Pitt of despair: Ferentz follows gut on quarterbacks, but Hawks fall on road

Kirk Ferentz said Iowa quarterback is a gut thing. After Saturday, you have to wonder if it's not gas.

That's not to say Iowa quarterback is the reason why the Hawkeyes trudged out of Heinz Field with an empty feeling Saturday after falling, 21-20, to Pittsburgh before 50,321 fans. Iowa quarterback was part of the reason, certainly, but the Hawkeyes (3-1) dropped a bunch of gut bombs around Heinz.

(Originally Published 9/21/2008)

The defense didn't help with a porous first half, allowing two quick touchdowns for a 14-3 deficit. The special teams were brutal, missing a 35-yard field goal and shanking a 25-yard punt in the fourth quarter. The offensive line helped Shonn Greene to a career-high 147 rushing yards, but it also gave up six sacks, including two on Iowa's last-ditch drives in the fourth quarter.

The Hawkeyes were 4 of 17 on third downs. The Iowa defense allowed Pitt (2-1) to convert three fourth downs, all of which spearheaded touchdown drives, including the clincher, tailback LeSean McCoy's 27-yard TD run with 13:37 left that pulled the Panthers to a 21-17 lead.

A lot went right, but a lot more went wrong. But you want to get to the quarterback deal, so here we go.

"Probably more of a gut thing than anything else," Coach Ferentz said. "I just felt like at halftime Jake (Christensen) had a little better feel for what was going on, particularly what they were doing defensively. Thought he gave us the best opportunity to win the football game."

This is where the "gut thing" gets a little confusing.

Sophomore Ricky Stanzi completed 7 of 10 in the first half, including his first six passes. He also led Iowa on its lone touchdown drive of the half, a Greene 6-yarder that pulled Iowa to 14-10 with 3:24 left before halftime. Well, Stanzi didn't exactly "lead" on that drive. Six of the nine plays went to Greene, who gained 52 yards, including a 32-yarder on sweep.

Meanwhile, junior Christensen was 2-for-6 for 15 yards in the first half. After McCoy fumbled on Pittsburgh's first play, giving Iowa first down at Pitt's 19, Iowa could only go 11 yards and ended up with Trent Mossbrucker's 26-yard field goal.

Despite the numbers, Ferentz's gut told him to go with Christensen, who played the entire second half, finishing 12 of 24 for 124 yards with four sacks. Stanzi had his helmet on a few times, but he mostly stood outside sideline huddles with offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe.

Remember, Ferentz has the final word on this. He said exactly that last week when Stanzi was pulled in favor of Christensen in the third quarter of last week's victory over Iowa State.

It's a gut thing.

"It was just the feel I had," Ferentz said. "That's just how I was feeling during the course of the game."

The gut thing gets a little bit lost in translation. Even the QBs are having trouble following along.

"We don't really get into how he makes decisions," Christensen said. "He gets paid to do it. He does a good job with it. He'd done it for 10 years now. He makes the right decision and we've just got to go with that."

Christensen didn't know why the game was handed to him in the second half. He said he didn't think the first couple drives were good evaluators because that's the feeling-out stage of the game. He thought the first half was even between the two.

"I think I'm the guy," he said. "I think you have to think that. If you don't, then you don't belong.

"But I'm not the coach, so I don't know."

Stanzi doesn't know, either.

"Those are his feelings, so I don't really have any feel," Stanzi said.

"My job is to play. I'm a player. I just go off that. Whatever his gut feelings are, if it's up to me to play, I'm going to go out there and play."

While Iowa played musical quarterbacks -- with Christensen and Stanzi combining for 19 of 34 for 203 yards and six sacks -- Pittsburgh's Bill Stull showed what a semi-steady hand can do at the position, making just enough of the makable plays, including a beautifully executed shovel pass to McCoy for 28 yards on Pitt's only scoring drive of the second half.

"He made good decisions," Pitt Coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I don't think he was fooled by anything."

Iowa outgained Pittsburgh, 361 to 259, but Greene, who notched his fourth straight 100-yard game, accounted for 41 percent of Iowa's offense. The quarterback position didn't do enough.

Ferentz said the timing in the passing game is out of sync. He said it's not just the quarterback, it's everybody. It's just like last year, he said. Last year? You remember last year, when Iowa's offense was last in the Big Ten in everything that mattered.

"It's everybody," Ferentz said. "It's guys running routes well, getting the ball out on time and protection. All those things factor in."

The quarterback position had a lot of help letting the game escape. But if you were going to point to one QB play not made, it would be Christensen's incompletion on a pass intended for wide receiver Trey Stross early in the fourth quarter.

On third-and-5 at Pitt's 22, Christensen rolled to his left and bounced a pass to the feet of Stross, who was wide open for at least 7 yards and a first down.

"The killer was the throw to Stross when I was rolling out," Christensen said. "I threw it too early. I wasn't ready to throw it. If I make the throw there, we've got a first down, probably.

"That was the killer from my standpoint. But you could pick a couple of them."It's a gut thing or it might be a head thing. It's something that needs fixing.

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