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Harty: Iowa’s QB situation up in the air

[ 0 ] March 26, 2013 |

 

The Iowa football team’s 2012 season will be remembered mostly for what didn’t happen on offense, or more specifically, what didn’t happen behind center.

The fact that James Vandenberg was the only quarterback to take a snap for Iowa last season was a head scratcher because of how ineffective the passing game was from start to finish under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

Kirk Ferentz’s unwillingness to use another quarterback, even in mop-up duty, probably ranked second on the list of most frustrating things about last season, behind only the 4-8 record.

The Vandenberg-or-bust approach became a hot topic once the season began to unravel and it never let up. Ferentz was asked by reporters on several occasions last season why he refused to use another quarterback and his answer was always that Vandenberg gave Iowa its best chance to win.

Vandenberg has since graduated, but the competition for the position he left behind will undoubtedly be a focal point at Ferentz’s news conference Wednesday to mark the start of spring practice.

It’s assumed that third-year sophomore Jake Rudock will start spring drills as the No. 1 quarterback simply because he spent all of last season as Vandenberg’s backup on the depth chart.

Junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard also were on scholarship last season. But the plan was to redshirt both of them and that was one plan that actually worked, partly because Vandenberg stayed healthy.

Davis’ game plans, on the other hand, left much to be desired as evidenced by Vandenberg only throwing seven touchdown passes last season after throwing 25 during the previous season.

Iowa was weak in many areas last season, but the inability to throw downfield stood out more than anything else. Ferentz was criticized for being too stubborn and too loyal to Vandenberg, while Davis was criticized for running a horizontal passing attack that didn’t fit Iowa’s personnel.

But with spring comes new hope and optimism, even with 4 inches of snow on the ground and with many on the outside questioning the direction of the Iowa program, which has lost 17 of its last 29 games dating back to late in the 2010 season.

There always is a sense of excitement and trepidation whenever Iowa breaks in a new starting quarterback, but now probably more so the latter because of what did and didn’t happen on the field last season.

One of the problems with not playing Rudock at all last season is that it gave the perception that he was nowhere close to pushing Vandenberg for playing time. That was disturbing to fans because Vandenberg didn’t exactly set the performance bar very high.

Rudock was a highly decorated quarterback at perennial power St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He threw for more than 5,000 yards during high school and led his star-studded team to state and national championships as a senior in 2010 with a 15-0 record.

It’s impossible without attending practice on a regular basis to truly know how the three returning quarterbacks on scholarship compare to each other.

There also is a chance that incoming freshman quarterback and Texas native Nic Shimonek could climb to the top of the depth chart this fall, although, that’s probably a reach. A true freshman never has started at quarterback for Iowa under Ferentz and it rarely happens anywhere at the BCS level.

The job would appear to be Rudock’s to lose at this point. But if I were to make two predictions about the 2013 season; one is that Ohio State will win the Big Ten Championship game and the other is that more than one quarterback will play for Iowa.

I’ve been intrigued by Beathard since the first time I saw him throw in an open practice last fall. He made a pass near the sideline in which he placed the ball perfectly between a linebacker and a safety, showing both strength and accuracy. Beathard made several other throws that day that caught my eye just because he made the throwing part look easy.

Beathard also has an intriguing background, but not just because his grandfather is former NFL executive Bobby Beathard, but rather because he once was committed to Mississippi and because he finished runner-up for the Mr. Football Award in his home state of Tennessee as a senior. You don’t accomplish those things without having talent.

Sokol also brings some intrigue as a former junior-college standout who was born in Des Moines and lived there through elementary school. Ferentz has gone the junior-college route before with quarterbacks and it’s hard to argue with the results. Iowa finished 11-2 and undefeated in the Big Ten in 2002 behind former junior-college quarterback Brad Banks, who finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy that season.

Banks then handed the offense over to Nathan Chandler, who also played two seasons in junior college before coming to Iowa. Chandler didn’t come close in 2003 to matching Banks’ individual success from the previous season. But the 6-foot-7 Chandler still led Iowa to a 10-3 record, capped by a 37-17 victory over Florida in the Outback Bowl.

The difference between now and a decade ago is that Chandler and Banks both had more proven talent around them. They also had momentum from the previous season, unlike the current situation.

There was plenty of blame to go around for Iowa’s poor performances on the field last season. But you can’t blame any of the returning quarterbacks because, as we all know, they had nothing to do with it.

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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