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Vandenberg ready to carry the load

[ 2 ] August 3, 2012 |

CHICAGO — The story of bow-hunting a black bear makes for a far better “what I did over summer vacation” story than James Vandenberg’s daily reality.

“He’s been in the building more than I have this summer. I know that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

The senior downplayed his time at the football complex this offseason.

“I get over there as much as I can,” Vandenberg said. “With a new offense, a younger team, I bring as many guys over as possible.”

Vandenberg already graduated earlier this summer “out of the blue.” He passed up the chance to have a summer job and a few extra dollars in his pocket and took just two summer classes, one online.

“I wanted to focus on football this summer and fall,” Vandenberg said. “Cherish every moment. It’s something I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of.”

Vandenberg wants to write the final act of his Hawkeye career after finishing 7-6 last season.

The Keokuk native became just the fourth Hawkeye quarterback to finish with more than 3,000 yards passing (following Chuck Long, Chuck Hartlieb and Ricky Stanzi) but didn’t have the wins or the consistency he wanted.

Asked to critique his quarterback, Ferentz started in on a familiar defense.

“I thought he played well,” Ferentz said. “I know there’s a real knock on him about, I think, road deficiency.

“My answer to that, that throws out the Purdue game because I thought he played pretty well there. Go back to the Ohio State game, I don’t know if he could’ve played any better that day.”

Iowa finished 1-4 on the road last season, not counting a loss in the Insight Bowl. The one road win was a 31-21 victory at Purdue.

And Ferentz was thinking back to Vandenberg’s redshirt freshman year when he made his first start at Ohio State and Iowa lost 27-24 in overtime.

In total, however, Vandenberg is 1-6 outside of Kinnick Stadium in his career. (And 7-1 in Kinnick.)

“Two of them we played pretty well until the fourth quarter,” Vandenberg said. “We kind of let them get away.

“Those are things we definitely have to fix. You have to take every win you can get in this conference.”

Vandenberg still has that 44-41 triple overtime loss in Ames and the 22-21 loss at Minnesota stuck in his craw and called both “painful.”

“We didn’t play our best football on the road,” Vandenberg said. “Obviously, they are all good teams, and we’ve got to play better on the road.

“You watch the top tier teams in the country and Big Ten, they all play well on the road. That’s something we want to be good at.”

Ferentz called the road losses team losses.

In his seven home games last fall Vandenberg was 127-of-207 (61.3 percent) for 1,798 yards (256.9 per game) and 17 touchdowns to three interceptions.

In the five true road games, Vandenberg was 87-of-153 (56.8) for 1,008 yards (201.6) with six touchdowns and three interceptions.

“The facts are it’s harder to win on the road,” Ferentz said. “Conversely, if you want to be a championship-contending team, you’ve got to find a way to win on the road.

“Your quarterback has to play good, typically. But we didn’t play extremely well on the road in general terms.”

Vandenberg carries his share of the burden from 2011. It is part of the reason he has immersed himself this offseason.

The other part is getting a new offensive coordinator for his final season. Greg Davis replaces Ken O’Keefe and brings a new playbook, new terminology and new challenges for Vandenberg.

“I continue to study the offense all the time,” Vandenberg said. “He’s done a good job of teaching me how he wants to run the offense.”

Much of film study for Vandenberg has involved watching spring practice tapes. He also has looked at the Texas offense during Davis’ 13 seasons there.

“I’m not going to even compare myself to Vince Young,” Vandenberg said. “But Colt McCoy, Major Applewhite, … watching those guys has definitely helped me.”

Ferentz is confident his senior quarterback is soaking it all in.

“He’ll continue to improve,” Ferentz said. “He works so hard at it. As hard as anyone we’ve ever had.

“In a new system, lots of new verbage, lot of newness to the whole thing, he’s had a bigger load than anybody on the football team and he really welcomed that.”

Vandenberg is less than a month away from his first test of 2012, one he’s spent the summer studying for.

And it’s not in Kinnick Stadium. It’s at Soldier Field in Chicago, home of the Bears.

“This fall and this camp will be a big time for our football team,” Vandenberg said. “We have to continue to grow this fall and be ready to go Sept. 1.”

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Ryan Suchomel: Reach Ryan Suchomel at 339-7368 or rsuchomel@press-citizen.com. View author profile.

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