TAMPA, Fla. – Think of Raymond James Stadium as a proving ground.
For Iowa’s Jake Rudock, the outcome of Wednesday’s Outback Bowl against No. 14 Louisiana State hinges on savvy and poise.
For LSU’s Anthony Jennings, the noon showdown is a chance to unleash his potential.
Two quarterbacks, each with an intriguing future, taking center stage in front of a national television audience on ESPN.
“Any time you get a chance to play in an NFL stadium, it’s awesome,” Rudock said. “It’s going to be beautiful.”
Rudock, a sophomore from Weston, Fla., and Jennings, a freshman from Marietta, Ga., are separated statistically by 2,356 total yards and roughly 780 snaps.
That’s because Rudock made his starting debut Aug. 31, while Jennings spent the season backing up senior Zach Mettenberger.
Mettenberger, out with a knee injury, will be watching from the sideline this afternoon as Jennings joins LSU’s first stringers.
“It’s different being the second guy preparing for a game, and being ‘The Guy’ preparing,” Rudock said. “I’m sure he’s been studying his butt off.”
So has the Hawkeye defense.
Coach Kirk Ferentz’s staff found video clips of 42 plays involving Jennings.
The rest is guess work.
“It’s really the only wild-card for us,” Ferentz said. “We don’t have much tape on him.”
What they do have is a general idea of what the Tigers like to do schematically.
There’s also a bit of history.
Cam Cameron, LSU’s offensive coordinator, was the Indiana coach from 1997 to 2001.
He and former Hoosiers quarterback Antwaan Randle El used to give Iowa fits.
Jennings is another dual-threat playmaker, who guided the Tigers on a 99-yard touchdown drive to beat Arkansas 31-27 on Nov. 29.
“The job of any quarterback, regardless of his style or his age is to move the team,” Ferentz said. “And he moved them in about as extreme a circumstances as you can possibly dream up.
“You wouldn’t put a guy in that situation in practice and expect him to do what he did.”
Jennings puts on a different sort of show during workouts. Defensive end Jermauria Rasco spent the past three weeks chasing him around.
“It’s going to be an exciting game, watching him play,” Rasco said. “It’s easy when you’re not the main target, you’re just a role player.
“But when you have everything on your shoulders … that’s one thing I’ve noticed. He gained a lot of confidence in himself.
“He’s just being himself, playing football.”
Jennings’ demeanor is a product of his preparation.
“We really kind of focused on having him run drills,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We put a little bit more burden on him in terms of preparing to handle the huddle, handle the play call.
“That, besides the physical execution, maybe a little bit more important.”
Rudock prides himself on efficiency.
He edged out C.J. Beathard and Cody Sokol to become the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 quarterback, then emerged as a gutsy game manager.
“We started the year, we knew he was smart,” offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “But sometimes, book smart and football smart doesn’t always coincide.
“In his case, it did.”
Rudock went on to complete 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,281 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
He’s also deceptively nimble, rushing for 223 yards and five touchdowns.
“The biggest impression is always that win-loss column,” Rudock said. “However I perform, hopefully it’s good enough to get the win.”
Decision making may be Rudock’s most valuable skill.
The Tigers play a 4-3 defensive alignment, but will sometimes bring an extra rusher to the line of scrimmage.
That could create one-on-one opportunities downfield.
“He does a ton (of audibling),” Davis said. “Run to pass, pass to run. Run this side, run that side.”
Fleet feet and quick thinking is a necessity when facing an LSU defense that recorded 24 sacks and 60 tackles for loss.
“They’re good,” Rudock said. “They’ve got a bunch of fast, athletic guys. They hit hard and they wrap up. The whole defense swarms to the ball.
“We’ll have to be prepared.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football