Sept. 23, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz verified that sophomore Ricky Stanzi will start at quarterback Saturday when 3-1 Hawkeyes face 4-0 Northwestern inside Kinnick Stadium. A 34th consecutive sellout crowd will be in attendance with an 11:03 a.m. kickoff. Iowa’s homecoming football game will also air nationally on ESPN Classic.
Ferentz called the closely-watched quarterback tussle between Stanzi and junior Jake Christensen “an open book.” The same can be said about the entire season for the Hawkeyes as they begin the 113th campaign of Big Ten football against a Northwestern team that has given them fits the past three seasons. Iowa used a second-half rally to knock off the Wildcats a year ago in Evanston, 28-17. Northwestern won the two previous meetings, 28-27 in 2005 and 21-7 in 2006 (the last time the teams played in Iowa City).
“We’ll have a great challenge on our hands playing Northwestern,” Ferentz said. “They’re off to a tremendous start with a very experienced football team. They’re playing very, very well right now. Offensively you look at their skilled players and I think it all starts right there. (C.J.) Bachér has done a nice job at quarterback and he has a bunch of good receivers. (Eric) Peterman is the leader out there being a senior. (Tyrell) Sutton is one of the best players in our conference — not just running backs — but one of the best players in the conference. He’s an outstanding player.”
Northwestern has won its first four games by an average of more than two touchdowns per outing (14.5 points). The Wildcats have victories against Syracuse (30-10), Duke (24-20), Southern Illinois (33-7) and Ohio (16-8). The game against Duke was the only one of the four away from Ryan Field.
Bachér is averaging 189.5 passing yards per game with three touchdowns and five interceptions. Sutton, who had 203 all-purpose yards on his last trip to Kinnick, averages 96.8 yards per game with five touchdowns. Running back Omar Conteh has scored two touchdowns. As you would expect from a quarterback who averages 32 ½ pass attempts per game, Bachér utilizes several receivers. His favorite target is Peterman (14 catches, 195 yards), followed by Ross Lane (13-153), Rasheed Ward (12-139) and Sutton (12-84). All those potent offensive weapons — Bachér, Sutton, Peterman, Lane and Ward are seniors.
Ferentz has been impressed with Northwestern’s experienced and deep defensive front that includes seniors Kevin Mims (right end) and John Gill (right tackle), junior Corey Wooton (left end) and sophomore Corbin Byant (right tackle).
Christensen going to play?
“They are very, very experienced up front on defense,” Ferentz said. “They’re deep up front. Wootton on the outside’s a real good player. Then Gill, I’m not sure we blocked him more than three times last year in the game. That may be an exaggeration, it may not have been three. He gave us a lot of trouble.”
Iowa leads the all-time series 46-20-3, including a 23-6 edge in Iowa City. Last season Northwestern built a 14-point advantage by scoring on two of its first three possessions. Christensen orchestrated a second-half rally with Iowa outscoring the Wildcats 17-3. He completed 21 of 36 passes for the game for 299 yards and a touchdown with a long of 53 yards to Trey Stross. According to Ferentz, big gains will be harder to come by Saturday.
“What comes to the mind for me are the last three games, and we’re on the short end,” Ferentz said. “We got outplayed in both of those games. We got outplayed in the first half last year. Those things are factors. And then one of the reasons we were able to get back in the game last year, we got their corners to bite a little bit on a couple double moves. That’s what I was alluding to earlier. I’m not seeing them playing that fashion this year. I think they’ve learned. It’s clear to me they’re not giving up the big play. That victimized them last year. That’s probably one of the reasons they’re 4 0 right now.”
The conference opener provides a clean slate — or an open book if you will — for the Hawkeyes. Injury news is encouraging with the return expended for linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, tight end Michael Sabers and fullback Brett Morse.
“Each and every game is very big and they’re all special,” Ferentz said. “That’s the nature of football. You try to make the most you can of every opportunity in front of you. Basically you have a week to do it in. When that week’s up, you go to the next block. It’s about the best way I can put it. We’re moving into conference play, so to say that’s not significant would be obviously wrong.”
As expected, the first question asked at Tuesday’s press conference was about the quarterback situation. Ferentz said he was not `pulling for either guy,’ but after watching the final 30 minutes of a 21-20 loss at Pittsburgh on Sept. 20 and following a review of game tape, he said of Stanzi ,”I think he gives us our best shot this week.”
Ferentz received a few laughs from the media after re-issuing his now-famous `gut-feeling’ quote when asked if Christensen might relieve Stanzi against Northwestern. Despite taking a beating by the media last week for saying that Christensen played the entire second half because of a `gut feeling,’ Ferentz jokingly made the same remark this afternoon.
Reporter: Christensen going to play?
Coach Ferentz: I can’t tell you that right now. We’ll see how it goes. Probably be a gut felling, you know.
Stanzi has completed 60.4 percent of his passes this season for 426 yards and three touchdowns; Christensen has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns. Whichever quarterback Iowa has under center, they will certainly see pressure. Northwestern has 36 tackles for loss and 15 sacks this season.
“They’re good players, they’re experienced,” Ferentz said. “They play hard. Then the other factor, you get a guy like (Vince) Browne jumping in the game who is a second-team guy getting three sacks. That’s pretty extraordinary.”