IOWA CITY, Ia. — Conor Boffeli was flat on his back, injured on the final play of Iowa’s 23-7 victory at Minnesota Saturday.
As many of his teammates raced off in search of Floyd of Rosedale, one of Boffeli’s teammates walked over, dropped to one knee and waited while medical personnel checked out the Hawkeyes’ starting left guard.
It was quarterback Jake Rudock.
“They’re your teammates, your family,” Rudock said. “That matters to me. I just wanted to make sure he was OK.”
That gesture gives you a glimpse inside Rudock’s leadership skills. Untested entering the season, the redshirt sophomore has also shown he’s a leader in the huddle.
“He’s calm, cool and collected,” starting left tackle Brandon Scherff said. “He doesn’t get too high or low.”
Rudock has what it takes to become the best quarterback of the Kirk Ferentz era, which covers 15 seasons and counting. No offense to Drew Tate, Ricky Stanzi or Brad Banks, who all guided a Ferentz team to a Big Ten title or a BCS bowl game.
Rudock has the whole package. He can throw effectively. He has shown surprising elusiveness with his feet, with a great feel for when to tuck it and go. His poise and mental acumen are just as impressive.
Watching him audible to plays that took advantage of Minnesota’s defensive formation was the most impressive part of Saturday’s victory.
Rudock, who had never taken a snap in a college game until this season, emerged from a three-way battle with C.J. Beathard and Cody Sokol to get the starting job. Iowa has a 4-1 record entering Saturday’s game against Michigan State in part because of Rudock’s brain and brawn.
“I think that’s probably the thing all of us have been most pleased about,” Ferentz said. “I wouldn’t say surprised. You never know until you get into games. To be a successful quarterback, it sure does help if you have an awareness and self control. So far, so good.”
Rudock is not a finished product. Not even close. Sometimes, he throws before his feet are set. He makes mistakes — see his fourth-quarter interception in the end zone at Minnesota. But even then, Ferentz sees something positive in Rudock.
“When he does make a play he regrets, he comes right back and keeps playing,” Ferentz said. “He doesn’t let it affect him. I’m not saying it doesn’t bother him. But he doesn’t let it affect him. And that’s a good sign as well.”
Rudock has a feel for the game, something even the greatest athletes can find elusive. He’s also made Iowa a much more dangerous offensive team than it was a year ago.
The Hawkeyes have faced third down and 5 yards or more on 39 occasions this season. Iowa has converted 17 of them, a 43.5 percent clip. Last season, the Hawkeyes converted on those plays just 21.8 percent of the time.
On Iowa’s first possession of the third quarter at Minnesota, Rudock found Jacob Hillyer for 14 yards on third-and-9. And facing a third-and-8, Rudock moved up in the pocket and threw a perfectly-timed ball to Kevonte Martin-Manley for 8 yards. Facing another third-and-9, Rudock scrambled for 22 yards.
“I think he makes good decisions with the football in his hands,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s made great decisions on when to run. He’s a threat to run, so you have to contain him. I think he’s going to have a tremendous career there.”
Iowa has increased its overall third-down conversion success from 36 to 52.5 percent. Average time of possession has also increased, from 29:38 to 35:51.
Troublesome are seven empty trips and just 11 touchdowns in 23 visits to the red zone. That must improve in a hurry.
Rudock’s upside is unquestioned. So is Saturday’s challenge. Michigan State (3-1) leads the nation in total defense and pass defense, and is second in rush defense.
“Watching film, you can tell they’re good,” Rudock said. “Plain and simple, they know how to get to the ball. Their front four do a great job, their linebackers fill really hard and the back four cover very well.”
Win or lose, Rudock will become a better quarterback from the experience. His leadership skills are unquestioned.
Just ask Boffeli, who saw Rudock checking on him at the end of the Minnesota game.
“It’s nice to know he cared enough to come and see if I was OK before going to celebrate,” Boffeli said.
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football