Barring some unforeseeable lightning bolt from the sky, or a misdirected curse via the omnipotent AIRBHG, senior James Vandenberg will be Iowa's starting quarterback when the Hawks meet Northern Illinois on Sept. 1.
His backups will be redshirt freshman Jake Rudock, JUCO-transfer Cody Sokol and true freshman C.J. Beathard.
If the spring game is any indication, that will be the order of the depth chart with Sokol and Beathard taking a redshirt unless dire circumstances arise.
By the Numbers
The NIU game will be Vandenberg's 16th start. He started every game in 2011, as well as two memorable contests in 2009 after starter Ricky Stanzi went down with a snapped ankle.
As a starter, JVB's lifetime record is 8-7. His Big Ten record is 5-5.
He had an up-and-down 2011.
His overall stats were as follows: 404 ATT, 237 COMP, 58.7 PCT, 3,022 YDS, 7.5 YDS/ATT, 25 TD, 7 INT, 138.44 quarterback efficiency rating.
Vandenberg also rushed for 270 net yards on 49 attempts—this is minus sacks, which count as rushing attempts in college—including three touchdown scampers.
These are decent numbers, and, in fact, his efficiency rating was fifth best in the Big Ten behind four returning starters—if one includes Wisconsin's Russell Wilson as a "returning" starter—three of whom were seniors.
Furthermore, for those that take issue with Kirk Ferentz's reputation for forcing the rushing game, Vandenberg had the second-most passing attempts in the conference.
The primary issue with JVB was his inconsistency. This is most telling when comparing his home and away numbers.
At Kinnick Stadium, he boasted the following statistics: 7 G, 207 ATT, 127 COMP, 61.4 PCT, 1,798 YDS, 8.7 YDS/ATT, 17 TD, 3 INT, 158.51 quarterback efficiency rating.
Conversely, away from Kinnick: 6 G, 197 ATT, 110 COMP, 55.7 PCT, 1,224 YDS, 6.2 YDS/ATT, 8 TD, 4 INT, 117.37 quarterback efficiency rating.
The disparity between his performances against ranked and unranked foes was also an issue.
His numbers against unraked opponents were: 9 G, 257 ATT, 162 COMP, 63.0 PCT, 2,191 YDS, 8.5 YDS/ATT, 20 TD, 4 INT, 157.22 efficiency rating.
Against ranked teams: 4 G, 147 ATT, 75 COMP, 51.0 PCT, 831 YDS, 5.7 YDS/ATT, 5 TD, 3 INT, 105.65 efficiency rating.
One has to expect worse statistics against ranked foes—that's why they're ranked. Nevertheless, that great of a disparity is cause for concern.
JVB had the second-worst efficiency rating against ranked teams among quarterbacks that started at least eight games in 2011—Penn State's Matt McGloin had the worst—and the second-greatest disparity between ranked and unranked teams—Nebraska's Taylor Martinez was the worst with a 56-point differential.
Issues Heading into 2012
In high school, Vandenberg played in a shotgun, spread offense.
Iowa does not run such an offense. One might expect new offensive coordinator Greg Davis to make some tweaks, but the Hawkeyes under Kirk Ferentz will always run a pro-style offense.
After four years in the system, one would think JVB would have adjusted. However, in 2011, he never looked entirely comfortable under center.
This was particularly true in play action, a key component of Iowa's offense. In play-action scenarios, the quarterback has to turn his back to the defense, which was something Vandenberg never fully embraced.
Another issue JVB had concerned going through his progressions. His thought process seemed to be, "McNutt, McNutt, panic."
The panic that ensued after his first read led to happy feet and a failure to keep his eyes downfield as he scrambled to buy time.
JVB also had trouble throwing on the run. This was an issue in Ken O'Keefe's waggle-and-rollout-heavy offense, and it continued to be an issue in numerous sprint outs in the spring game.
The last issue Vandenberg had was a lack of awareness at the line. This was most egregiously represented in the Insight Bowl (at the 0:24:31 mark in the accompanying video).
It was 4th-and-inches at the Oklahoma 6-yard line. Iowa sent in its trademark, and ill-advised, hurry-up short-yardage play. Meanwhile, the Sooners neglected to send out an 11th man, thereby leaving Marvin McNutt uncovered.
McNutt waved frantically to JVB pre-snap, but to no avail. Vandenberg failed to spot OU's obvious blunder, snapped the ball, handed it off to Jordan Canzeri, who subsequently ran into a wall of red.
This was not the first time a lack of awareness at the line bit JVB in the rear.
Earlier in the year, Indiana sent multiple nickelback blitzes against Iowa. On one particular blitz, cornerback Greg Heban made his blitzing intentions obvious. Again, McNutt pointed directly at Heban in order to make sure Vandenberg was aware that he would be wide open.
Vandenberg didn't notice, took the snap, failed to get the pass off and Heban came in unmolested.
Positives Heading into 2012
Physically, JVB is the most pro-ready quarterback in the Kirk Ferentz era.
Brad Banks, Drew Tate and Jake Christensen were far too short. Nathan Chandler was too gangly and awkward. Kyle McCann was physically able, but didn't have the arm or the ability to make all the necessary throws. Finally, Vandenberg has a stronger arm and can make throws that Ricky Stanzi was unable to make.
Iowa's offense is not ideal for JVB, but with a few tweaks he could flourish. Ken O'Keefe and/or Kirk Ferentz seemed unwilling to make those tweaks.
On the other hand, Greg Davis has a history of successfully adjusting his offense to fit his quarterback's talents. Between 1999 and 2008, he had Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young and Colt McCoy—all distinctly different signal-callers—direct his offense at Texas.
All of those offenses ranked in the national top 20 in scoring offense, with six of them finishing in the top 10. Texas fans would argue that statistics don't tell the whole story as regarded Davis, and that may be true. Nonetheless, he built up a number of quality college quarterbacks, all of who had different styles.
Hopefully, he can take the Iowa offense and make a few tweaks that will help Vandenberg fit smoothly into it.
JVB has shown how good he can be with his back against the wall.
The 2011 Pitt comeback was no less than spectacular and much of it was his doing.
Lastly, even when Vandenberg is cold, he avoids making backbreaking mistakes. That is no small attribute on a Kirk Ferentz-coached team.
Jake Rudock, a native Floridian, was lightly recruited heading into his senior season in high school, and he committed to Iowa in July 2010.
Then he had a monster senior season—69.3 completion percentage, 2,784 YDS, 36 TD, three INT—which prompted at least one prestigious, local program to take note.
Rudock remained firm in his commitment to the Hawks and came to Iowa City last summer.
He hasn't taken a collegiate snap yet, but one can infer that he has been so impressive that the Hawkeye coaches knew that he would surpass A.J. Derby on the depth chart. That led to Derby's move to linebacker, which eventually led to Derby's decision to transfer.
Last year's No. 2 quarterback, John Wienke, is now a full-time punter.
That left the depth chart a bit bare, which led to the recruitment and commitment of JUCO transfer and Des Moines native, Cody Sokol.
Sokol played his first two college seasons at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. Last season, he threw for 3,807 yards, 43 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, earning first-team all-region, first-team all-conference and second-team all-America.
Sokol is and has been on campus since January and participated in spring practices.
Finally, Franklin, Tennessee's C.J. Beathard will be a true freshman that will arrive in Iowa City in August. He originally committed to Ole Miss, but switched his commitment after the Rebs made a coaching change.
Rudock, Sokol and Beathard will be in serious competition for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
That won't lead to much playing time this year, but it will be a major step towards the starting job in 2013.
Outlook for 2012
Marvin McNutt has exhausted his eligibility, and Vandenberg will have to find another go-to receiver. I'm hopeful that not having the greatest wide receiver in Iowa history as his security blanket will force JVB to consider his other options, of which he should have a few.
In effect, I'm optimistic that Vandenberg will do a better job of going through his progressions in 2012.
I'm also optimistic as it concerns JVB keeping his eyes downfield when the play breaks down, as he had multiple positive moments in the Insight Bowl (see the 1:35:20 mark in the above Insight Bowl video).
In the fourth quarter, Iowa had the ball on the OU 5-yard line, The Hawks came out in the gun and Vandenberg scampered to his left. When he saw that his primary target, Kevonte Martin-Manley, was covered, he went back to the right and bought time for himself as the play collapsed. After three seconds of buying time, he found tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz in the end zone.
One can also see evidence of this pocket presence at the 0:17:03 mark.
This ability to keep the play alive with his legs in order to make a play with his arm was something JVB failed to show all season. I am hopeful that its appearance in the bowl game is a sign of growth during the bowl practices.
I am worried regarding his ability to function away from home and against quality opponents.
Regarding the latter, perhaps a change in offensive coordinators will help him. Regarding the former, we'll know on October 13th, when the Hawks travel to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans.
As for the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, I am cautiously hopeful that it will help JVB, and the entire offense, settle down.
Either way, given the issues the defense is likely to have next season, the team's success or failure will be on the offense.
And given the graduation of McNutt, the transfer of running back Marcus Coker and the loss of three starting O-linemen, the success or failure of this year's offense will be squarely on JVB's shoulders.
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