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Ricky Stanzi: The critical (hawk)eye

America's harshest film critics look like softies next to Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi.

Stanzi gives every film he sees two thumbs down. He shakes his head and scribbles negative notes. If there's a tomato nearby, he'll probably chuck it at the screen (with good velocity and accuracy).

Unlike other film critics, who spread the blame around, Stanzi saves his venom for one leading man: the guy in black and gold wearing the No. 12 jersey.

"You always have to have a critical eye," Stanzi said. "You have to be your biggest critic, and the best way to improve is to focus on improvement. That's the only thing you can do: find the things you're doing wrong, be very critical of yourself, and then go out and try to improve those things."

At first glance, Stanzi's fault-finding film sessions seem rather futile. Stanzi has had a near spotless senior season for No. 18 Iowa, according to the numbers.

  • 124-for-182 passing (68.1 percent) for 1,732 yards, 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions

  • ranks No. 2 nationally in passer rating (174.9) behind Boise State's Kellen Moore

  • eclipsed 200 pass yards in each of the first seven games

  • three touchdown passes in four games

Stanzi has the fewest interceptions of any Big Ten starting quarterback, and one of the picks, returned for a touchdown against Arizona, was "a very catchable ball that the receiver unfortunately didn't make the catch," according to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

"To put that on the quarterback would really be unfair," Ferentz said.

OK, so that's one interception and 16 touchdowns in 182 attempts.

What's there to criticize? You'd be surprised.

"You're not stopping and worrying about all those good things that happened," Stanzi said. "You're focusing all your attitude and energy into thinking about what’s wrong and how do I improve? When something goes wrong or something goes right, let's focus on the part that needs to be improved."

Notice the language: worrying about all those good things. Who worries about good things?

Asked later about making fewer mistakes, Stanzi said, "We've cut back on turnovers" and gushed about Iowa's offensive line and skill players.

Stanzi isn't one for self evaluation. Not now at least.

"A self evaluation at this point is almost useless," he said. "The evaluation is every single week, you look at the film and you pick out what you did wrong."

The process doesn't sound like much fun, but Stanzi has conditioned himself this way.

By being so hard on himself, Stanzi has become quite possibly the most improved quarterback in college football.

Stanzi spent the entire offseason studying himself on film and looking for mistakes. Back then, it was a lot easier to pick apart the, uh, picks.

Stanzi threw 15 interceptions as a junior, tied for the most among Big Ten starters. Four of his picks were returned for touchdowns.

Iowa managed to survive them all -- according to ESPN Stats & Info, Iowa is the only FBS team since at least 2004 to overcome pick-sixes in four separate games -- but Stanzi knew his days of living on the edge would need to end this fall.

"You have to do something drastic," he said. "You have to change your thinking to cut back on mistakes when I made so many of them last year. My main focus has been not trying to make something happen every play. There's certain plays you're going to get the chance to, and there's certain plays you're not."

Stanzi has been dead-on with the deep ball this season, tossing four touchdown passes of longer than 30 yards, all to senior wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Stanzi has completed six passes of 40 yards or longer and 11 passes of 30 yards or longer in his first seven games.

But those aren't the plays when Stanzi shows why his days as a Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterback are over.

"Sometimes on third down, maybe you feel like you really have to throw it down the field, and you don't," Stanzi said. "It’s OK to punt sometimes. Understanding that and using it in your mental approach to the game and how you prepare, once you get it ingrained and you rep it out so many times, that's how you turn it into positive play."

Before the season, Ferentz expressed concern that Stanzi could be too hard on himself.

But the results this fall show that whatever Stanzi does in the film room, it's working.

"He's a fifth-year senior, he's worked extremely hard for a long time," Ferentz said. "He's playing with real confidence, and it’s confidence that he's earned."