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Harty: Vandenberg must seize the moment

[ 0 ] October 12, 2012 |

Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg seems to have this hunting thing down pat, along with his academics.

He killed a 350-pound bear with a bow and arrow in late May.

He bagged a trophy deer with a bow during the bye week last weekend.

He also earned academic all-Big Ten accolades as a junior last season.

Vandenberg has had his share of milestone moments recently, but not many have occurred while lined up behind center, especially away from Kinnick Stadium.

That has to change in order for the Hawkeyes to have a chance to prevail at Michigan State on Saturday, because it’s hard to picture Iowa winning without Vandenberg playing well.

But it’s also hard to picture Vandenberg playing well because his track record on the road hardly inspires confidence.

His first career start, which came as a redshirt freshman at Ohio State in 2009, and with the Big Ten title on the line now looks like fool’s gold. Vandenberg passed for 233 yards and two touchdowns against the Buckeyes, but he’s rarely been a road warrior since.

A 31-21 triumph at Purdue last season, and an 18-17 victory against Northern Illinois in the Sept. 1 season opener this season at Soldier Field in Chicago are all Vandenberg has to show for his road work in terms of victories.

Soldier Field was hardly a hostile environment, though, with probably 80 percent of the fans cheering for the Hawkeyes.

The inability to play well on the road has become perhaps the biggest knock against Vandenberg, although, that’s apparently news to him despite the ongoing coverage of the topic.

“I didn’t even know that was a knock until you just said it,” Vandenberg said. “But it doesn’t change anything that I think.

“Obviously, you’re worried about maybe communication amongst the linemen and out to the receivers. So there is a little more emphasis on that. But as far as the way we think and I think, I don’t think it has any effect.”

It’s short-sighted to say Vandenberg has struggled on the road simply because the opponents have been better. Two of Iowa’s road losses last season came against an average Iowa State team and a below-average Minnesota squad.

And it’s not as if Penn State and Nebraska – the other two teams to defeat Iowa on the road last season – were juggernauts.

Iowa barely fired a shot against Penn State and Nebraska last season, losing by scores of 13-3 and 20-7, respectively.

And though football is often described as the ultimate team sport where 11 players on each side of the line of scrimmage depend on each to excel, there are times when a quarterback has to seize the moment and rise above the challenge on the field.

Outside of his performance against Purdue last season, and his performance in the first half against Ohio State in 2009, Vandenberg has failed to do that on the road.

You could argue that Iowa defeated Northern Illinois in the season opener in spite of Vandenberg, who only passed for 129 yards.

His starting debut at Ohio State three years ago, despite all the hype, also left much to be desired, considering how he struggled in the second half, throwing two interceptions and a pick-six that was erased by a penalty.

Mark Weisman’s emergence as a force at running back has been an incredible story and a crucial development for Iowa. However, the defenses that Weisman faced in the previous three games when he combined to rush for 507 yards and score seven touchdowns are inferior to what he’ll face Saturday.

Michigan State (4-2) hasn’t played at the level most expected, but to no fault of its defense. The Spartans lead the Big Ten in total defense and rushing defense, allowing just 86 yards per game on the ground.

Look for Michigan State to load the box and key on Weisman until Vandenberg makes them do otherwise.

“We can’t beat a team like this being one-dimensional,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday on his weekly radio call-in show. “We’ll have to throw the ball successfully to have a chance to win the game.”

In other words, Vandenberg will have to seize the moment, but this time without using his bow and arrow.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com

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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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