IOWA CITY — Jake Rudock experienced several firsts in his debut last weekend.
First things first, he checked off the gut punch of throwing a late-game interception that turned into the clinching field goal for Northern Illinois. That burned in his mind for a long time last Saturday night. He eventually snapped out of it, telling himself Saturday’s game against Missouri State (0-1) is the only thing that matters for the Hawkeyes (0-1).
“I’d say after the fact, I couldn’t give you a timeframe, but when it finally sunk in, it was ‘All right, it’s over. Keep the head up, keep the shoulders back, be ready to go because the next week is already here,’” said the sophomore, who completed 21 of 37 for 256 yards, a TD and two interceptions. “Missouri State is the only game that matters right now.”
Another first for Rudock was the game, in and of itself. He played in his first game as a Hawkeye. He hadn’t taken a snap in competition since his senior season at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) in 2010.
“His demeanor on the sideline was good; he was calm, confident,” coach Kirk Ferentz said during Tuesday’s new conference. “The feedback that we got from him was really accurate. You think they know what’s going on. You hope they do. Some guys give good feedback, some don’t, at all positions, but it was really good.”
Rudock was hit for the first time as a Hawkeye. Something, he said Tuesday, he sort of relished.
“It was nice to get hit again, as strange as that sounds,” Rudock said. “It’s fun to get hit sometimes. It gets you ready to go. You get that done, and then it’s, all right. You can let loose and just play football.”
Rudock also had his first rushes in college. He ran the ball four times for 20 yards, including a 6-yard TD scramble. Rudock was recruited as a pro-style quarterback to run a pro-style offense. One of the wrinkles offensive coordinator Greg Davis installed in the offseason was the zone read run. Actually, it’s something Iowa has shown since around 2009, but hasn’t invested in as fully as it did against Northern Illinois.
The Hawkeyes ran the zone read about a dozen times with varying degrees of success, gaining anywhere from 2 to 15 yards. This goal of this play is to bait the defensive end into opening a gap. The quarterback reads the backside defensive end and either keeps or runs the ball depending how the end reacts. For the most part Saturday, NIU ends crashed. That’s a handoff to the running back.
The fact that Rudock didn’t keep the ball on any of the zone reads didn’t seem to be a big deal. The play, for the most part, worked the way it was supposed to. Iowa’s only fumble didn’t come out of the zone read. Also, Iowa didn’t have any negative runs.
Still, Rudock is going to have to keep one or two of these. He does in practice.
“He has to pretty much read that end,” running back Damon Bullock said. “He does it a lot in practice, too. He knows he has to bring it to the game.”
What is the point if the QB never runs it?
“It still keeps the defense honest,” Rudock said. “It freezes certain guys. It makes the secondary guys, when they’re looking in, have a slight stutter. That could be the difference between [Mark] Weisman or Bullock breaking free.”
There’s no aversion here. Rudock ran a draw play for 9 yards. Another first for him was his first dive for the pylon as a Hawkeye, winning the 6-yard race for the TD with 53 seconds left in the first half.
He said it felt good to get hit. Also, he ran some veer option in at Aquinas.
“We weren’t scared to run it with him. He can run,” Aquinas offensive coordinator Bryan Baucom said. “I think it’s because he’s tall and thin, people think he looks like Bambi running. He can run.”
Upon hearing the “Bambi” comment, Rudock (6-3, 205 pounds) laughed. Of course, the “Bambi” comment was in jest. It’s probably the kind of humor only an old coach can get away with.
“He [Baucom] would say that. He’s funny like that,” Rudock said. “He’ll say bad stuff and I’m like, thanks, thanks for the support.”
As far as Rudock, or any Iowa QB, keeping the ball on the zone read, Davis probably put it the best this spring when asked if defenses would consider any of Iowa’s QBs a run threat, would they?
“Unless they run it,” Davis said. “It’s a part that is aggravating to the defense. Just the fact that you have some of that forces the defense to play more assignment football.”