Ricky Stanzi

Ricky Stanzi:

Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi didn't save his best for the fourth quarter -- he was good from the start and helped lift Iowa to its first BCS win since 1959.

Around Iowa City, the joke all season was that you didn't pay attention to anything Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi did until the fourth quarter. That's usually when the 6-4, 218-pound junior morphed from Average Joe to Joe Montana.

Iowa fans didn't need to wait until the fourth quarter to see their leader at his best. Making his first start since he sprained his right ankle and missed the final two games of the season, Stanzi was at his best from the get-go in Tuesday night's Orange Bowl.

He completed 17 of his 29 pass attempts for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and led 10th-ranked Iowa to a 24-14 win over ninth-ranked Georgia Tech at Land Shark Stadium, its first major bowl victory since it won the Rose Bowl in 1959.

``He was just on fire,'' Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki said. ``He worked so hard to come back from that ankle, he was motivated. He spent a lot of time working on his timing with us the past month and you saw that tonight.''

On the coldest Orange Bowl night ever, Stanzi started hot. He completed nine of his first 10 attempts for 157 yards and helped the Hawkeyes (11-2) build a 14-0 lead with two touchdown passes.

First, he found receiver Marvin McNutt in the back corner of the end zone on a beautifully timed four-yard pass with 8:10 left in the opening quarter. Then, he engineered a quick, four-play, 83-yard drive, capped with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Colin Sandeman.

His biggest mistake came on his next series, when he threw his 15th interception of the season, a pass picked off by Jerrard Tarrant and returned 40 yards for a touchdown.

But there weren't many mistakes after that.

He used his legs to pick up a few key first downs to keep drives alive and a few good throws to move Iowa into field-goal position in the third quarter. Faced with a second-and-19 at the Hawkeyes' 27, he connected with tight end Tony Moeaki for 23 yards to midfield. Daniel Murray later connected on a 33-yard field goal to make the score 17-7.

Then, in the fourth quarter, with Iowa clinging to a three-point lead, he connected with Trey Stross on third-and-8 for a first down.

It was the kind of effort Iowa desperately needed. The Hawkeyes were national championship contenders and ranked fourth in the Bowl Championship Series standings before Stanzi went down with a lead against Northwestern. But after the injury, Iowa lost two of its final three games -- to the Wildcats and Big Ten champion Ohio State 27-24 in overtime.

The difference with Stanzi and without was more than telling.

Iowa's offense averaged 26.7 points over the first nine games, plus one quarter of the 10th game. Without Stanzi, the Hawkeyes averaged 12 points per game behind freshman quarterback James Vandenberg.

Stanzi emerged as Iowa's starting quarterback after four games in 2008, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,956 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Iowa is now 18-4 in games he has started.

``Having Rick back was a big boost,'' linebacker A.J. Edds said. ``We believe in all our quarterbacks, but Rick is our leader. He played a great game.''

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