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Stanzi's return provides confidence boost

Ricky Stanzi was a polarizing figure for much of the season, and even within several Iowa games.

Fans loved him in the fourth quarter but loathed him in the first three. Sometimes, Iowa seemed to win in spite of him. Other times, he played an obvious role in securing victory.

But within the locker room and on the field, Stanzi was invaluable to his teammates. And they let us know after the junior quarterback went down with an ankle injury in a Nov. 7 loss to Northwestern.

"There's no doubt that we're a different team when Rick Stanzi's in there," wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos said that day. "We had a gift in Ricky."

Christmas has already passed, but Iowa gets its gift back on the field Tuesday night against Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m. ET). The Hawkeyes are 9-0 in games Stanzi both starts and finishes at quarterback this season.

And despite a lengthy layoff, his return from the injury should provide a confidence boost for the entire offense.

"A lot of the questions were about this problem he had or that problem he had," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "All I knew is I looked at his record and it seemed like we were playing pretty well when he was our quarterback. The bottom line is he is a leader of our football team. He was elected a captain by his teammates.

"That's Rick's biggest attribute. He leads our team. And we're counting on that this week."

Stanzi led the most in the fourth quarter, when quarterbacks are supposed to step up. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Stanzi has completed 66.7 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter, tossing six touchdowns and only one interception. He's also been extremely effective in attacking downfield, averaging 17.6 yards per completion.

Overall, Stanzi completes 56 percent of his passes and averages 14.2 yards per completion. In the first three quarters, he has nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

Iowa outscored its opponents 114-55 in the fourth quarter this season.

"We never as a team want to come in and say, 'Let's just play decent football the first three quarters and if we can get into the fourth, then we can [have success],'" Stanzi said. "We want to come out and start fast. Every team does. We've had some struggles with that this year, me in particular. It's something that really needs to be addressed, and there's really no excuse for it.

"The second focus comes into finishing strong. You want to start fast and finish strong. That gives you your best chance."

Iowa players would agree Stanzi gives them their best chance Tuesday night.