Dec. 25, 2008
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TAMPA, Fla. — Just as cream eventually rises to the top, the University of Iowa has had several football players seize the moment this season, offering surprising, if not significant, contributions for the Outback Bowl-bound Hawkeyes.
The most recognized example came at the running back position. Entering the season-opener Aug. 30 against Maine, Iowa’s leading returning ground-gainer was wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who carried the ball twice in 2007 for 19 yards. This season junior Shonn Greene stepped in and gained 1,729 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns, winning the Doak Walker Award and finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
Middle linebacker Pat Angerer emerged as the front-runner in a competitive race with Jacody Coleman and finished the regular-season with a team-high 101 tackles. Tight end Brandon Myers filled in when incumbent Tony Moeaki went down with an injury and caught 30 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns before being named first team all-Big Ten Conference.
But the positional race that received the most critical attention and scrutiny was quarterback. The Hawkeyes are blessed with two talented and capable signal callers in sophomore Ricky Stanzi and junior Jake Christensen. In 2007, Christensen completed 53.5-percent of his passes for 2,269 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Stanzi was 0 for 4 with an interception. This season the two alternated starts during the first four games — Christensen against Maine and Pittsburgh, Stanzi against Florida International and Iowa State. By week five against Northwestern, the job was Stanzi’s and when the Hawkeyes meet South Carolina on New Year’s Day, it will be his ninth consecutive start.
“The area I’ve improved the most is understanding the routine of playing college football and understanding what goes into each week,” Stanzi said. “Once you understand what your duty is, you just manage the game by letting all the great players on our offense take over by putting the ball in their hands.”
During Iowa’s march to an 8-4 regular-season record (5-3 in the Big Ten Conference), Stanzi completed 137 of 235 passes (58.3 percent) for 1,809 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was intercepted just seven times.
“It’s been very exciting for me to see where I was a year ago as a backup and now having the honor to start for this team in a big bowl game,” Stanzi said. “It’s exciting, but you feel humbled at the same time.”
“You have to be mentally strong. If you take a good shot, it might sting a little bit, but you don’t want to let your teammates down or make them think you’re soft. My teammates take way more shots than I do. If I get popped once, I should be able to get back up and keep playing football.”
UI sophomore quarterback
Stanzi will now face what could be his most challenging task by going against a Gamecock defense that ranks third in the nation in fewest passing yards (160.25 per game) and 12th in fewest total yards (288.92).
“Their defense is fast, they’re physical and they disguise things well,” Stanzi said. “They do a good job of playing with a quarterback’s head for sure.”
Stanzi and UI offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe expect South Carolina to mimic what Minnesota did Nov. 22 in the Metrodome, which forced Stanzi to burn all three timeouts by the 7:25 mark of the first quarter.
“The defense was a little confusing and I was running out of time on the play clock,” Stranzi said. “I’m sure South Carolina will have a similar strategy where they’re trying to give you different looks. (The Minnesota game) was a good learning experience, I know that. Our offense responded well and that was encouraging for the whole team to see.”
Against the Gophers, Stanzi found a way to successfully control the game (Iowa defeated Insight Bowl-bound Minnesota, 55-0), elude defenders (he rushed six times for 17 yards) and bounce back after being planted in the turf.
“You have to be mentally strong,” Stanzi said. “If you take a good shot, it might sting a little bit, but you don’t want to let your teammates down or make them think you’re soft. My teammates take way more shots than I do. If I get popped once, I should be able to get back up and keep playing football.”
In the regular-season finale, Stanzi completed 15 of 28 passes for a career-high 255 yards and three touchdowns.
The Hawkeyes completed their first Outback Bowl practice in Florida this afternoon at the University of Tampa. For Stanzi, this is a business trip, and he hasn’t had a desire to get wrapped up in the bowl week festivities.
“I haven’t thought about anything but the game,” he said. “I guess it’s nice being in warmer weather, but I don’t mind cold weather because I’m from Ohio.”
To view a 36-image photo gallery from practice on Christmas Day — available exclusively on hawkeyesports.com — CLICK HERE.
Fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes who live in the Heartland or in the Sunshine State or in all points between should note that the UI Athletics Ticket Office is accepting ticket orders for the 2009 Outback Bowl. Click here to purchase your tickets online. Fans can also purchase over the phone by calling 1-800 IA-HAWKS or over-the-counter at the UI Athletics Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.