Last week in this space I wrote that Kirk Ferentz was handling the quarterback situation just fine.
It might still be. I don’t know. I believe what I wrote last Tuesday, things just seem more confusing in the last week.
It appears that the majority of the fans have gotten what they wanted in Ricky Stanzi being named the starter ahead of Jake Christensen. I guess I’m unsure of how we got here. And I sure don’t think that things have settled.
It’s not just that Stanzi is the starter, but that Ferentz told him he’s going to play the entire game against Northwestern this weekend. When asked if Christensen would in the rotation this Saturday, Ferentz wasn’t giving up that information.
“I can't tell you that right now,” the coach said. “We'll see how it goes. Probably (will) be a gut feeling, you know.”
Let’s chalk this contradiction up to Stanzi’s inexperience, perhaps the very same thing that’s cost him game reps this season. He may be letting out the news of his grabbing hold of the quarterback reigns before the coach had hoped to be out there. And media slips are better than on-field mishaps.
Ferentz has moved this quarterback competition/controversy to the next level. He’s chosen to let Stanzi sink or swim on his own against Northwestern, or so he’s telling the sophomore. In doing so, he has admitted to making a mistake during a 21-20 loss at Pittsburgh last week.
Christensen played the entire second half against the Panthers even though Stanzi appeared to play pretty well during the second quarter. Ferentz described his decision being based on a “gut feeling”. That did not sit well with fans and led to his crack above.
His decision to turn to Stanzi now for the entire game says he should have used him Saturday. It also says that Christensen failed to do enough to retain his starting job, or now, even warrant playing time.
“I could have changed my mind anywhere during the second half, I just chose not to,” the coach said. “I’ll say this. My spirits were dampened when we got the ball on the one, but I had every confidence we were going to win the football game, that was my feeling during the game.”
But that’s not his feeling now.
Ferentz also said on Tuesday that the decision is based on things he sees as a coach that he doesn’t feel comfortable discussing in public. He was protecting Christensen and himself there.
“You folks are all watching just like I'm watching,” Ferentz said. “I don't know how comfortable I am just talking about – I know I took a little bit of a lashing for my 'gut feeling'. But I can't share everything I observe or everything I think. I'm just not comfortable doing that. There are certain things that are for me and our coaches to visit with and think about what have you.
“I think everything I've read, everybody's had their opinions about what the advantages and pluses are of both players, and the minuses of both players. It’s an open book right now. So I don't know. I don't know what else I can say at this point.”
As I’ve stated throughout this season, I still don’t see that there’s a big difference between Stanzi and Christensen. (I know. This will be the quote pulled out on the message boards questioning my vision). What I see is an inconsistent offense, much like the one this team fielded a year ago. Many people want to place that at Christensen’s feet. It’s more than that.
I certainly feel like Stanzi can be successful and perhaps might look more comfortable doing it. Christensen often looks like me trying to dance with my wife at a wedding while he’s in the pocket.
I understand that Christensen has started 16 games in his career and many fans have reached the end of the line with him. A big portion reached that point last year. And if Ferentz believes after four games that Stanzi now gives his team the best chance to win, so be it. At this point, maybe he needs to see the kid with a few weeks worth of reps and game action, consecutively. I understand that and the continuity argument.
But really, what choice does he have? Could you imagine the reaction if he trotted Christensen out on the field for the start of the Northwestern game?
Whether intentional or not. Christensen has become the scapegoat for an offense that has underperformed since at least the start of the 2007 season. He certainly has played his part in the troubles, but sitting him isn’t going to turn this into a 30-point-a-game unit.
That’s why I don’t think this quarterback competition has concluded. Whatever was present in Ferentz’s mind to keep Christensen in the entire second half last week surely will pop in there again if Stanzi struggles, which he will do. Plus, Christensen also stuck a comeback win under his belt against Iowa State.
One has to wonder if Ferentz is trying to boost Stanzi’s confidence and put his mind at ease with telling him he’s the undisputed No. 1 quarterback this week. This move keeps the young signal caller from looking over his shoulder, which Stanzi admitted hasn’t been easy.
Ferentz gets paid a lot of money to make the decisions for this program. And this will rank up there with some of the biggest he’s made during the last two years because this is an ultra important season. If you don’t think it is that way, take a look at our message boards following Saturday’s first loss of the season. Meltdown would be an understatement.
Is Ferentz going to ride out the season with Stanzi? Is he going to ride out the Northwestern game with Stanzi, no matter what happens? Will he give him a long leash at Michigan State the following week?
I asked Ferentz on Tuesday if he felt like the quarterback position is clearer than it was at the beginning of the season.
“We have one more game of evidence to add,” Ferentz said referring to the Pittsburgh contest. “I wouldn’t say it’s crystal clear now, no.”