IOWA CITY — Entering this season, there wasn’t doubt about Ricky Stanzi’s leadership skills at quarterback or his ability to perform in clutch situations.
But would he, could he shed all those interceptions?
His 15 picks — four of which were returned for touchdowns — was the bright red number that probably kept Stanzi from being on more preseason all-this and all-that teams and watchlists. Even with his 18-4 career record as a starter.
Four games into this season, and Stanzi’s totally in the black, stats-wise. Nine TD passes, just one interception. And the pick should have been caught by Marvin McNutt instead of caroming into Arizona cornerback Trevin Wade’s hands for an easy return for a touchdown. Typically, Stanzi said the interception was his fault, not his receiver’s.
Stanzi is fifth in the nation in passing efficiency. His numbers have a strange symmetry. He has 66 completions, and has completed 66.66 percent of his throws. His longest completion was 66 yards. He has thrown 99 passes, and has 999 passing yards to go with those 9 touchdowns.
“C’mon, you know me,” Stanzi said Tuesday. “You’ve been talking to me for three years. When have I ever talked about statistics?
The only one of his stats the senior can probably recite is a 1. One interception.
“With any quarterback, the first thing is interceptions,” he said. “If you cut down those, the other statistics kind of tend to go up.”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t a big stats guy himself, at least not through four nonconference games.
“I think (Stanzi) is enjoying the luxury of being an experienced player,” Ferentz said. “He’s always been very committed, worked extremely hard. He’s off to a real good start. I didn’t realize he was that high statistically.”
We haven’t seen Overreaching Ricky this season. He deferred to Cool Hand Ricky, seizing what’s readily available instead of chasing riskier gains.
“I’m trying to step back, not do everything,” Stanzi said, “let the offensive guys do what they have to do and do my job, which is to get them the ball if possible. And if not, check it down or check to a run, and live with it. If we have to punt, we have to punt. Then we’ll stop ‘em and get the ball back.
“A lot of it has to do with not trying to force it. If something doesn’t look right, trust your instincts. Just because you practice it doesn’t mean you have to throw it. … Doing less has almost been more for us at times. Not trying to convert every third-down just because you feel you have to, understanding that it’s OK to punt. Either score or punt. If it’s punt, that’s fine.”
There’s a word for that kind of approach: Wiser.
“I would hope so,” said Stanzi. “Last year I definitely made my fair share of dumb decisions, Vice versa, (this year) they’re being called smart decisions.”
Ferentz said Tuesday he wasn’t sure why Penn State would be considered the underdog.”
Well, I am. Besides having the home-field advantage, Iowa has the experienced quarterback. Fifth-year senior, third-year starter Stanzi goes against first-year freshman Robert Bolden.
“I know when I was a freshman I was in no way, shape or form ready to step out on the field and play a football game.”
It’s called growth. As Sherlock Holmes once told his flustered assistant, Dr. Watson: “Patience is a virtue, Watson. You should learn to cultivate it.”
“We’ve put a lot of effort into that frame of mind,” Stanzi said. “It’s kind of become a way of thinking right now, playing the quarterback position.”
Penn State or Iowa? Who do you think should have the edge at quarterback Saturday night? Is it really even debatable?