Iowa Football: Why Benching James Vandenberg Would Be the Wrong Move
Let's not mince words; Iowa's offense has been atrocious through the first two weeks of the season, and James Vandenberg, the fifth-year senior at the helm of the inept unit, has taken a considerable share of the slings and arrows from a frustrated fan base.
If you want to identify the low-hanging fruit in an internet sports writing community, look for the people taking shots at the quarterback of the team they cover before conference play begins.
This is not to say Vandenberg is off-limits or that all calls for change are unfounded, but fans and media alike, need to take a deeper look into each team's situation before piling on a 22-year-old whose underwhelming teammates have left him on an island where indigenous basement-dwellers run in rhythmic patterns from the staircase in search of meatloaf bearing mothers to computers where they damn the performance of hardworking student athletes under the blanket of anonymity provided by the handle TruHawkPimp42.
Benching an incumbent quarterback is a season-altering decision. If done early in conference play, it generally indicates you have a better option waiting in the wings who better fits the identity of your team or has a greater skill set to lead the team to their perceived ceiling. If done late in the season, it often indicates the failure of the team to live up to its perceived potential.
If done after two games, with no experienced backup, it means the veteran player has proven himself incapable of leading the team or your perception of the team itself has been altered to the degree you need to change the direction of the entire program at the cost of the current season.
I don't believe the Hawkeyes fit either of those descriptions at this point.
Let's look at some of the reasons Iowa's early offensive struggles do not justify benching Vandenberg.
No Other QB on the Roster Has Attempted a Pass
The most popular player on every football team is the backup quarterback.
This is among the most overused cliches in sports, but as is often the case with cliches, it has been worn out because it contains an element of truth. This is especially valid when fans have to Google the roster in order to learn the name of the backup they are clamoring for.
If Vandenberg were to come out of the game, freshman Jake Rudock would likely take his place. If that doesn't get you jacked up, consider he has never thrown an interception. In fact, he's never thrown an incompletion. He is a flawless 0-0 in his career.
The truth is, Iowa will most likely have an open battle for the starting quarterback job heading into the 2013 season.
That battle should take place in the spring and summer, not this fall when the games count.
If You Don't Know, Ask Gisele
In the paraphrased words of world-renowned supermodel and part-time NFL analyst Gisele Bundchen, James Vandenberg cannot [expletive] throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.
Gisele took some heat for those comments after last year's Super Bowl, but I admired the foreign-born model's ability to grasp the nuances of a decidedly American sport. When the ball is thrown to you, go ahead and catch it.
In last week's brutal loss to Iowa State, Vandenberg's receivers let him down repeatedly, and they did so in the game's most critical moments. The official count was seven drops.
Does this excuse Vandenberg's inaccuracy on several short passes? No. Does it excuse bad reads and poor decisions that resulted in devastating turnovers? No. Does it show a senior quarterback who, even on a bad day, showed the moxie to put his team in position to steal a win from a fired up rival? Absolutely.
A cool hand late in the game is one of the benefits you hope to gain by having a veteran quarterback. Vandenberg was far from perfect, but he didn't get any help.
An Extra Month of Practice
Iowa has issues. With the schedule in their favor this season, even the most pessimistic fans had to believe seven wins was reasonable. The optimists in the crowd saw a realistic shot at 9-3.
At this point, with their personnel, Iowa looks like a six-win team.
Six wins, combined with a fan base coveted by bowl hosts for their track record of high-volume travel and ability to sell tickets, will get Iowa into a bowl game.
Playing in a bowl game before Christmas is like getting an '87 station wagon with wood paneling for your 16th birthday. The entitled brat in you wants to turn it down and pout in your room alone, but the pragmatic grownup in you knows it has four wheels and will ultimately get you where you need to go.
Even a disappointing bowl game earns you another month of practices, and when you are building for the future with a team full of inexperienced players, an extra month of practice is invaluable.
Like it or not, the Hawkeyes need Vandenberg if they are going to get to six wins. Sorry, that's where this team lives now.
Message Board Conjecture Debunked
Bench JVB to send him a message/wake him up!
Exactly what type of message do you send a fifth-year senior with a full season of starts under his belt?
You can have an issue with his performance, but to presume that performance is due to lack of focus is foolish. Vandenberg is the team's leader, and has been for some time now. No message necessary.
Get Rudock in there to give the team a spark!
When you say spark, do you mean the kind that ignites a dumpster fire?
Iowa's offensive struggles are the result of poor execution, not lack of effort or enthusiasm. You do not fix execution issues by replacing a seasoned veteran with a freshman whose next pass attempt will be his first.
We have to replace him next year anyway, so go with the freshman and let him take his lumps and grow with the rest of the team.
If you put in the inexperienced QB, you have an offense even more in disarray. Iowa can't afford to slow down the growth of their skill players by putting in a QB who will likely struggle to get them the ball.
And, it probably costs you a month of bowl practices.
I told you he's no Ricky Stanzi!
This isn't the same team, with the same weapons as the one Stanzi lead. Throw a couple NFL defensive linemen back on the roster, add two record-holding wide receivers and a running back that was actually projected to start when spring practice began. Do you think Vandenberg might fair a little better leading that group?
The reality of the 2012 Hawkeyes will be a season-long struggle. Vandenberg gives a relatively poor team a chance to be competitive. Without him, you're looking at a five-win team.