IOWA CITY — The general vibe around the new starting quarterback’s teammates is they’re not going to wait for him to lead them to the promise land.
It’s not that the Hawkeyes aren’t totally accepting of sophomore Jake Rudock (pronounced “Roo-dock”). They all saw fall camp. They all saw Rudock go in with a lead and then just build on it until he was officially named the starter last Friday by coach Kirk Ferentz.
They know what he can do. They’ll find out what he can’t do. In the meantime, they’ll do their jobs.
To a man, that was the pledge Tuesday.
“We’ve got a great quarterback back there,” left offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said. “We’re just going to do our job, protect him and trust him to his job.”
Rudock made a fashionably late entrance to Tuesday’s media session. With his debut Saturday against Northern Illinois and a 14-hour class schedule that includes organic chemistry and physics, you can live through some tardiness, which has kind of been the theme for the 6-3, 205-pound sophomore through his Iowa career.
The fact of the matter is Rudock will take his first college snap on Saturday. It’ll be the first time since 1994 the Hawkeyes have started a QB with no game experience in the opening game (Cedar Rapids native Ryan Driscoll against Central Michigan).
“I think it’ll be like it’s been on the sideline,” Rudock said, totally deadpanning the “what do you think it’s going to be like out there” question.
Now, how set in stone is Rudock? You’d have to think probably not as set as James Vandenberg was during the 2012 season, when the former Iowa QB took every snap.
“We haven’t ruled anything out or set any boundaries up,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ll take it a series at a time.”
Certainly, Ferentz wants to avoid a situation where Rudock is looking over his shoulder after every mistake, waiting for the hook.
“We’re going to let him play,” Ferentz said. “He’s earned that over time. Again, we have confidence in both C.J. [Beathard] and Cody [Sokol], but Jake is going to play, and we’ll let him go.
“You don’t want somebody looking over their shoulder. That’s not productive anyway for him. He needs to be looking at what’s in front of him. He’s going to have a lot to look at, and it’s going to be moving fast, too.”
Rudock took a “semi-early lead” into August camp and built on it. Beathard, a redshirt freshman, is the No. 2 and Sokol, a junior college transfer, is the third. For now, going into Northern Illinois, that’s how it is.
“I don’t envision us making this a three-ring circus or anything like that,” Ferentz said, “but if that’s what it takes.”
If that sounds open-ended, Rudock can take heart in the fact that Ferentz hasn’t played musical QBs since 2008, when Ricky Stanzi unseated Jake Christensen. Under Ferentz, Iowa has had just one season where two quarterbacks shared snaps throughout the season (2001 with Kyle McCann and Brad Banks). In 1999 and ’00, Iowa played three QBs, mostly because the position was unsettled much like the rest of those teams.
Ferentz seems willing to let Rudock learn, with the rise and fall of the learning curve and all.
“The fact is you’re going to make mistakes, every single guy on the field makes mistakes,” said Rudock, who led St. Thomas Aquinas to the mythical national prep championship his senior season, passing for 5,082 yards and 73 TD passes in his career. “Knowing how coach Ferentz is helps you be a little more relaxed and not so worried about that.”
The “do your job” mantra is a familiar one with Iowa football. That kind of focus has, in the past, helped the Hawkeyes rise above circumstances, block out opposing crowds and win games (Penn State ’09, for example). It was verbalized Tuesday. It appears to be the attitude the team will take while Rudock learns on the job.
It’s simple and it’s true. But also, at some point, Rudock is going to be asked to make a play, and that’s where the “one series at a time” and/or “not looking over his shoulder” will lie.
“He’s very detail-oriented, he’s very well-prepared,” running back Mark Weisman said. “I don’t think it being his first game is going to be a problem for him. He’s a veteran in his mentality.”
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