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Harty: Vandenberg putting team first

[ 0 ] October 2, 2012 |

Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis reaffirmed what we already knew about James Vandenberg, which is that he’s probably a better person than he is a quarterback.

Davis didn’t come right out and say that while addressing the media on Tuesday. But that’s how it seemed as he answered questions in Iowa’s bye week about why Vandenberg and the passing attack have struggled, producing just two touchdown passes in five games.

It’s a dramatic change from last season when Vandenberg threw 25 touchdown passes and had more than 3,000 yards passing under previous offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe.

“It’s a big deal because I think we’re all a little bit surprised,” Davis said of Vandenberg’s statistical decline. “It’s not a big deal in terms of what we are looking at or what he’s looking at.”

Vandenberg always looks at the team first because that’s what a leader should do. Being unselfish is part of being a leader, and Vandenberg proved that with his decision making during Saturday’s 31-13 victory over Minnesota.

Davis said there were at least five plays in the red zone in which Vandenberg checked out of a pass play to a run after seeing the defensive alignment. Davis praised Vandenberg for being mature in those situations because Vandenberg easily could’ve helped his own cause by passing.

Everybody claims to be a team-first guy, but not everybody practices what they preach during tough times.

It’s clear from what Davis said Tuesday that Vandenberg is all about the team and shows it with his focus and attitude.

“The thing that he’s done so well is he hasn’t let it bother him,” Davis said.

What Vandenberg hasn’t done so well is live up to the expectations that many fans had for him as a fifth-year senior.

It was kind of a big deal around here when all the preseason magazines came out this summer and Vandenberg was mostly passed over for individual recognition. Some fans considered it an injustice because they were convinced that Vandenberg was among the Big Ten’s elite quarterbacks.

Now Vandenberg is being ripped for locking on to receivers, for being inaccurate, for not throwing enough to the tight ends and for not being a dual-threat quarterback among other things.

Some of the criticism is deserved because Vandenberg has performed poorly at times, especially against Iowa State, but his receivers certainly didn’t help by dropping several passes.

I was among those who thought Vandenberg needed to play better against the Cyclones as a fifth-year senior. My game column was a critical piece about Vandenberg’s inability to seize the moment against Iowa State.

But that’s where the criticism ended because Vandenberg handled the loss with class. He didn’t make excuses like having to adjust to a new offensive system, nor did he point fingers.

He did what a good leader is supposed to do, which is be accountable.

You spend enough time around a team and you can sense whether a player is respected. With Vandenberg, it’s easy to tell that his teammates admire him, not just for being the starting quarterback but also for being an unselfish leader and a nice guy.

It’s not Vandenberg’s fault that he has failed to live up to the expectations of those who had him overrated.

His statistics were impressive from last season, but they also exposed flaws, including the inability to win on the road, which is where Iowa will be for its next game Oct. 13 at Michigan State.

Vandenberg’s starting debut at Ohio State as freshman in 2009 was impressive under the circumstances with the Big Ten title on the line. But the fact that he struggled for most of the second half seemed to be ignored, especially as time moved on.

The absence of all-Big Ten receiver Marvin McNutt has undoubtedly contributed to Vandenberg’s struggles this season.

But it mostly comes down to Vandenberg being an average quarterback at the Big Ten level. An average quarterback sometimes can look better than average because of the pieces around him or because of the schedule.

One question being asked now is why Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz won’t give backup quarterback Jake Rudock a shot because Vandenberg is struggling.

The answer is simple: Ferentz doesn’t think Rudock, or any of the backup quarterbacks for that matter, give Iowa a better chance of winning than Vandenberg does.

Vandenberg is Iowa’s best quarterback and the gap is supposedly pretty wide. He’s hardly a star, but he’s an unselfish and respected leader, who still has a chance to shape his legacy.

He deserves that chance for who he is on and off the field.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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