Of course, the answer is yes.
Last season, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi threw 15 interceptions, the most for an Iowa QB since Drew Tate threw 14 in 2004, a season in which the Iowa offense was Drew Tate.
Iowa quarterbacks threw 20 interceptions last season, the most since 2006 when Iowa had 19.
So, yes, you ask offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe about interceptions, he’s going to vote for fewer.
“If we’re going to throw the ball in a certain situation, let’s do it, let’s make sure we’re doing it,” O’Keefe said. “We need to take care of the ball in practice if we’re going to take care of it during a game.”
That said, don’t think it only goes as far as, hey, Ricky, how about fewer interceptions. When a QB throws one, he’s required to write at least a paragraph to O’Keefe assessing the how and why. The reason why is articulated.
“We went back and studied all the interceptions,” O’Keefe said. “Every quarterback has graded themselves out and handed me a sheet of paper on the reasons why they thought they (interceptions) occurred.
“Most of it comes down to decision making, and we need to be better at making decisions. When to throw it away. When to try to make a play and when not to. We don’t want a quarterback who’s paralyzed by any means, but we just need to be smart about what we’re doing.”
It’s going to be one of those things where it comes down to games to show it, but, yes, they are working on the interception thing.
Still, it might not matter. With an O-line that will be three-fifths new, Iowa likely will pass more in 2010, just as it did more in 2009 than 2008.
Iowa threw the ball 72 more times in ’09 than ’08 (392-320) and ran 61 fewer times (454 to 515 in ‘08). Stanzi’s longest completion in ‘08, his first season as starter, was 59 yards. Last year, he had long completions of 92, 66 and 54 (in the Orange Bowl to tight end Tony Moeaki).
Before the Orange Bowl, Stanzi talked interceptions.
“The way our offense is set up, we’ll take a lot of low-percentage shots down the field that are tough to complete, but when you do, they pay off big,” Stanzi said. “It’s helped and it’s hurt us. It’s been a double-edged sword. We’ve done great getting a lot of plays down the field, but then of course we’ve had more interceptions than we’ve had.
“That’s all up to me. There’s no one else to blame on that one. You have to learn how to deal with those things during the course of the game and at the end of the season. A lot of it comes down to moving with your feet and not your arm. There are a lot of little things and plays that we can go back and look and improve on.”
In the end, Stanzi’s record is 18-4. That stat probably deserves more weight than the interceptions. It’s just not blood pressure-friendly, is it?
Iowa’s defense and punter Ryan Donahue’s skills might temper the chances Iowa’s offense ends up taking.
“You’ve got a guy like Donahue who’s banged that ball inside the 20 as many times as he has, there’s no sense in trying to take an extra chance,” O’Keefe said. “When you have a defense that plays like ours, you can afford to be smart.
“But at the same point, quarterbacks play that position because they like to make plays. They know that big plays really push offenses. We had quite a few bigger plays in our pass game than we did the year before, which would make sense without having Shonn Greene.
“But, on the other hand, we had a heck of a lot more interceptions than we ever had. We need to cut that back dramatically. That can help us improve faster than anything we can do.”
This will be Stanzi’s third year as a starter. He’s been there and done that. Even still, this spring, Stanzi is constantly looking for an edge.
O’Keefe called him an “information magnet” for the younger QBs and even younger linemen. O’Keefe specifically pointed out the snaps Stanzi has taken with freshman center Conor Boffeli.
“He’s patient with guys who don’t know what they’re doing,” O’Keefe said. “He’s all about helping everybody get better. He’s got a lot of good input at this stage, too. He’s been in the system long enough now. He understands some stuff. He’s having a lot of fun and he makes it fun for the other guys.
“He’s got ideas right now that are valuable to me.”
The QB room, as it turns out, is a lively one in the Hayden Fry Football Complex. O’Keefe doesn’t want wallflowers who sit doodling. He wants doers who express ideas and aren’t afraid to express them.
“Usually, quarterbacks aren’t church mice, by any means,” O’Keefe said. “You don’t get here unless you’ve played on state championship teams or at a high level. You’ve had ideas all along.
“. . . I want to hear what they have to say, even the young guys. It helps me teach them and understand where they’re at. If you don’t know how they’re thinking, it’s hard to get your point across to them. . . . They all have good input. The more experience they have, the better it is, obviously. It’s valuable. It’s always valuable.”
O’Keefe touched on a few other topics I thought were interesting.
At receiver, he said sophomore Keenan Davis is being pushed and is learning both SE and WR, which means the wideout and slot receiver spots. Also, freshman Jordan Cotton has “really started to emerge as a guy who’s making some plays. He’s been outhustling people for balls. He’s got a ways to go as far as assignments, but he lvoes to go catch the ball and he’s always going full speed.”
On true freshmen, O’Keefe talked about the tight end position, which means, pretty much, C.J. Fiedorowicz. If he’s physically ready, he has a shot to be a factor, even if it’s in specialized situations.
O’Keefe has talked before about the crazy surprise that was WR Marvin McNutt last season, going from QB to big-play WR.
“”The thing he surprised us with was how he finished plays,” O’Keefe said. “The way he finished plays really caught a lot of us by surprise, just not him. He believes in himself very strongly. We knew he has the ability to catch the ball. He’s got good hands. He’s a big guy and big target, but him running after the catch, we didn’t really know about.
“When a guy’s that big, he can break a tackle or drag a guy 6 extra yards on a play. . . . He’s providing that position a lot of leadership. He brings that quarterback charisma into the wide receiver room and that spills out into the offense in a lot of ways.”
O’Keefe believes in the blocking ability of all three backs. Jewel Hampton didn’t get as much of a chance to show it, but Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher showed that during their freshmen seasons last year.
No biggie? Well, in some third-down situations, it can leave the running back on the field and take the fullback off, leaving defenses to guess what’s going to happen.
“That has allowed us to keep them in on some of those third down situations where he used to sub in a fullback,” O’Keefe said. “You’d know. If we put Edgar Cervantes or Aaron Mickens or Tom Busch in the game, if we handed them the ball, it was a trick play. They were there to block and protect. We weren’t going to throw them the ball.
“There were a couple games (last year) where Rick was able to dump down. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than a 5-yard throw when nobody is covering you over the middle and you take off for 20. That again is what you get when you actually have a running back in the game and not a fullback.”