Vandenberg reminiscent of Stanzi in comeback victory


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For nearly three quarters on Sept. 17, James Vandenberg couldn't find a rhythm.

Pittsburgh's defense didn't relent. Inconsistent protection and constant pressure spurred by aggressive blitz schemes rarely let Iowa's junior quarterback get comfortable in the pocket — and when he did, his passes routinely sailed out of his receivers' reach.

Then came the game's final 18:11, and he couldn't be stopped.

Over that span alone, the Keokuk, Iowa, native was 17-of-20 for 217 yards and three touchdowns, and he also ran another score in himself while leading Iowa to its largest comeback victory in school history, a 31-27 triumph over the Panthers in Kinnick Stadium.

The 21-point comeback Vandenberg engineered had a Ricky Stanzi flavor to it.

Think back to the former Iowa and current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback's flair for the dramatic in 2009: Performances such as Iowa's 28-point fourth-quarter outburst to beat Indiana or the come-from-behind efforts against Wisconsin and Michigan State.

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Actually, Vandenberg seems to share many of Stanzi's traits.

He waited his turn behind Stanzi for the last three years. He watched him in practice. He observed and mimicked Stanzi's near-legendary dedication in the film room. He studied what made Stanzi a good quarterback and an even better leader.

By all accounts from Vandenberg's teammates, he's followed that example and grabbed a strong hold of the leadership spot vacated in Stanzi's absence.

"He's a leader," junior receiver Keenan Davis said. "Nobody ever doubts him. He never doubts us. During practice you can even see it — he just comes out, and he leads."

Stanzi also helped instill a rare degree of unflappability in Vandenberg.

When he was asked after the historic comeback if he was nervous when Iowa was down 24-3, he grinned.

"I think I would have been, until I met Rick Stanzi," he said. "I think he really helped me with that through the years."

Even when the Hawkeyes faced a 24-3 deficit late in the third quarter, Vandenberg's confidence never wavered in the huddle, teammates said.

"He kept us composed," Marvin McNutt said.

"He doesn't panic. I don't get it," Davis said. "That dude, he comes out ready to play. Every down.
"That gives us all the confidence, because we go out there ready to make plays because we know he's going to be able to throw them."

Something else he seems to have in common with Stanzi? Extremely high standards for his own play and a tireless work ethic that tries to ensure that those standards are met.

Yes, Vandenberg finished 31-of-48. Yes, he threw for a career-high 399 yards. Yes, the four touchdowns he accounted for were also a career-best.

But he also admitted that for three quarters, he struggled and was confused by Pittsburgh's defensive schemes.

"I know I have a long ways to go," he said. "We can't rely on that just in the fourth quarter … I'm very confident that as soon as we turn on the film, there's going to be a lot of mistakes on my part and the offense as a whole that kind of kept us from clicking earlier on."

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