IOWA CITY, Iowa – You can feel free to continue to second guess Kirk Ferentz. Call him crazy. Say he’s mishandling the quarterback position.
He’s at ease going into Week 4 at Pittsburgh with two guys running even. He’s comfortable going to practice each day undecided about who will start under center.
It goes against conventional wisdom. It cuts against the grain. The saying states that when you think you have two quarterbacks, you really have none. Ferentz says phooey.
“Ultimately all we're trying to do is get to the finish line, have something good happen there,” the Iowa coach said. “So whatever steps it takes to get there. I think we can only do it a day at a time, a week at a time, to determine that until it becomes obvious.
“If somebody’s throwing a no-hitter, it's pretty easy to figure that one out. If somebody walks the first six guys, it's pretty easy to figure that one out, too. I guess I'm at ease right now because I think both guys are doing well.”
But neither Jake Christensen nor Ricky Stanzi is doing well enough to send the other to the bench fulltime. And Ferentz isn’t about to crown one of them the undisputed starter until he proves that he deserves it.
And guess what? The same thing is going on at left guard, kicker, middle linebacker and strong safety.
Many people believe the quarterback represents the most important position in sports. Heck, how many times have you heard people in all walks of life use the term quarterback to describe the person in their profession who is in charge? Remember, it’s Monday morning quarterback, not Monday morning running back.
That’s why some people outside of the Iowa football program are having trouble seeing how this quarterback carousel is going to prosper. They may very well be proven correct. It might blow up in Ferentz’s face.
However, if you spend some time around Christensen and Stanzi, you begin understand why Ferentz believes this is the best approach. They handle the thing maturely and don’t seem rattled at all by the position they’re in.
“We're just trying to do what's fair,” Ferentz said. “Thus far I haven't seen (either one lose focus). Again, I can just go back most recently to last week. Jake really responded very well.”
Ferentz said he was interested to see how Stanzi would handle being pulled from the game.
“I couldn't help but notice Stanzi when Jake was on the field,” the coach said. “It's one of the things I was kind of peeking (over) there a little bit. You know, I'd say the same about Ricky. He got yanked out of the game. He's into the game, and then when Jake came over to the sideline, he's the first guy congratulating him or one of the first guys.
“So, I mean, that's what you're looking for. I think they're both -- they like each other. They enjoy each other. I think they respect each other. The reason they respect each other, they're both doing a good job for the team.”
Ferentz is not approaching this thing in a willy-nilly fashion. He’s very cognizant of the duo’s mental state and how they’re handling the situation. It’s a day-to-day process.
I don’t think that Ferentz likes this setup. He’s an offensive coach and states that he prefers having one guy take all the snaps.
What happened is that the coach got fed up with how inconsistent his team played the last two seasons and wanted to shake it up in the off-season. He opened up positions all over the field, including quarterback, where Christensen was very inconsistent in 2007. He couldn’t have seen this situation coming considering that Stanzi, according to the coach, wasn’t close to seeing the field last season.
So, he opens it up a few months later at the start of spring practice. Low and behold, Stanzi advanced his game and caught up enough to Christensen to open the coaches’ eyes. That continued into summer camp and into the season.
The lights for ’08 come on and Ferentz decided to see how each quarterback performs, giving them each a start in the first two weeks and rotating the other guy into the game. Stanzi goes 8-10 and leads the team to five touchdowns in Game 2 against an overmatched FIU team and wins the third start against Iowa State.
Stanzi struggles for much of the first three quarters against the cross-state rival and is replaced by Christensen, who leads the team on a touchdown march on his first series. Though he hadn’t made a decision who would start at Pittsburgh, Ferentz said he would open with Christensen if the game was played today, meaning Stanzi has some catching up to do at practice this week.
“There’s got to be some evidence,” Ferentz said. “Some of it’s subjective; everything you do in life is subjective, evaluations. There’s got to be evidence. I keep saying it’s even, and I have a lot more exposures, we’ve been watching these guys hard for the whole duration. They’re both doing a good job.”
There is no doubt that in reading the few paragraphs above the coach’s last quote, you could conclude that this quarterback position is a mess. It’s not. That’s a credit to the players and the coaches.
“From my vantage point, (the players are) not affected at all (by the quarterback competition),” Ferentz said. “I haven’t asked, but I don’t see any of that. It’s not like pro football with 7 guys in one corner, play Joe Smith, then the other 8 over here, that’s one nice thing about college football. Good teams don’t have it in the NFL, either. I think they embrace the guy playing.”
You would worry that these guys might be looking over their shoulders, tentative to make a mistake for fear of being benched, therefore playing tight. You could use that as an excuse for Stanzi playing poorly against Iowa State.
I just haven’t seen that. It’s looked to me that they’ve pushed each other to play better. Instead of hanging his head about losing his starting job, Christensen kept his noggin in the game and was ready to go when called upon.
Listen, both of these guys have flaws in their games. There probably is a better than average chance that neither one would be all-Big Ten even if he took all the snaps. Could one of them benefit from getting all the practice reps? Sure. But maybe they can learn things from each other through this competition that could make both better. Things don’t always have to go by the book to work out.
“Nobody wants to get on a bus where the guy’s going to drive into a wall or off the road,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think our players feel that way.”
Maybe some of us are waiting for an accident that very well might not happen.