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Problems went beyond Vandenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. - If you're looking to pin Saturday's 28-17 loss to Northwestern on Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg, give it your best shot.

Was the senior signal caller perfect? Absolutely not.

Did Vandenberg allow the Wildcats to rush for 349 yards?

Did Vandenberg block a punt that ultimately turned into another Northwestern score?

Was Vandenberg solely responsible for questionable clock management and sketchy in-game decision making?

Iowa's second loss in as many weeks has fans scrambling for scapegoats and demanding answers.

There are plenty of the former and few of the latter.

“They outplayed us,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters clustered inside a room that normally serves as a ticket office at Ryan Field. “We didn't do the things necessary to win, and that's disappointing.”


Namely, Iowa couldn't stop Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter or running back Venric Mark. Colter, who in previous weeks has been used in a variety of ways by Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, spent the vast majority of his Saturday under center and out-running Iowa's defensive linemen and linebackers. When all was said and done Colter had rushed for three touchdowns and a game-high 166 yards while accounting for a fourth score through the air.

Mark's 162 yards were impressive as well, especially the 72 that came after Iowa quarterback-turned-punter John Wienke had pinned the Wildcats on the 1-yard line at the start of the second quarter. Mark's dash helped setup a 7-play drive that ended with Colter finding the end zone for the second time Saturday.

“The one-yard line, you couldn't ask for a better situation,” Ferentz said.

That was indicative of how things would go for the Hawkeyes, now 4-4 on the year and 2-2 in Big Ten play, as they fell to the Wildcats for the sixth time in their last eight meetings.


There were breakdowns on offense as three times Iowa was flagged for a delay of game penalty, including one while running the hurry-up offense.

There was a blocked punt on special teams when Northwestern's Tyris Jones shot through the line and stuffed a Connor Kornbrath attempt. It took two plays for the Wildcats to punch the ball in for six from the Iowa 4 to take a 21-3 lead.

There were defensive breakdowns galore, as evidenced by the gaudy rushing numbers posted by Colter & Co.

“We're 4-4, we've lost two straight,” Ferentz said. “It's hard anytime you lose. That's tough – two in a row. There aren't many options. You go back tomorrow and get back up on our feet. That's the only choice that we have.”

That soundbite likely will not sit well with fans of the Hawks, many of whom have spent the past week calling on Ferentz to play backup quarterback Jake Rudock, among other younger players. That won't happen anytime soon as it's clear Ferentz and his team are still playing for the here and now.

Vandenberg, by the way, was a solid 24-of-38 passing for 214 yards. He didn't throw for any touchdowns but he didn't turn the ball over either. He held up his end of the bargain, managing the game well (save the delay of game penalties, which were by and large on his shoulders) and spreading the ball around to eight different receivers. Some throws were off the mark, some were on the money. That's how it's been all year for Iowa's starting quarterback, a popular target of criticism in recent weeks.

“We’ve got to play better, that’s it,” he said. “There’s nothing else to say.”

As if poor all-around play and a loss wasn't bad news enough, Iowa also suffered on the injury front. Running back Mark Weisman carried the ball 9 times for 21 yards but left the game in the second quarter. Keenan Davis suffered what appeared to be a hand injury. Joe Gaglione got dinged up on the defensive line but was able to gut through whatever his ailment was. Linebacker James Morris left the game briefly to get his right elbow wrapped early in the game.

Weisman's status is the biggest question mark as the Hawkeyes turn their attention to Indiana next weekend. The sophomore was already below 100 percent entering play Saturday and it appears likely he took a step back health-wise.

“He's injured,” Ferentz said. “That's why he came out of the game. We'll see (what will happen).”

Having covered Ferentz's teams for the last 13 seasons, that doesn't sound good.

Ferentz has come under fire in recent weeks for the team's spotty play. His weekly radio call-in show on Wednesday night was a dumpster fire of the highest degree as one cowardly caller said he hoped Ferentz was hearing from the Cleveland Browns about a return to the city where he spent time as an NFL assistant. The caller hung up. Ferentz wished him better days ahead.

Saturday didn't turn out to be any better for the 14-year head coach as he was heckled by a handful of fans wearing black and gold while the team made it's way off the Ryan Field playing surface.

“Great clock management, Coach,” one fan yelled. “Way to go!”

“Nice job, Kirk,” added another. “Worth every penny.”

Ferentz kept his chin up, his eyes locked on what lay ahead. It's the attitude he's displayed, for better or worse, since his hiring in the fall of 1998. What's done is done. It doesn't do any good to look back. Onward and upward.

“We'll get back to work tomorrow and see what we can do about next week,” he said.

  • fuisu

    JVB wasn't the ONLY problem today but he was still part of the problem. He can share the blame with the coaches for running a 2 minute offense in 6 hours. He can share the blame four the sacks (plural) he sustain after 5 seconds of scanning the feild. He can own up to the delay of game penalties (plural). He is soley responsible for the duck passes.

    When a defense gives up more than 20 points there's fingers to point and when the offense can't score more that 21 points there is fingers to point as well.

    JVB still isn't impressive, his throw choices and lack urgency in the final 4 minutes solidified my theory that he's not even a game manger

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  • No, Vandenberg certainly wasn't the reason the Hawkeyes lost today. It was definitely a team effort with problems at every level, but that doesn't mean that Vandenberg is off the hook, either. He was definitely better, but better is a relative thing: he went from playing flat out awful most of the season, to OK today.

    He had some very nice passes and had one sustained drive that was managed well, but at least three of his passes resembled wounded Quail (at crucial times I might add), and let's not forget the three, yes, three times he failed to realize the play-clock was running out. I could see an overwhelmed freshman making that mistake three times in one game, but a 5th-year senior? C'mon.

    In all fairness, his receivers did let him down several times today and share a lot of the blame, BUT, they also bailed him out several times when the pass was off and they had to dive low or cut off their routes. As for his stat line, it looks good at first glance until you factor in the fact that NW was more than happy to give him all those check-down passes in the 4th quarter, which padded both his number of completions and his percentage.

  • Lets not forget that getting the plays in is team effort. It starts with the coaches, then to the entire team including the line and backs. Vandy is partially to blame here, but he is not the whole problem with the penalties.

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  • They were at the line with plenty of time when those penalties happened, so yeah I would say he takes most of the blame on those

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  • He was under center each time, facing the play clock. All quarterbacks at every level are instructed to monitor the clock situation as soon as they approach the line. It wasn't as if the call came in late and then there was a mad rush to get the play off. In each instance, Vandy had plenty of time at the line and could have called for the snap sooner, or called a time-out. That's completely on him.

  • I've said it for years, Kirk Ferentz is the WORST coach in FBS, when it comes to time management. Its really the only coaching knock I have for him. Year in and year out, its the same. Its like a clock written in a foreign language to him, always has been. Someone on the sidelines should always be watching the play clock in addition to the QB. It ain't hard. It ain't rocket science.

    3 penalties today, all delay of game. Shameful.

    This post was edited by OhioHawk07 18 months ago

  • Are we still talking about Vandy not being up to par again? Quit beating a dead horse. NW beat Iowa with a mobile QB. Wait, I should quit beating a dead horse as well =) Seriously, 2 guys rushed for over 160 yds. Ouch! I thought playing smaller more mobile LBs would help that but...

    Had the ball for almost 9 minutes more, no turnover, went 8-17 on 3rd down conv and still got beat by an avg team. Oh, those pesky Cats. I think KF needs to take the week off when facing Fitz. Simply a great plan to play Colter instead of the other QB.

    ...Wait, let me join in the fun again- Vandy stinks, he's simply the problem...

  • correction- sorry, NW is not an average team. They are 7-2 after all. I wish Iowa can be that average.

  • Morrison71

    NW had like 170 rushing yards after the first quarter. I don't know what happened to the defense. But they are absolutely getting shredded lately. They started off playing well and I guess they were just playing lesser opponents. But the defense better step up fast.

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  • "NW had like 170 rushing yards after the first quarter"

    and 349 or something for the game! Ouch.

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  • I haven't forgot that at all. But Vandy was under center with 8 or more seconds left on ALL 3 penalties!! You can't try changing the play with less 4 seconds left. It isn't going to work. The delay of games were on James. I don't think I've ever seen a hurry up offense run so poorly. He was taking forever to snap the ball. Some of that may be on the coaches, but James did not run it effectively at all. When you are down 2 scores with less than 4 minutes to go, you must have a sense of urgency. Continually throwing 5 yards or less passes isn't going to get it done. There comes a time when you have to throw the ball down the field and try to pick up bigger chunks of yardage. There were people open, James just wouldn't pull the trigger. He is still missing open receivers,CJF in particular, down the field.

    Today wasn't all on James though. I agree with that. The defense got shredded. The run D was obviously pathetic. I'm not even going to go into that further. That 72 yard run when we had them pinned at the 1 was the play of the game imo. You get a stop there and you'll have great field position with the chance to take the lead. James Morris was way out of position on that. You can't have that from a 3 year starter and leader of the defense.

    Weisman just isn't the same and I don't know if he will be the rest of the season, but a bright spot today was Damon Bullock. I thought he was fantastic and proved he should be getting the most carries right now. I also thought that the O-line played pretty well for being a completely new group. Those sacks were a joke. Maybe 1 was on the line. When a QB gets 4+ seconds to pass, that should be all you need. James needs to get rid of the ball or run with it and pick up what he can. You can't just stand around in the pocket.

    I think this team gets IU or Purdue, possibly both and I honestly think Michigan is incredibly overrated so an upset there is possible. A bowl game is not out of the question here.

    This team has a ton to improve on that is for sure and we are just going to have to suck it up and choke down watching James the rest of the season, because Kirk isn't making a change.

  • Agree 100%.

    By far the biggest bright spot was Bullock. I thought he looked even better than before his injury. Maybe it was the "I've got something to prove." mentality. For whatever reason, he ran with purpose and was inspiring. Hat's off to him.

    The OL overall was pretty solid, though I thought Blythe really strugged at times. He's young so deserves some slack. Also, the one sack that wasn't Vandy's fault came with a 3-man rush, and that simply shouldn't happen. Very poorly blocked by Van Sloten.

    From a big picture standpoint, I thought the real issue with this game, and with several games in the past, is the disparity in team speed and athleticism. For all the accolades received by Coach Doyle, our players, in particular the last few seasons, don't look as explosive and powerful as our opponents (even CMU looked more powerful as a team). I question whether he is somewhat overrated as a S&C coach, or is our recruiting such that he is given little to work with. Either way, I think it's reasonable to throw out the question. I had the same thought last night watching Penn State and OSU: their players simply look more powerful and explosive than ours.

    A good case in point would be Kirksey, who, by this point, should be larger and more powerful but yet is basically a glorified safety who is too slow to cover WRs and too small to take on lineman. He's basically a "tweener" that teams exploit. Yesterday, he even got taken out at least twice by Mark of all people, and then got burned on the long pass play. There are several other examples as well, and it's important to point out that it's not about "bulk," it's about power and explosion. Size does matter somewhat, though, since that translates to leverage, particularly around the LOS.

  • Hawkifish

    This is a good point, but only one of the delay of game penalties fell into this category. They didn't get the play quick enough for some reason. Usually Iowa breaks the huddle with about 20 seconds on the play clock so that Vandenberg can make checks at the line. On one of the penalties, they broke the huddle with 10 seconds left.

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  • I was blown away by how NW handled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I know this isnt your Dad's NW team, but its still NW. They physically owned Iowa. I didnt expect that.

  • I agree that Iowa's offensive line got outplayed for the most part, which is disappointing considering Northwestern isn't an outstanding defense. Iowa's defensive ends again struggled when it came to rushing the passer, but that's nothing new this year. Against the run, I thought Iowa's defensive line played pretty well. Against a team like Northwestern that's attacking the perimeter on a regular basis, your safeties really have to play well against the run, and Iowa's didn't. I thought that was the biggest factor in Iowa's struggles to stop the run.

  • No one blames him for the loss....this is what they call a 'straw man' argument.

    I'm one of his biggest critics, but I do NOT blame him for the loss.

    He had an above average game Saturday (at best)....the WRs let him down big time. The run defense was the biggest problem and primary reason for the loss, in particular the play of a certain safety and linebacker who's names will not be mentioned.

    JV is still not a very good QB...he just isn't. A new system and stone-handed WRs aren't helping his cause much, but he's still making far too many mental mistakes and his accuracy isn't anywhere near satisfactory. He's a fifth year senior playing like a red-shirt frosh in his first start. He isn't the kind of gritty leader that can "will" this team to victory. Without a stellar cast around him he's marginal. No knock on him as a person, he a fine young man who represents the University well. It's just that he's not an elite QB, but apparently he's all we got (per our coach)...and we have to come to terms with that.

    Iowa isn't a good team right now. Could they possibly turn it around and win the next two and have a puncher's chance at UM in three weeks? Sure, but my primary concern at this point is simply beating the bugs in the final game and securing bragging rights for the year. It may be a bit defeatist, but to me whatever happens between now and then is either going to be gravy or brussel sprouts.

    A fresh start next season is what I'm looking forward to most of all. A new QB, and a full season under our belts in this new system should make a huge difference. The OL should be one of the best in the nation as long as Scherff makes a full recovery. If the RBs can just stay freaking healthy we'll be fine on offense. Plus, we'll have some young studs to throw into the rotation along a seasoned DL.

    Oh, and we should have a heck of a bball and wrestling season to look forward to and keep us occupied over winter. cool

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  • Optimistically looking at a 5-7 team and no bowl for the first time in what, 11 years? I knew this would be a down year but am disapointed in the fact that they arent competitive and dont play with fire like the Iowa teams of the past. There is NO passion from the staff and some of the players. There just isnt an emotional leader on either side of the ball this year. The regression of the program is sad to see!

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  • Missed a bowl in 07? Lost at home on senior day to Western Michigan to miss a bowl game. It was a sad day.

  • Yep you're right. Whats sad is that we cant get to a bowl with this schedule! Arguably the easiest in the KF era!

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  • Yeah I seen a stat the Iowa's SOS using the Sagarin system is like 44 or 55 in the country. It seems alot easier than that to me tho.

    I cant imagine next yr with a new QB an swapping in tOSU and Wisconsin. Very possible Iowa doesnt go bowling 2 years in a row. That says alot with the new scheduling of 8 home games.

  • Iowa has a lot of problems..all starting at the top of the university.

    A lot of Iowa's attrition starts with Iowa City itself..I've never seen a town that is so willing to bite the hand that feeds it.

    The university...Why the hell clamp down on tailgating etc? The atmosphere at Iowa is what makes it unique and fun..Iowa is a hard working state w/o much else to do, why take that away from them? If you're going to clamp down on the fun, you better have a product on the field that makes it worth doing so..Why not pay more attention to creating a larger endowment, higher rankings and wonder why the U of Iowa has fallen each year in the rankings?

    I could go on and on about the football aspect of our struggles..starting w/the mindset that we can win with and coach up marginal players sprinkled with elite athletes here and there. Or the fact that we cannot seem to take advantage of momentum and sustain it. The conservative nature of Iowa's football program has become it's biggest Achilles heel along with one of its better features..Need to find a way to balance this.

    Iowa has had several losses over the years that have contributed to this situation we're seeing in 2012..Many close losses that have impacted our total record and in the long run hurt recruiting despite our 2009 finish. Even early on, we've had problems winning close games we should have been winning. Recruiting players that fit the "bend but dont break" system is not really conductive to long term, consistent success.

    The ISU loss in 2002 was a game we should never have lost, but our scheme and philosophy directly contributed to that loss...embarassing.

    Michigan and Northwestern in 2005 were a couple other examples of our recruiting/defensive philosophy not being effective and costing us two ball games.

    The 2005 ISU game earlier in the year was just flat out embarrassing and we looked like complete stiffs because ISU knew exactly what were were going to do defensively and offensively and we refused to challenge them and adapt...It's either do or die by our philosophy.

    Indiana/Wisconsin games in 2006...hell, the entire 2006 season was a reflection of poor recruiting and allowing weak points in the team to develop. (DL/Secondary) The offense wasn't bad (way better than in 2012) but we consistently played soft zones and employed light, young DT's that have a hard time playing 2 gap in our scheme..Sure, they looked good a couple years later, but so what? Need to keep up the momentum and not settle for players.

    The 2007 season was a poor one at that and reminds me of the current 2012 season. Some good talent waiting in the wings, but I guess Iowa fans will have to wait a year or two due to poor recruiting/attrition and stubbornness

    Losing close games to ISU and Wisconsin..and the season ending loss to WM was a compete joke..Getting rid of James Cleveland after the season was a complete joke..100% political decision..

    2008!?!?!?!! Pittsburgh, Northwestern,Illinois and MSU were losses that did NOT need to occur. Over conservative play despite Shonn Greene running wild all season long contributed to Iowa's 4 losses that season. Iowa had the horses on offense to win all 4 of those games, but the schemes offensively and defensively are built to keep games close and to run down the clock..that philosophy worked against us majorly in 2008..even though we beat a mediocre Gamecock team in the Outback Bowl.

    2009...good year..probably could have gone undefeated if Stanzi had stayed healthy..Perhaps Iowa's most complete team even though the RB position was in a bit of a flux..

    I'm not even going to get into 2010 or 2011 or 2012..

    I just hope the days of recruiting project players is over

  • We couldn't carry the momentum of our 2002 season with a decent class.

    That 2002 class was terrible and led to the mediocre 2006-2007 seasons...

    I'm afraid the 2008-2009 classes will do the same..perhaps the 2010 as well.

    There is NO reason for Iowa to have below a top 5 class in the Big10...ever

    I'm guessing Iowa felt that Sealby, Simmons and Kittle were better gets than Cedrick Poutasi who lobbied to the Iowa staff for a chance to visit. He's already a massive OT who is in the 2 deeps for Utah..They've been better than us over the last 5-6 years too. One of Iowa's problems is depth or experience depth that can play physically..Iowa keeps recruiting 6-4 220lb projects and when injuries hit, we're screwed

    This post was edited by epstud74 18 months ago

  • That's a lot easier said than done. When Penn State is Penn State (in other words, not under sanctions), it's a virtual lock that the top three will be Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, in no particular order, when it comes to recruiting every year. Those three programs have major advantages over the rest of the conference in terms of location/recruiting base, tradition, facilities and stadiums. So that leaves two spots left in the top five in the conference, and there is a lot of competition. Michigan State has a major advantage over Iowa in terms of location/recruiting base, so it may be difficult to consistently beat the Spartans when it comes to recruiting. Wisconsin has had a lot more recent success than Iowa on the field, and Nebraska has a significant edge when it comes to tradition. And then, beyond those three programs, some of the other programs in the conference are trending upwards as well. I think it's certainly possible for Iowa to finish in the top five in recruiting in any given year, but I don't think Iowa has enough inherent advantages in its favor for that to be a lock.

  • We can do better than 9th or even 11th...We've finished that low before

    We should be doing better than the Purdues and even the Wisconsins of the world.

    There should be no reason that PSU with their sanctions out-recruits us..We're not aggressive enough..period.

    We did a horse crap job of recruiting in 2002 and again after the 2008 season..

  • I agree that Iowa shouldn't ever finish 9th or 11.

    I think Iowa and Wisconsin are pretty similar in terms of tradition and location. Wisconsin has had a slight edge lately due to on-field performance, and some recruits feel Madison has more to offer than Iowa City does as well. But if Iowa can start performing at an equal - or better - level as Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes could certainly out-perform them on the recruiting trail as well.

    And I agree that, with the sanctions now in place, Iowa should be able to out-perform Penn State on the recruiting trail. However, it's important to strike while the iron is hot, as the bowl ban is up after the 2015 season. In other words, even in the 2014 class, those guys would have two seasons of bowl-eligibility if they go to Penn State, so that aspect of the sanctions will soon become less of an obstacle for Penn state on the recruiting trail.

    I brought up Penn State in the previous post because it seemed like you were making a more global assessment, which was evaluating Iowa's recruiting efforts in the Ferentz era. And since Penn State's sanctions were only recently handed down, I was just pointing out that it probably wasn't realistic to expect Iowa to out-perform Penn State on the recruiting trail in the past.

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