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Harty: UI quaterback situation unusual

[ 0 ] November 20, 2012 |

The Iowa football team’s 2012 season will be remembered for lots of things, mostly losing, but also for the unusual situation at quarterback.

Senior James Vandenberg is just one game away from taking every snap at quarterback for Iowa this season. All he needs is to play through Friday’s season finale against Nebraska and Vandenberg will have accomplished something extremely rare.

Many fans are frustrated and confused by Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz’s refusal to use backup quarterback Jake Rudock during a season in which Vandenberg has struggled with just five touchdown passes in 11 games.

Part of it can be explained by six of Iowa’s games being decided by six points or less, which is unprecedented.

But that still doesn’t explain why Ferentz refused to insert Rudock near the end of lopsided losses to Michigan or Penn State.

Even if it meant just handing off for a few plays, what harm would it have done?

“Basically, there’s probably a time you could make an argument,” Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “It was brought up after the Penn State game. It was a decision I made during the game and we kept all our starters in at that point. I felt like that was the best thing for our football team.

“Otherwise, we’ve been trying to score, trying to make points, what have you. James is our starting quarterback right now. I just felt that was the best thing to do.”

The problem is that by sticking exclusively with Vandenberg, we’re left to wonder what’s wrong with Rudock. Does Ferentz have so little faith in his redshirt freshman backup that he won’t even use Rudock in mop-up duty?

And considering how much Vandenberg has struggled under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis, what does it say about Rudock’s transition if he can’t even challenge for any playing time?

We already know that Ferentz is stubborn, some would say to a fault, and loyal.

But he isn’t stupid and he doesn’t play favorites regardless of what some fans might think.

Ferentz believes strongly that Vandenberg is Iowa’s best option at quarterback, but it almost seems as if Vandenberg is the only option at quarterback this season.

Iowa has switched starters at strong safety this season and the receiver rotation has fluctuated throughout.

Quarterback, on the other hand, has been all Vandenberg. That’s partly because of the gap between Vandenberg and Rudock and partly because Ferentz is more reluctant to experiment at that position.

“Quarterback is a little different position than the other ones, typically,” Ferentz said. “It’s not quite as easy as, ‘Hey, we’ll throw this guy out there for a little bit.’ I guess you can, but that hasn’t been our approach.

“You can argue whether that’s right or wrong, but that’s been our approach and what we’re doing.”

The plan throughout the season has been to redshirt junior college transfer Cody Sokol and true freshman C.J. Beathard. That made Rudock the No. 2 quarterback almost by default, although, it seems more like Iowa doesn’t have a true backup this season because I can’t recall a game in which Rudock even warmed-up on the sideline.

It makes you wonder if there is more to the story, but it’s hard to speculate without starting rumors.

Ferentz acknowledged Tuesday that part of the reason Rudock is the backup this season is because Sokol and Beathard are being redshirted.

“That’s part of it,” Ferentz said. “But if there was a clear distinction, whoever was the best guy would be the number two guy. We won’t know that for a while, probably.

“If one of the two guys we’re trying to redshirt had surfaced as a clear number two, we would have had that guy going.”

What we do know is that Vandenberg has one game left to play before handing the offense over to somebody else.

The backup quarterback in many cases is considered to have a leg up on the competition when the previous starter leaves because the backup is usually the next best option.

I just don’t get that feeling with Rudock, but have nothing to back it up besides a hunch and what Ferentz said Tuesday after being asked if the starting quarterback position was Rudock’s to lose in 2013.

“All of you know very well, he hasn’t played,” Ferentz said of Rudock, who starred at perennial power St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., “To me, every position on our team will be open. Right now, we’re a 4-7 football team. If we were 11-0 going into this week, starting whenever the new season begins, it’s a new season.

“There is no entitlement in sports. There should be no cast system or loyalty or that stuff. Everybody has got to earn their keep every day. That’s just how it works.”

My hunch is that Beathard ultimately will rise up. I have nothing to support that prediction besides watching Beathard perform in two open practices.

His accuracy stood out right away, but so did the Tennessee native’s frail frame. Beathard needed this season to get stronger.

Rudock needed this season to make an impression. Whether he did or not remains to be seen.

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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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