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.