Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just Like That

Just like that, the Wildcats were back in the game and Ricky Stanzi was out. The Hawks were off to their best start of the season, and Gary Dolphin and I were feeling as comfortable as we had all season at the end of the first quarter. And then I couldn't believe what I saw. As Gary described the action that included the Stanzi sack, fumble and Northwestern touchdown, I looked through my binoculars at Ricky Stanzi's face. His hands were clenched around his face mask and I could see the pain displayed on his face. That's when I knew he was done for the day and probably longer. The look of pain is so ingrained in my memory, that I can hardly recall what happened just before or just after. The replay showed how the ankle had been caught under his body; it was obviously a severe sprain or break.

So now it's James Vandenberg's team for awhile. I've watched him in practice; he is very skilled. I'd say his release is a little faster than Ricki's. He has good arm strength, great high school passing statistics and almost two years of practice under his belt. He can do the job. He has one week to get ready for what we all know is going to be the Hawks' greatest challenge of the season. Ricki Stanzi will be there to help him get ready, but once the game starts it will be the offensive players around him that must provide leadership. This week in practice those players must step forward and they will.

The good news is that the Hawks can win out and still be Big Ten champions. With Ohio State beating Penn State, the loss to Northwestern has changed nothing. The Hawks must beat OSU. And let's look at it this way: the Buckeyes could be over confident after routing Penn State and learning that the Hawks lost to Northwestern and lost their starting QB. Daydreaming could take over during meetings or practice and performance could suffer on Saturday. Hey, I like this theory.

The Hawks also match up well against the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes like to power the ball down the field and man up on defense. The Hawkeyes are better suited for that type of challenge. As one of the Hawkeye linebackers told me in practice last week, "I wish Northwestern would just line up and play football." Well the Wildcats don't on offense; they have to "dink and dunk" their way down the field. This Saturday, the Buckeyes will line up and play power football; the Hawks like that.

So, let's keep the faith. I'm going to do what Kirk Ferentz prescribes. I'm going to get past Saturday's outcome by Monday and get ready for the Buckeyes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Blowin' in the Wind

The Bob Dylan song "Blowin' in the Wind" became popular when I was playing for the Hawkeyes. We used to spend a quarter on the juke box to listen to it while having lunch at the Student Union. While I loved listening to the music, I hated "playing" in the wind. Those of you who were in the stadium on Saturday probably deplored watching in the wind. It was tough to "face the music" for the first three quarters.

Seven of the eight interceptions thrown by both teams were thrown into the wind. Just because you can get a guy open, doesn't mean you can get the ball to him. Most fans know what the wind does to a golf ball or baseball, so just think from that experience what it does to a football. The wind was howling out of the north, which is the least protected part of Kinnick Stadium. If you had been playing golf, Saturday's wind would have been a four club wind. (four iron instead of seven iron from 150 yards) The wind not only cuts down on distance but causes the ball to sail erratically. Both quarterbacks faced almost impossible conditions. All quarterbacks would rather play in rain or snow than wind.

But if you're going to succeed as a quarterback in college or pro football you have to learn how to "play the wind" when you play in the wind. The best I saw while I was playing pro ball was Joe Namath of the Jets. Jets stadium was always one of the windiest places to play because of the ocean winds. Once playing there, while practicing punt returns during pregame, not one punt landed in the field of play. The swirling winds blew some of the balls way up into the stands. Namath knew how to play the wind though and torched us with passes anyway. He would throw the ball 10 or 20 yards left or right of his receiver and let the wind carry it to the right spot. He'd throw it 10 yards past the receiver and let the receiver catch up to it. It was quite a dazzling display.

Another great "wind playing" quarterback returns to Green Bay today to play in the weather. Brett Favre won a lot of games playing for the Packers. But in 16 years at Green Bay he had only two seasons where his passer rating was over 95, and he had nine seasons where it was under 90. The wind from Lake Michigan kept his passer ratings low, but not as low as the opposing quarterbacks. Favre's rating for this season, playing home games in a dome: 104.

Rick Stanzi became a much better quarterback from his experience Saturday. He will be a better "wind playing" quarterback. The next three games may have similar conditions, although Saturdays were extreme. Stanzi will be better prepared and the Hawks will be a better team.