No. 15 Iowa loses Stanzi ahead of trip to Columbus
Iowa lost its quarterback, its unbeaten season and likely any shot to play for the national title in Saturday's 17-10 defeat to Northwestern. Next up is a trip to Columbus to face No. 10 Ohio State, which knocked off Penn State in Happy Valley to pull into a tie with the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes for first place in the Big Ten.
Iowa (9-1, 5-1) still has its sights set on Pasadena, but not it's for the Rose Bowl rather than the BCS title game. The Hawkeyes can clinch a share of the Big Ten championship with a win over the Buckeyes, but they may have to do it behind freshman quarterback James Vandenberg.
Ricky Stanzi sustained a severe ankle sprain in the second quarter against the Wildcats (6-4, 3-3). Coach Kirk Ferentz compared his injury to the sprain suffered by running back Adam Robinson, and Robinson isn't expected back until Iowa's bowl game.
Stanzi's day ended when he was drilled in the end zone with the Hawkeyes leading 10-0. The Wildcats recovered Stanzi's fumble for a touchdown, bringing them back into a game they would take control of with another touchdown before halftime.
"It's a good play on their part, bad play on ours. Cost us a touchdown and a quarterback, unfortunately," Ferentz said.
Though Stanzi often put Iowa in major holes, his absence is now the biggest hole for an offense that wasn't all that great to begin with.
That was never more evident than against Northwestern. Vandenberg, seeing his first extended action, was 9 of 27 for 82 yards, and his first pass was an interception that set up what turned out to be the Wildcats' winning touchdown.
Though Vandenberg had been listed as the co-backup all season with fellow freshman John Wienke, it appears Vandenberg will make his first career start in Columbus.
His lack of experience is due largely to Iowa's remarkable string of close victories.
The Hawkeyes haven't been able to play backups late in games, so Vandenberg had thrown just three passes before stepping in for Stanzi on Saturday. It looked that way, too, when he threw four straight incompletions to end Iowa's final drive.
"He's a quality football player. We've felt good about him all along. Just unfortunate he hasn't had a chance to play more this year," Ferentz said. "He'll be a better player next week and he'll be better the week after."
For Northwestern, the win over Iowa was by far the biggest victory of a season that, up until Saturday, hadn't gone quite the way the Wildcats expected.
They needed a 25-point rally to stun Indiana 29-28 on Oct. 24, and Penn State thumped them 34-13 last week after quarterback Mike Kafka went down with a hamstring injury.
The Wildcats went to a two-quarterback system to protect Kafka while still getting him on the field, and Dan Persa responded with 67 yards rushing and a touchdown pass.
Northwestern has reached bowl eligibility with two games left. The Wildcats travel to Illinois next week and host No. 21 Wisconsin in the season finale.
"We're starting to play our best football of the year," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "It has nothing to do with Iowa. It has everything to do with us."
The irony of Iowa's 13-game winning streak being snapped on Saturday was that it started in the 10th game of last season, when the Hawkeyes stunned then-unbeaten Penn State in Iowa City.
That defeat left the Nittany Lions out of the national title picture and hoping instead for a Rose Bowl bid - and Iowa now faces a similar situation.
Penn State swept its last two games to land a spot in Pasadena, and the banged-up Hawkeyes are hoping to do the same.
"Everything is out there," Ferentz said. "Our guys know what's going on. They can look at the scoreboard. They figure all that stuff out. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. We're going to try to get back on our feet and see if we can't win next weekend. That's going to be a tough task. We know that already."