Ricky Stanzi was very “Rickety” Stanzi as a freshman.
The Iowa quarterback didn’t see the light of day until his red-shirt freshman year, when his only completion was an interception against Syracuse. By the time his sophomore season rolled round, he was deep into competition for the starting job and eventually won it. Now you can argue he’s the most important player on Iowa’s offense.
He wasn’t there as a freshman. Not like Tate Forcier is for the Michigan Wolverines (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten).
“Very impressive for a young guy to step in there and do those kinds of things,” Stanzi said Tuesday. “It says a lot about his character as a football player. You can’t knock a guy who comes in and plays quarterback as a freshman.”
Forcier has become one of the darlings of the Big Ten. The freshman passes, runs, jumps or whatever his team needs at the moment. He’s thrown his body around with abandon, suffering a few bumps and bruises along the way, including a sore shoulder and ribs that slowed him at practice Monday.
The 6-foot-1, 187-pounder from San Diego is second in the conference in pass efficiency at 142.7. He averages 178.8 yards passing and has nine TD passes to just three interceptions.
He might, though, lead the league in intangibles. Leadership, guts, daring, the kid has it all in buckets.
“At home it’s one thing, but to go into Michigan State like we did and show the confidence and leadership that Tate was able to show is, in my opinion, pretty amazing,” UM offensive tackle Mark Ortmann said. “You know he’s going to give it everything he’s got. He showed that in the last two minutes.”
Ultimately, Forcier’s interception in the end zone led to the MSU’s 26-20 overtime victory, but he also rallied Michigan from a 14-point deficit in the final five minutes of regulation. He accounted for all 92 yards (53 pass, 39 rush) on Michigan’s game-tying drive in the final 2:53.
“No. 1, he’s very aware, great presence out there, great feel and he’s a playmaker,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He can improvise, which is a sign of a good quarterback. He can get out of trouble with his feet and certainly can hurt you with his throwing and has done that.
I think the most impressive thing is just his demeanor out there. Seems like he’s totally under control, he’ll improvise, but it seems he has a good knack, a good instinct, and that’s what good quarterbacks have. I’m not sure you teach that, but he certainly has done a good job.”
Forcier isn’t the only freshman leading his team this season. The headliner is USC’s Matt Barkley, who led the Trojans to victory at Ohio State. Also, there’s Rutger’s Tom Savage and Army’s Trent Steelman.
Under Ferentz, Iowa used Drew Tate as a backup his freshman season in 2003. That set the stage for a brilliant 2004, which included first-team all-Big Ten and a co-conference championship.
Officially, Forcier is a freshman, but he did enroll in January and participate in spring practice.
“It’s a huge adjustment,” Ferentz said. “So a guy with that little experience, 15 days of spring ball really isn’t that much, for him to be doing what he’s doing is really impressive, and he’s given the whole team a lift.”
The No. 12 Hawkeyes (5-0, 1-0) should go into Saturday night’s game with a full lineup for the first time since the opener.
Tight end Tony Moeaki (ankle) will play this week as long as there is no aggravation of his injury in practice this week, Ferentz said. Cornerback Shaun Prater is expected to play. He sat out Arkansas State after hyperextending a knee in practice last week.
Moeaki has 11 catches for 87 yards and a TD. Ten of his catches came in the opener against UNI, when he was healthy. He’s now missed 15 games in his career.
Last week, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was held out of the first half for issues at practice, Ferentz said. He caught the only ball thrown his way for a 27-yard gain in the third quarter.
Ferentz said all is forgiven.
“I don’t know if it’s a wake-up call,” Ferentz said. “He might slip on a banana peel every now and then, but he’s worked hard.”