IOWA CITY — Joe Paterno likes Ricky Stanzi.
And it’s not just because he has an Italian surname although that probably doesn’t hurt.
Paterno looks at Stanzi and sees what he would love for his own freshman quarterback, Rob Bolden, to become someday.
“I think he’s one of the better quarterbacks in the country,” Paterno said of Stanzi. “He doesn’t scramble a lot but when he does, he’s effective. He’s a good leader. He’s got guts. He takes a lot of chances. I like the kid. I think he’s a heckuva player.”
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Paterno has watched the Iowa quarterback help engineer come-from-behind victories over his team each of the past two years and he’s dreading one last encounter with a new and improved Stanzi on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.
In his third season as a starter, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior has been a little more careful with the ball, a little more selective with his decisions and immensely more consistent.
“I think he’s enjoying the luxury of being an experienced player,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s always been very committed, worked extremely hard. He’s off to a real good start.”
Stanzi led the Big Ten in interceptions last season and had four picks returned for touchdowns, the most of any quarterback in Iowa history.
In the first four games of this season, he has thrown just one interception. While it also was run back for a TD, it was hardly Stanzi’s fault. The ball hit receiver Marvin McNutt in the hands and slithered away into the waiting arms of an Arizona defensive back.
It’s the one glaringly bad play in a season in which Stanzi has completed 66 of 99 passes for 999 yards and 9 touchdowns. He ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency.
Iowa coaches and players haul out the full set of clichés to describe how Stanzi has upgraded his efficiency. They say he is taking what defenses give him, slowing the game down and letting the game come to him.
“Last year I made my share of dumb decisions and I’d like to think this year I’m making more good decisions,” Stanzi said.
“I’m focused on letting our offensive guys do their thing. I just do my job and get the ball to them. If something isn’t there, there’s nothing wrong with checking it down and punting if we have to.”