Four Downs with the QBs (spring edition)

Vandenberg will be heavily relied upon in 2012

Marc Morehouse
Published: March 14 2012 | 3:44 pm - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 2:18 pm in
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QUICK LOOK BACK: James Vandenberg's first season as Iowa's starter provided the strangest set of numbers for an Iowa quarterback during the Kirk Ferentz era.

By any number measure, Vandenberg's 2011 was stellar. His 25 TDs are tied for third in single-season touchdown passes. His 3,022 yards ranks No. 4 in season passing yards. Among Big Ten peers, Vandenberg ranked third in passing yards per game (232.5), fourth in total offense (237.2) and fifth in pass efficiency (138.5).

Of course, the Pitt effort was otherworldly. Vandenberg's 399 passing yards are seventh best single-game total in school history. The 31 completions are fourth best and 48 attempts ties for seventh.

Iowa finished 7-6, that's the "but."

Vandenberg's yards per attempt, an obscure but telling stat, was an excellent 9.96 in victory and 5.85 in losses.

The standard is 6.9. Baylor's Robert Griffin III led the nation with 10.7 yards per attempt. Wisconsin's Russell Wilson was second at 10.3. Case Keenum, Kellen Moore and Andrew Luck were among the national top 10. Their teams combined for 57 victories in 2011.

Of the top 100 QBs in the country, the bottom dwellers in this stat are from Tulane, Rice, Boston College, Colorado State and Maryland. Those schools finished with a collective record of 15-46.

Vandenberg, by the way, finished No. 45 with a 7.5. Against the Big Ten's best defenses last season, Iowa couldn't lift Iowa and Vandenberg couldn't carry Iowa.

FOURTH DOWN -- CONCERNS: Iowa's reliance on Vandenberg next season is going to border on pizza's dependence on crust.

-- No Marvin McNutt, arguably the best wide receiver in Iowa history. And really, there's not a lot of arguably to it.

-- No Marcus Coker. Iowa's loss is Stony Brook's gain.

-- No Riley Reiff. The left tackle will be a top 15 and maybe top 10 pick in the NFL draft in April and will be picking out Ford F-250s.

Here's a stat that might blow your mind: Vandenberg's 404 attempts last season were the most by an Iowa QB in the Ferentz era. So, with an offense that included McNutt, owner of every Iowa receiving record except career receptions, and Coker, who's 1.384 rushing yards last season is fourth on Iowa's season list, Iowa still leaned heavily on Vandenberg.

[Really, as far as I can tell, Vandenberg's 404 attempts were second for a season behind Chuck Hartlieb's 460 in 1988, when he had an 8.13 YPA.]

Ricky Stanzi's most attempts came in 2010 when he threw 345 times. Drew Tate is second on this list with 375 in 2004 (a 7.4 YPA, by the way, during a Big Ten championship season). Brad Banks threw 294 times in 2002.

In 2012, Iowa is immediately on the lookout for a running back. Or three. Left tackle is wide open with, perhaps, sophomore Brandon Scherff in the wings. Keenan Davis will get first crack at 70 receptions. He's the clear No. 1 as a senior.

Iowa has a new offensive coordinator and doesn't have a clear-cut No. 2.

Without Vandenberg, this offense is cheese and sausage on a plate. He's the crust. (OK, I've forced that enough.)

THIRD DOWN -- ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS:A.J. Derby's career at Iowa ended shortly after the bowl game and there was woe among the internetting.

Derby's departure -- seemingly amicable on all accounts, including a Derby statement that included "Once a Hawk, always a Hawk" -- came on the heels of running backs Coker and Mik'ail McCall leaving the UI. So, the angst was understandable in the collective.

What Iowa lost in Derby as a QB we might never be able to accurately gauge. First, he was a linebacker when he left Iowa, shifting there after a public intox arrest and a two-game suspension. He's at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. He'll probably play QB. Let's see what happens.

Iowa filled the QB deck with junior college transfer Cody Sokol and incoming freshman C.J. Beathard. Sokol threw for 3,807 yards, 43 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions as a sophomore last season at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College. Beathard decommitted from Ole' Miss to sign with the Hawkeyes.

"We were very impressed," Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson said. "He’s got very good feet, very good mobility. He’s a good athlete. He’s been successful from a drop-back standpoint. Very smart kid. We were very impressed."

The five scholarship QBs also are a first in the Ferentz era, but that number goes down to three after Vandenberg and John Wienke graduate next spring.

SECOND DOWN -- BATTLES BREWING: Everyday he walks into the QB room, Vandenberg can do the Discount Double Check belt thingie. He is the man. Undisputed. No buts. Don't even start with Rudock or whomever. The deal is done.

New offensive coordinator Greg Davis has spent the time since his hire (late February) to now (Iowa starts spring practice next Wednesday) going over what exactly he has. That's included a thorough examination of Vandenberg.

“There are certain things you can see on tape, throws from one hashmark to the sideline, that’s kind of a benchmark if they can do that, and he can,” Davis said. “The other thing I was very excited about is the number of plays he made off schedule.”

And . . .

“When you cover everybody and the quarterback runs and makes a first down, that’s heartbreaking for a defense,” Davis said. “So watching him, I thought his decision-making was good. I was impressed with him for a lot of reasons.”

So, the guy who gets to play when Iowa is up big or when Vandenberg is out of commission (other than the concussion in the Insight Bowl, Vandenberg was amazingly durable for a QB who was sacked 26 times last season) is up for discussion.

It will probably depend on situation whether Wienke or sophomore Jake Rudock enters the game. If the game is close, maybe Wienke gets the shot. Yes, he has two pass attempts in his career and one of those was a pick against Oklahoma. The argument for Wienke would be knowledge of the playbook. Kirk Ferentz also made it sound as though Wienke is fully vested in the race for the punter job, where he emerged as an unlikely No. 2 in 2011.

Rudock came with a mile-long resume, but the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder has yet to throw a pass. The Iowa staff felt good enough about Rudock to make the switch with Derby last season. Had Derby stayed, he'd be on the linebacker depth chart. Rudock might've factored into that decision.

Rudock has his foot in the door on the future, starting in 2013. Maybe his talent trumps Wienke's knowledge.

What about Sokol? He has three years to play two. Ferentz said a big part of the attraction for Iowa in regard to Sokol was his openness to take a redshirt in 2012. That would give him a foot in the door on the future starting in 2013, too.

FIRST DOWN -- Prediction for 2012: It's a long way to August, so let's not get carried away with these. Plus, there are so many moving parts on Iowa's coaching staff, which, I believe, is the biggest wildcard in 2012 next to the D-line.

Could Vandenberg's numbers improve and Iowa's record stay the same? In other words, could Vandenberg again be an anomaly (which then wouldn't be an anomaly, would it?)?

I think yes.

-- Davis will make Vandenberg better.

-- For the most part, he's a solid decision-maker. (Home vs. road decision-making, however, was incongruent last season, which can partially be explained by the fact that three of Iowa's five road opponents were bowl teams. The one game that has to stick out is Minnesota. The Gophers had Vandenberg's number with the blitz. The Gophers gambled big and it paid off. It was as much of a factor in the game as the onside kick. A corner blitz killed an Iowa drive that reached UM's 14 and turned into a Gophers field goal.)

-- Vandenberg is an accurate QB, perhaps accurate enough to get drafted. He'll also have a boatload of opportunity next season (by this, I mean I could see Iowa passing to set up the run).

Harsh realities that might shoot this down:

-- There's no Marvin McNutt on the roster. Davis has a shot, but McNutt was money in the bank. He'll be the first Iowa WR drafted since Kahlil Hill in 2002.

-- Will tight end be better? Junior C.J. Fiedorowicz has a chance to make the jump from "guy" to "oh yeah, him." Sure, he only caught 16 passes in 2011, but 12 of those came in Iowa's final four games, including four for 23 and a TD against Oklahoma in the Insight.

-- If there's any newness in this offense, it's probably coming in the passing game. The running game will be a Ferentz and Ferentz production. Passing will be Davis' deal. Vandenberg is a smart guy, wants to go to medical school, but as a fifth-year senior, many of the things he knew about Iowa's offense have been erased. There's going to be an adjustment.
 
 

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