Iowa Football: Is Kirk Ferentz Right to Stick with James Vandenberg?
Towards the middle of the second quarter in Iowa's matchup against Penn State, Hawkeye quarterback James Vandenberg stepped back to pass. The PSU pass rush almost reached him, and he rolled out of the pocket, seemingly escaping trouble.
He began to pump the ball, but seemed to squeeze it too hard, at which point the ball popped out, Penn State jumped on it, and two plays later the Nits were up 24-0.
This moment seems to encapsulate where JVB is right now. He is trying too hard and has too many wheels spinning in his head.
His efficiency rating is a Big Ten-worst 103.91, which leaves fewer than five starting quarterbacks in the country with a worse rating.
It is true that statistics don't always tell the whole story, but they also rarely lie.
Some will point to the new offense and loss of record-setting receiver Marvin McNutt as the key reasons for his struggles. However, Vandenberg is missing bread-and-butter passes that he routinely hit last year.
Moreover, while McNutt's absence this year certainly plays a part in JVB's struggles, last year, Vandenberg did complete 158 passes to players not named McNutt.
He has unquestionably been lousy, but last year proves he is a better quarterback than he's been.
Nevertheless, Vandenberg began the season poorly and has continued to regress with every almost game.
It came to a head last weekend when Iowa got destroyed by Penn State.
Heading into the fourth quarter, JVB had connected on 9-of-23 passes for 120 yards and an interception. The Hawkeyes had scored zero points, and while Penn State has a good defense, the Nits are not Alabama.
In fact, following the game, PSU ranked as the No. 36 pass defense in the country.
The bigger question than Vandenberg has been head coach Kirk Ferentz's refusal to give his backup a shot.
This is not to say that Ferentz should permanently bench Vandenberg, but his regression from last season to this season and from the beginning of this season to now has been palpable.
It is evident that whatever ails JVB is in his head, and whatever Kirk Ferentz is doing to get Vandenberg on the right track isn't working.
Perhaps some time riding the bench—at the end of a blowout such as Penn State last week or even within a normal game—would help him to put some distance between himself and the downward spiral that has enveloped him.
The argument against this, of course, is that Vandenberg's backup—redshirt freshman Jake Rudock—has never seen a collegiate snap, and would be a significant drop-off from JVB.
The question is how much of a drop-off could he be? At this point, Iowa's passing efficiency is 118th in the country.
Rudock may be a step back, but he can and likely will improve. After 22 collegiate starts, the same cannot be said for Vandenberg. While Rudock might be a sizable step back, until Vandenberg fixes whatever is going on in his head, he cannot improve and cannot lead this team to victory.
In effect, Ferentz is doing his quarterback, not to mention his team, a disservice by not getting him off the field.
In the end, there are certain realities to face.
Firstly, this is as it has always been: Kirk Ferentz's offense, and neither former offensive coordinator (OC) Ken O'Keefe nor current OC Greg Davis can do anything but work within Ferentz's tightly controlled universe.
Secondly, as regular Hawkeyenation-poster Hawkeyegamefilm noted, Ferentz will stick "with Vandenberg until the very end."
Thirdly, Vandenberg will not magically snap out of the funk that he is in.
Where does this leave the Hawkeyes, and more specifically, Hawkeye fans?
As Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants recently noted, watching a "bumbling, incoherent, comical shambles" of an offense that is manned by players that are, for whatever reason, ill-prepared to run it.
This doesn't mean that benching Vandenberg is the answer, but it does mean that whatever Ferentz is doing right now isn't working.
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