Posted by: marcmwm | January 11, 2009

So that’s what happened in Pittsburgh

Good scoop from ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg on Jake Christensen and his departure from the University of Iowa. Sure, it fell under the category of “worst kept secret,” but Adam’s story — he talked to Jeff Christensen, Jake’s dad — sheds some light on one of the season’s biggest mysteries, at least in my feeble mind.

Here’s a link to Adam’s story, http://myespn.go.com/blogs/bigten/0-2-1083/Iowa-QB-Christensen-to-transfer.html

I think the following Jeff Christensen quote explains the “gut feeling” thing a little bit at Pittsburgh.

From today’s ESPN.com story, “I think Kirk truly feels bad that it didn’t go Jake’s way,” Jeff Christensen said. “He told me the way [Jake] handled this is amazing. I think Kirk wanted it to be Jake, and [offensive coordinator Ken] O’Keefe didn’t, and that’s just how it went. Kirk really for the right reasons cares about Jake. He said anybody that thinks that [Jake] can’t go and play somewhere else is quite frankly crazy.

“He said he’s willing to make all of the introduction phone calls with every coach in the country.”

You remember the “gut feeling” thing, right? It’s what Kirk Ferentz said after the 21-20 loss at Pittsburgh in September.

Here’s a snippet from my game story that day:

___________

“Probably more of a gut thing than anything else,” Ferentz said. “I just felt like at halftime Jake (Christensen) had a little better feel for what was going on, particularly what they were doing defensively. Thought he gave us the best opportunity to win the football game.”

This is where the “gut thing” gets a little confusing.

Sophomore Ricky Stanzi completed 7 of 10 in the first half, including his first six passes. He also led Iowa on its lone touchdown drive of the half, a Greene 6-yarder that pulled Iowa to 14-10 with 3:24 left before halftime. Well, Stanzi didn’t exactly “lead” on that drive. Six of the nine plays went to Greene, who gained 52 yards, including a 32-yarder on sweep.

Meanwhile, Christensen, a junior, was 2-for-6 for 15 yards in the first half. After McCoy fumbled on Pittsburgh’s first play, giving Iowa first down at Pitt’s 19, Iowa could only go 11 yards and ended up with Trent Mossbrucker’s 26-yard field goal.

Despite the numbers, Ferentz’s gut told him to go with Christensen, who played the entire second half, finishing 12 of 24 for 124 yards with four sacks. Stanzi had his helmet on a few times, but he mostly stood outside sideline huddles with offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe.

Remember, Ferentz has the final word on this. He said exactly that last week when Stanzi was pulled in favor of Christensen in the third quarter of last week’s victory over Iowa State.

It’s a gut thing.

“It was just the feel I had,” Ferentz said. “That’s just how I was feeling during the course of the game.”

The gut thing gets a little bit lost in translation. Even the QBs are having trouble following along.

“We don’t really get into how he makes decisions,” Christensen said. “He gets paid to do it. He does a good job with it. He’d done it for 10 years now. He makes the right decision and we’ve just got to go with that.”

Christensen didn’t know why the game was handed to him in the second half. He said he didn’t think the first couple drives were good evaluators because that’s the feeling-out stage of the game. He thought the first half was even between the two.

“I think I’m the guy,” he said. “I think you have to think that. If you don’t, then you don’t belong.

“But I’m not the coach, so I don’t know.”

Stanzi doesn’t know, either.

“Those are his feelings, so I don’t really have any feel,” Stanzi said. “My job is to play. I’m a player. I just go off that. Whatever his gut feelings are, if it’s up to me to play, I’m going to go out there and play.”
____________

The following week, going into Iowa’s Big Ten opener against Northwestern, Ferentz and Iowa boomerang’d back to Stanzi.

Here’s part of the story from the following Tuesday:

__________

Kirk Ferentz is fine telling you the who. The why stays in the vault.

The Iowa coach confirmed Tuesday that sophomore Ricky Stanzi will start the Hawkeyes’ (3-1) Big Ten opener Saturday against Northwestern (4-0). It’s a whiplash about-face from the second half of last weekend’s 21-20 loss at Pittsburgh, when junior Jake Christensen started, then played the entire second half after splitting the first with Stanzi.

Stanzi said Tuesday he was told he’s playing the full 60 minutes Saturday. What changed between last Saturday and the decision to start Stanzi?

“Played 30 more minutes,” Ferentz said. “That’s about all I can tell you. Had a chance to look at the tape. That’s just the conclusion. I think he gives us our best shot this week. That will be the plan.”

What did you see?

“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,” Ferentz said. “I’m just not comfortable doing that. There are certain things that are for me and our coaches to visit with and think about.”

So, something statistical? Throw us a bone here, coach?

“There are certain things that don’t need to be talked about with everybody,” Ferentz said. “Again, it’s not like there’s something diabolic or something gurgling or going on, it’s nothing like that at all. I don’t feel like I need to share everything I think to everybody at all times.”

So, left to our own deductions, Stanzi had a better statistical first half, completing 7 of 10 for 79 yards to Christensen’s 2 of 6 for 15 yards last week. In Stanzi’s four series, Iowa moved an average of 30.25 yards and scored a TD. Christensen’s three series yielded 16.6 yards per and three points.

You could say Stanzi moved the team more efficiently, but during the TD drive, running back Shonn Greene gained 52 of the 58 yards. A five-play drive that ended with Daniel Murray’s miss on a 35-yard field goal was fueled by a short out route that tight end Tony Moeaki’s athleticism turned into a 48-yard gain. Plus, Pitt had only 10 defenders on the field for the play.

Left to our own deductions, Stanzi is more accurate, more efficient and simply looks more like a quarterback should look.

“It’s coach’s decision,” said Stanzi, who’s completion percentage (60.4) and pass efficiency (147.26) are slightly better than Christensen’s. “As a player, you take anything that comes as an opportunity and try to run with it. You get excited about it and just go out and play. That’s where I’m at right now.”

____________

I think there is something to Jeff Christensen’s claim that Jake was Ferentz’s guy while offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe voted Stanzi. I think the Pitt second half was Jake’s final chance to show whatever a QB needs to show. Christensen had a start in 2006, the 2007 season and most of the non-conference schedule in ’08.

Didn’t work out. The issue, in my opinion, was accuracy, specifically the accuracy needed to throw on the run, something that is required for a quarterback in Iowa’s system, which, when it’s humming, takes advantage of play-action passes.

This is from a late-October story, when O’Keefe met with the media during bye week:

________

O’Keefe said Christensen has remained a positive force on the team.

“When we make a decision to go a different direction, it’s not easy on you. It’s not easy on any of us,” said O’Keefe, 55. “We know how much (Christensen) has invested and we care about him. We have great respect for what he’s done. We still have that respect. He’s continued to really help us as a team.

“His attitude has really been a lift to us in a difficult situation for him personally. He has done nothing but good things and has looked for ways to contribute.”

Stanzi has been a steady hand. He’s third in the Big Ten with a 145.3 pass efficiency. He had five turnovers in Iowa’s first two Big Ten losses, but hasn’t had any the last two weeks.

At Pittsburgh, Stanzi completed 7 of 10 in the first half including his first six passes, while Christensen was 2-for-6. Christensen played the entire second half and the Hawkeyes lost 21-20.

That’s when the offense became Stanzi’s.

“Rick was moving the ballclub, making some of the plays that we needed,” O’Keefe said. “Really, the difference came down to Rick throws the ball pretty well on the run. That’s something that we needed to have done.”

_________

Jake had a lot going against him in ’07. That was a fractured bunch, trying to live off a great defense and very little else. The offense was crippled from day 1. The offensive line was injured and inexperienced and it showed. Jake didn’t help himself enough, that 53.5 percent completion percentage stung.

 In the end, Stanzi was better, more accurate, for this Iowa team. That simple. In retrospect, Stanzi was a helluva gamble on Ferentz’s part. He had no resume compared to Christensen. Stanzi’s growing pains showed up in Iowa’s four losses. Probably one turnover too many in each, but the decision was made. They weren’t going back to Christensen, not even with Stanzi turnovers directly factoring in losses.

So, all the rumors during bowl week turned out to be true and here we are. What are Christensen’s FBS options? I don’t know. There must be a rule that says he doesn’t have to sit out and lose a year of eligibility if he transfers. He could end up at an FCS school next semester without losing a season of eligibility, but if there’s an FBS shot, I imagine that’s the route he’ll take.

There is a lot of internet angst directed toward Jeff Christensen. We’ve had a few phone conversations, but it was never contentious. He called at the end of 2007 to tell me Jake wasn’t transferring. I came away thinking he was a dad who wanted the very best for his son, wanted to get some things off his chest. He had some run-ins with other media members, but we were OK, at least on my end.

Look at it this way, his son was booed in his home stadium. I imagine that’d make any parent protective. There was a blog spot that directly attacked his son. As a parent, that would’ve broken my heart and would’ve made me want to fight the world.

This could’ve been stickier.

The Christensens didn’t find their dream at Iowa. And so now they’re looking. Good luck, gentlemen. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

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Responses

  1. Jake is, arguably, the best example I can think of for why recruiting is so over hyped.

    This kid was an Army All-American, elite 7 or 11 and all of the other hype yet couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn whether he was pressured or time to throw.

    Neverheless he handled this season very well and kudos to him.

    On the other hand his old man sounds like the parents I used to deal with when I umpired baseball games at Roosevelt…..

  2. Agreed on the over-hyped recruiting, EP. I think one of KF and crew’s biggest strengths is being able to take the unheralded kids and mold them into football players that fit their system and program.

    Best of luck, Jake. Thanks for being a great teammate when it was really difficult for you.

  3. I think 2005 was the class where KF and crew listened to the hype and went after kids the internet sites said were great. Also, Illinois was wide open for them that recruiting season.

    Ironically, the best contributors, so far, from ’05 are classic KF under-the-radar kids, MLB Pat Angerer and OT Kyle Calloway. Guys like Doering and Kuempel and Moeaki have a year to make an impact, so it’s not totally over for this group.

  4. Iowa always goes after guys that the internet sites say are great though. They’ve always got a ton of offers out to kids with 4 and 5 stars, and usually get them out pretty early. 2005 is only unique because it was the one year where they were actually able to convince a significant number of them to sign.

  5. Yeah, Adam, in 2005, Iowa did get those guys. Good point. Ferentz and his staff don’t ignore the five stars. I know the offered Tate Forcier this year.

  6. I’ll confess to being very frustrated with him as a QB. I was glad to see Stanzi replace him as I didn’t see the team getting better with Jake.

    With that said, I wish Jake all the best in the next phase of his career. He handled this situation better than anyone could have imagined. He is a classy individual and deserves another shot at success. I hope he can get that shot.

  7. Good luck to Jake.

    Of course Jake can play at DivI level…he just isn’t a difference maker–he is more of a caretaker QB. His strength is taking care of the ball, not making a play on 3rd and long.

    The 2005 class, had more than its share of injuries, so it is hard to say they were overrated.

    As far as Angerer being only 3-star—yes he was 3-star I think, but I believe he got an offer from Penn State..so not like he wasn’t a highly thought of recruit.

  8. I don’t remember a lot of recruiting hype with Angerer. I do remember a few times in ’06 when he was lined up as a D-end. You remember that? I specifically remember Michigan and I know there were at least two or three other games. That showed me they liked him.

    Yeah, the ’05 class had more than its share of bad luck. It’s not like this is how the group had it planned.

  9. He didn’t get a Penn State offer; his only offers were from Iowa, ISU, Indiana, and NIU. He was still a fairly well regarded recruit (Rivals had him ranked 26th at his position that year) so he didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but he’s definitely turned out better than I think most experts would have expected.


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