Posted by: marcmwm | November 5, 2008

First step sometimes the toughest

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

Signals can get mixed

By Marc Morehouse

Jonathan D. Woods/The GazetteIowa No. 2 quarterback Jake Christensen (6) and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe yell at quarterback Ricky Stanzi after he let the play clock rundown and had to call a timeout during the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Illinois.

IOWA CITY — During his run as Iowa’s quarterback, Drew Tate had the perfect solution for a tardy play call.

“The good thing about Drew was if he didn’t get it, that’s OK,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said, “he’d call the play. Drew wasn’t lacking confidence.”

Tate, Iowa’s starter from 2004 through 2006, wasn’t lacking a Big Ten co-championship and a first-team all-Big Ten honor either. He also had a competitive fire, an excellent football mind and a quick temper. Put those traits with the confidence and you had a quarterback who quickly grew impatient and who had the knowledge to solve the problem.

Sophomore Ricky Stanzi isn’t quite there.

In Saturday’s 27-24 loss at Illinois, Stanzi was forced to call timeout twice and was hit with a delay-of-game penalty when he had trouble deciphering the signals from the sideline.

On a third-and-6 from Illinois’ 8, Stanzi called timeout when the play clock, which is set at 40 seconds this season, drained to single digits as the Hawkeyes made it to the line of scrimmage. First-and-goal from the 5 in the fourth quarter, it happened again. In the third quarter, the Hawkeyes ran out of time for a 5-yard delay of game penalty, pushing the Hawkeyes to their own 4 and a hopeless third-and-21 situation.

“We’ve had trouble in the past,” Ferentz said. “For whatever reason, he got stuck on some things (Saturday). … Playing with a bit of an inexperienced quarterback, that’s part of the learning curve.”

The list of “challenges” Saturday was long.

It was a competitive road game with 62,870 screaming Memorial Stadium fans. Stanzi, who finished 11 of 29 for 191 yards, two interceptions and a TD, faced heavy pressure all day and was sacked six times. Iowa trailed much of the second half, falling behind 24-9 early in the fourth quarter.

Stanzi is a cool, collected kid, but at some point Saturday, his head must’ve been exploding.

“That kind of happens every week,” Stanzi said. “There will be times when the signal gets mixed up or I interpret it wrong and we’re forced to take a timeout. I guess, that’s not good, but it’s better than running the wrong play or making a mistake.

“Those things will happen during a game, You can try to totally eliminate it, but it’s tough to do.”

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

Offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe, who is on the sidelines, calls the play. Some time is built in for Ferentz to change it if he wants. O’Keefe tells backup quarterback Marvin McNutt and a pair of graduate assistants the play. Sometimes, Stanzi will see three signals, one will be the play with two decoys. Stanzi takes in the signal and relays it to the huddle.

Ideally, he likes to have 10 to 15 seconds on the play clock.

“Anything less than that, you’re kind of pushing it,” Stanzi said.

The major consequence for rushing to beat the clock is running a play the defense is geared for. Coaches want a QB to have a chance to survey a defense and adjust. Iowa quarterbacks have freedom to call audibles. For example, if a linebacker fills the gap a run play is aimed at, Stanzi would want to audible out of that.

Lesser dangers are penalties, false starts and delays of game.

“You want to have enough time to get out of a bad play,” Ferentz said. “There are some plays that you could call ‘safe’ plays that are bulletproof. You don’t have a lot of those.”

Is there a disconnect in the signals? Ferentz and Stanzi said they aren’t difficult to decipher. They’re practiced every day during the week whenever a play is called. Stanzi talks them over with whoever is doing the signaling.

“Once you know it, it’s like riding a bike,” Stanzi said. “Every week there are some new plays, so there are some new signals. There are some adjustments, but overall it’s not too complex. It’s pretty simple, actually.”

Easy enough, right? Well, throw in the fact that it is football. Last Saturday, Stanzi took more hits than he has since taking the starting job Sept. 27 against Northwestern. He was sacked six times.

The signals might get a little blurry when a 300-pound defensive tackle throws his weight on your back.

“It’s not that tricky on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” Ferentz said. “The trick is when you’re thinking, ‘Boy, I just got nailed in the head.’

“That’s the trick, I think. Things are a lot easier during the week, when it’s more sterile, but when you’ve just been nailed or you might’ve blown a play, you’re thinking about that.”

This is a big part of the mental warfare a quarterback faces. He’s the central nervous system for the entire team. When the team is sleeping, he’s telling it to breath.

“If you’re another position player, you have a little time to regroup in the huddle,” Ferentz said. “Quarterbacks don’t have that luxury. That’s one of the challenges of playing that position. They’ve got a few more things they’re responsible for. To say they’re just another guy on the team, that’s not quite fair.”

Stanzi isn’t asking for your sympathy.

“We need to be sharp,” Stanzi said. “(Getting the plays in) isn’t something that’s difficult. It’s something that we should have perfected.”

It’s the first step to everything an offense does. But it also takes a few steps to get to that first step.



  1. By the way, the “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is not a reference to Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe. It is a reference to the Game Theory/REM song, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” The line is a reference to a something an attacker repeated during a 1986 pummeling of then-CBS anchor Dan Rather. The attacker kept repeating, “Kenneth, what’s the frequency?”

    I thought it fit really well here, even before I realized that was a match with O’Keefe.

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