IOWA CITY, Ia. — Is Jake Rudock ready for takeoff?
He’s proven himself a capable quarterback, but Iowa’s offense needs a lift.
The Hawkeyes’ once powerful ground game is sputtering, and Saturday’s 11 a.m. showdown against Wisconsin might call for more-than-usual aerial navigation.
The Badgers (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) are allowing an average of 87.6 rushing yards and 197.4 passing.
In other words, Iowa (5-3, 2-2) has a better chance of making gains through the air.
“It’s really important to mix it up all the time,” Rudock said. “It’s important to not create tendencies.”
Rudock, a sophomore from Weston, Fla., earned his wings during the offseason, beating out C.J. Beathard and Cody Sokol for the starting job.
He played well in the opening weeks, but Iowa rarely veered from its earth-bound course.
The Hawkeyes rushed for more than 200 yards in each of their first five games (averaging 243.8).
Defenses responded with a familiar tact, crowding the line of scrimmage.
“Even when we can’t run the ball, they stack the box,” coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Iowa’s last three opponents were stingier. The Hawkeyes failed for rush more than 136 yards (averaging 96.3), causing a shift in play calling.
Rudock’s career-best passing day remains his first: a 256-yard outing in a 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois. He might have to air it out more Saturday, when Iowa is a 9.5-point underdog.
“If you can throw it,” Ferentz explained, “you’ve got to be able to throw it to get them not to stack it.”
Is Rudock up to the task?
His season statistics — 143 of 235 passing (60.9 percent), 202 yards per game, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions — are respectable.
His winning touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz last week in overtime, with two Northwestern defenders bearing down on him, was admirable.
“We all know quarterback is a different position, and everything you do is scrutinized more than other positions,” Ferentz said. “Football’s a team thing, but basically that was him making a great effort.
“He knew what was going on all the way.”
Perhaps, Rudock’s poise will prompt coaches to throw caution to the wind, become more aggressive.
Iowa was mostly balanced the last three games, running it 42 times on first down and throwing 38.
The Hawkeyes averaged 3.6 yards per rush over that span, while Rudock completed 22 of 38 first-down attempts for 300 yards.
Will that be good enough to keep the Badgers on their heels?
“You have to play ahead of the chains,” Rudock said. “You can’t shoot yourself in the foot and be second-and-10.”
Of Iowa’s 42 first-down rushes, 25 netted 3 yards or less.
When Rudock completed a pass on first down, the average gain was 13.6 yards — including an 85-yard touchdown toss to Jake Duzey at Ohio State.
“It’s all about taking what the defense gives you,” Rudock said. “Sometimes, 4 yards is the best play you can get, and sometimes fluke plays like the one to Duzey happen.”
Rudock continues to gain a better grasp of the offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ system, making regular audibles.
That sort of freedom could help Iowa establish success early and sustain drives. After all, Wisconsin’s opponents have converted just 30 percent of their third-down opportunities.
“Experience helps a lot,” Rudock said. “Coach does a great job putting the game plan together, allowing us to understand what to look for and when we would check it, or when we would say ‘Hey, let’s run this play,’ because we got a good look against it.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football