Vandenberg's apprenticeship, and for the sanity of all of us, let's hope for garbage time reps and nothing more.
While You Wait for the Others
John Wienke (#14, Sophomore, 6'5", 220 lbs., Tuscola, IL)
Wienke had ostensibly been tied with Vandenberg throughout his first two seasons on campus, but by all accounts Vandenberg had won the battle everywhere but on the depth chart by September. Those suspicions were only confirmed when Stanzi went down with an ankle injury, Vandenberg struggled, and yet Wienke continued to ride pine. He was a heralded player out of high school, an all-state quarterback (and punter) as a senior, an Elite 11 selection, and a Lloyd Carr-era Michigan commit. That hasn't translated to on-the-field success, however. Given his rumored immobility and KOK's newfound love of the scrambler, Wienke might never break through and has to be considered a prime transfer candidate.
A.J. Derby (#17, Freshman, 6'4", 225, Iowa City, IA)
Ah, nothing triggers the wanderlust of Iowa fans like a scrambling quarterback, especially one who is home grown; A.J. Derby enters the Iowa program with rose petals lining the route, fawning praise roaring from the heavens, the local product who turned down the advances of the mighty Gators and Crimson Tide and Wolverines to make it big here. He's done everything right so far, staying quiet (which, to be fair, is a rule for freshmen) and showing up early; despite Ferentz's groans of protest, Derby graduated high school this winter and attended spring workouts where he looked "lost." There is little doubt he'll redshirt; there are already three quarterbacks on the roster (four if you count walk-on Wyatt Seuss, which let's just not for the sake of this paragraph), and Derby probably needs a year of work with Chris Doyle and Ken O'Keefe before he could contribute in anything other than an emergency. Still, he's the golden child, and his name will be on the lips of the less-than-faithful at Kinnick should Vandenberg struggle in 2011.