IOWA CITY, Iowa – Ricky Stanzi stood in and dealt with the pressure flawlessly. Jake Christensen handled it pretty well, too.
Oh, and they played pretty well in a 42-0 whitewash of an overwhelmed FIU team on Saturday. That couldn’t have been any tougher than being barraged with questions following the game, especially for Christensen.
“I didn’t want to talk to you guys,” Christensen said with a chuckle. “But that’s something that coach preaches. We talk to you guys good or bad. That’s something we live by and stick by.”
Nobody would have blamed Christensen for ducking out the side door of Kinnick on Saturday. After starting 13 games in a row, he began the game on the bench and watched as his understudy sliced through the FIU defense. The fireworks started with a 59-yard touchdown bomb from Stanzi to Darrell Johnson-Koulianos.
Stanzi’s hot start also fueled a segment of the Hawkeye fans when he was replaced by Christensen in what was a set rotation. They rained boos down on Christensen.
“It’s terrible. I don’t think I did anything to them,” Christenson said. “But that’s their choice. If they want to boo guys, that’s OK. I have thick skin. That’s not the first time I've been booed and it probably won’t be the last. We’re trying as hard as we can. We’re just trying to get better.”
It’s a shame that some of the fans have trouble handling this quarterback controversy. The good news is that the principles in the competition are dealing with it well.
“It’s something I’ve never experienced before,” Stanzi said of the quarterback controversy. “I wouldn’t call it a controversy. It’s a competition. That happens at a lot of positions. The quarterback position is highly publicized. There’s a lot of glory that comes with it and a lot of bad things that happen if you don’t perform.
“It’s not a bad thing being stuck in one. You have to go with what you have and you just play and compete and hope for the best.”
Stanzi completed 8 of 10 passes for 162 yards and three scores. He was done at halftime. Christensen connected on 8 of 12 throws with one touchdown. Neither player threw an interception.
Through two games, Stanzi is 17 of 24 for 252 yards and three scores without an interception. Christensen is 17 for 27 for 221 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. Both guys have started a game.
And while Christensen was peppered with questions about losing his starting position, Stanzi was asked close to 10 times if he thought he won the gig on Saturday.
“That’s not up to me,” he said. “I don’t know that. The decision lies in the coaches’ hands. It’s my job to compete and play.”
And he answered that question basically the same way throughout the interview. As smooth as he was on the field, he was just as slick in the post game, careful not to ruffle any feathers. He also sympathized with his competitor.
“It’s not easy for him, I’m sure,” Stanzi said. “But he’s a great competitor. He’s someone that will fight hard to get better. It’s never an easy thing coming off the bench, but Jake is a tough kid. I’m sure he’ll be able to handle it.”
So do I. I’ve had a bad feeling that this thing could get ugly since Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz announced a few weeks ago that there would be a quarterback rotation. But he probably knew what we know now – he has two guys calling signals that care about the team.
“It’s hard. It’s never easy,” Christensen said about not starting for the first time since 2006. “But if you look at it, we won 42-0. If anybody is upset about the game right now, it’s selfish. I’m not upset. Obviously I want to be the guy. Everyone on the team wants to be the guy at their position. We’ll just find out where we go and prepare as usual.”
Christensen said that Ferentz spoke to him after the game and told him that nothing had been decided. The coach echoed that in his post game. But you also got the sense that both guys knew it would be Stanzi running out with the starters next week in the showdown with Iowa State.
“I can't say enough about how both guys are handling it,” Ferentz said. “I don't expect anybody to be happy, that’s not the expectation, but both guys are handling it like good, team guys, you know, that’s all I could ask for. I know both guys want to start, and I would expect that, certainly.
“I know (the media will) try to make it (a quarterback controversy). It doesn't seem to be affecting our team, and I think that’s the thing I would be concerned about. It’s certainly giving everyone else a lot to talk about, but the key thing is how our team performs, and that’s first and foremost. I don't know if I have an answer other than that, that’s what I’m focused on.”
If the Hawkeye Nation message boards and post-game talk shows are any indication, a lot of fans are focused on this competition and think that it’s over with Stanzi’s performance on Saturday. That’s probably premature. Stanzi may hold onto this job and never let go, but it’s also reasonable to think that he could struggle at times as the level of the opposition increases.
“I don’t think about what people say,” Stanzi said about being in the middle of the controversy. “It’s about the team. We’re focused on total team improvement. We have a tough game coming up and we have to prepare. The best way to do that is not think about what people have to say.”
You hope that continues. But his resolve likely will be challenged because he doesn’t live in a bubble. Likewise, Christensen must keep his head about him because he didn’t all of a sudden fall out of a tight competition by what happened Saturday. As much as people would like to think this is over, he’s still in there.
“I went through this two years ago when I played well against Northern (Illinois) and everyone was asking me if I deserved a chance to play,” Christensen said. “Every single game, they would ask me the same question. I’m in the same boat. I’ve been here before.”
And he still thinks he’s Iowa best option at quarterback.
“Absolutely, I think every guy thinks they’re the best at every position,” Christensen said. “If you don’t, then you don’t belong here. I don’t think you have any business playing college football if you don’t think you’re the best.”
Please don’t take that comment the wrong way. It’s good that Christensen still has that confidence. And he says that knowing that Iowa is unlikely to continue with the quarterback rotation.
“I don’t see that happening,” Christensen said. “I don’t think that’s something Coach Ferentz wants to do. I don’t think any coach wants to do that.”
Stanzi got the start on Saturday because the coaches wanted to see how he’d handle it. Ferentz told Christensen that the competition was still even during the week.
“It’s all healthy competition,” Christensen said. “You don’t ever want to see somebody do bad. You want to win the game. We’re part of this team. We want to win. That’s our ultimate goal.”
So, we move forward into Iowa State week with the Hawkeyes at 2-0 and an unsettled situation at quarterback.
“I don’t think about it to be honest,” Stanzi said. “I’m all week thinking about game plan, watching film, getting better with practice reps. That’s the only thing that I have to focus on and that’s what’s going to make us better.”
So far, so good. Stay tuned.