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Harty: What does Ferentz’s decision say about backup QBs?

[ 0 ] October 23, 2012 |

Instead of obsessing over the fact that Kirk Ferentz refuses to make a quarterback change, maybe it’s time to worry more about why that is the case.

To just write it off as Ferentz being ridiculously stubborn or loyal to a fault is too easy and shortsighted. There has to be more to why Ferentz is so unwilling to budge.

From an outsider’s point of view, James Vandenberg has given Ferentz plenty of reasons to bench him this season, especially when last Saturday’s 38-14 loss to Penn State got out of hand. Vandenberg even told reporters Tuesday that he could “totally see an argument” for him being replaced last Saturday.

Vandenberg has only thrown three touchdown passes in seven games this season. That’s just one more than Northwestern junior Kain Colter has thrown this season, but Colter only plays quarterback on a part-time basis, which Iowa fans will see for themselves Saturday.

It’s to the point now where some fans are questioning Ferentz’s motives and wondering what it’ll take for him to make a quarterback change.

But maybe it’s time to question the backup quarterbacks. Maybe it’s time to accept that the gap between Vandenberg and redshirt freshman backup Jake Rudock is wider than what some fans want to believe, even with Vandenberg playing so poorly.

I’d be more worried as a fan that Iowa doesn’t have another quarterback worthy of unseating Vandenberg at this point. That’s no disrespect to the backup quarterbacks, because they’re all young and inexperienced, but more a knock against the coaches for being in this position.

Former City High star A.J. Derby is the most decorated quarterback Iowa has signed recently, and yet he barely made it a year before the coaches switched him to linebacker. Derby is now trying to resurrect his career as a quarterback at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.

Rudock accomplished some incredible things while playing for perennial power St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But he wasn’t considered a blue-chip recruit when he picked Iowa over scholarship offers from Wisconsin, Illinois, Memphis and Minnesota.

Rudock was considered a developmental quarterback coming out of high school, and it appears he still needs more time to develop.

It’s absurd to think that Ferentz wouldn’t play Rudock if he thought Rudock gave Iowa its best chance to win. Ferentz evaluates the quarterbacks every day in practice, while fans and media members only have seen Rudock perform in a few open practices.

“I think there has been competition in a lot of spots,” Ferentz said. “But we’re trying to make a habit of getting our best guys on the field; the guys that we feel give us the best chance to win.”

Ferentz was asked Tuesday to compare the current situation at quarterback to the 2008 season when Jake Christensen eventually lost his starting position to Ricky Stanzi. Christensen had started all 12 games during the 2007 season, but it was apparent early on in 2008 that Stanzi was gaining ground.

“Anytime you see players rotating, particularly at the position because it is a little unique, that would indicate, yeah, that it’s really close,” Ferentz said. “There is usually a reason why you do it. At that point, we were trying to determine who our best quarterback was.”

The 2008 season proves that Ferentz will make a quarterback change if he thinks it’s in the best interest of the team.

He just doesn’t believe that now, which probably says more about the backup quarterbacks not being ready than it does Ferentz being stubborn.

It’s not like Vandenberg has some salty veteran pushing him for playing time. In addition to Rudock, Iowa’s list of quarterbacks include junior-college transfer Cody Sokol and true freshman C.J. Beathard. The plan is to redshirt Sokol and Beathard, so there aren’t many options besides Vandenberg and Rudock.

It seems that if Rudock was pushing Vandenberg in practice, Ferentz would be more receptive to making a change under the circumstances.

It also could be that Vandenberg has had an easier time adjusting to first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis than the other quarterbacks have.

And it could be that Ferentz is still hopeful that Vandenberg will regain some of the skills that helped him pass for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.

Senior receiver Keenan Davis left little doubt who he thinks should be lined up behind. It could have just been lip service considering Davis was talking to the media, but he seemed genuine and sincere while voicing his support for Vandenberg.

“There is no other person that I would rather have out there,” Davis said of Vandenberg. “He’s the guy we trust. We all trust and we all believe in him.

“I think he’s going to take us to places that we wouldn’t be able to go to without him.”

Whether that’s a bowl game remains to be seen.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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