Vandenberg Time as Iowa's Season Takes Turn

In a season that has been filled with unbelievable twists and turns, the Iowa football team lost for the first time and with it saw its starting quarterback injured. The Hawkeyes still control their own destiny in the conference, but they'll do so with redshirt freshman James Vandenberg under center.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - If anyone questions the toughness of James Vandenberg, rest assured he's been initiated through the Pat Angerer schools of hard knocks.

Angerer, Iowa's roughneck linebacker, feels like he has prepared the young quarterback, who will make his first start next week at Ohio State.

"Every time he comes over to my house, he's always running his mouth," Angerer said. "I've literally choked him unconscious. He's gotten up talking trash. So, we're going to be OK."

Vandenberg saw his first meaningful snap here on Saturday when starter Rick Stanzi was knocked out with a "severe sprain" of the ankle, according to Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz. The redshirt freshman completed just 9 of 27 passes in relief as Iowa lost for the first time this season, 17-10, against its old nemesis, Northwestern.

"He's a quality football player," Ferentz said of Vandenberg. "We've felt good about him all along. It's just unfortunate that he hasn't had a chance to play more this year. But we haven't been involved in those kinds of games. He'll be a better player next week and he'll be better the week after."

Iowa's only blowout win in its 9-0 start coming into Saturday was a 35-3 beat down at Iowa State in Week 2. Vandenberg played in fourth-quarter, mop-up duty, completing 2 of 3 passes for 38 yards. That was the last time he played before coming in against Northwestern.

Ferentz said that Stanzi likely is done for the last two weeks of the regular season, meaning it's probably Vandenberg's car to drive. Fellow redshirt freshman John Wienke has been listed as Iowa's co-No. 2 quarterback throughout the season, but he'll likely be the back-up going forward.

"I have to get in tonight and early tomorrow and watch the film as much as I can," Vandenberg said. "It's all going to be about getting back to work Monday or Tuesday. We don't have time to hang our heads. We're going to hit the grindstone on Tuesday."

Iowa (9-1 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) lost its chance at a national championship on Saturday, but it's alive for a conference title and a BCS bid, which likely would be the Rose Bowl. For that to happen, they'll probably need to win at Ohio State and then come home to defeat Minnesota in two weeks. They do control their own destiny in league play.

"It hurts, yeah," Angerer said. "But worse things can happen. We're not dead. We're not at war. We're not away from our family and friends. It was a football game. It's pretty small when you think of the big picture.

"Obviously we wanted to win and we kept fighting. That's what we can do from here, keep fighting. I'll quote Johnny Cash when I say this, we've been through the fire before and we can take a whole lot more."

Iowa's previous best start was 7-0 in 1985. They entered Saturday ranked No. 4 in the BCS and visions of playing for a national championship game were dancing in the heads of Hawkeye fans. Now, they'll root for their team to win at Ohio State for the first time since ‘90, which also was their last trip to the Rose Bowl.

The Hawkeyes march ahead with a running game that produced 65 yards on the ground against Northwestern and a quarterback making his first start in one of the most hostile environments in the country. Iowa posted 119 yards of offense after Stanzi went out with 11 minutes, 46 seconds left in the second quarter with the home team leading 10-7.

"The Horseshoe is a tough venue to play in," said Iowa Receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who grew up in Ohio rooting for the Buckeyes. "I've been to a couple of games and experienced it. It's definitely a 12th man.

"So, it's our responsibility to understand what we're going into, to put together a game plan that's going to help us out, and understand that they're really going to come after James."

Northwestern employed a similar defensive strategy to what Iowa's last two opponents, Michigan State and Indiana, did. The Wildcats took away Hawkeye tight end Tony Moeaki (0 receptions) and stacked the box against the run. Iowa had receivers one-on-one against defensive backs, but could not cash in the way they did the previous two weeks.

"I remember every (throw)," said Vandenberg, who particularly recalled a chance to hit Johnson-Koulianos deep. "We had our shot. It's different when you're in the game and the speed is a whole lot quicker. You kind of have to slow yourself down sometimes.

"I missed a throw that I could have made. We were able to put some drives together but we couldn't quite get clicking. We made some plays but we couldn't quite make enough in a row to put a whole drive together."

Vandenberg, who will turn 20 on Nov. 24, earned third-team all-American honors from EA Sports following his senior season at Keokuk (Iowa) High. He established 12 different Iowa high school passing records, including career passing yards (7,709), touchdown passes (93), single season passing yards (3,729 as a senior) and single season touchdown passes (49 as a senior).

"I have a lot of confidence and I know these guys have confidence in me," the 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander said. "They help me out so much that I'm ready to step into this role and lead this team because that's what we need. We can't settle now into a lull because of this loss. We still have to go because there's still a lot at stake."

No matter what happened in State College on Saturday between Penn State and Ohio State, Iowa sat in position to win its first Big Ten title since ‘04 and head to a BCS game for only the second time. The Hawkeyes played against USC in the Orange Bowl following the ‘02 season.

You can make an argument that Vandenberg is stepping into the most pressurized sports position in the state of Iowa. And the stakes are raised by the position in which the Hawkeyes find themselves.

"There's a lot of pressure out there, but I don't really see it on me," Vandenberg said. "I see it on us as a team. We know there's a lot out there. There's a Big Ten Championship. It's not like all hope is lost. So, there's no reason to dwell on this one. It's time to get back to work."

Stanzi has been far from perfect. He threw his conference-leading 14th interception before getting knocked out here on Saturday. But the junior had a knack for bringing his team back from what seemed like the dead and came into the action with a 17-3 record as a starter.

One of the things that made Stanzi successful was his ability to flush the bad plays and move on. He played with an even temperament.

"James is very similar," Iowa Center Rafael Eubanks said. "You get that feeling in the huddle. No matter what happened today, he was very calm, didn't seem too rattled about the situation. That's just kind of how those guys are. They're very calm and confident in themselves."

For Vandenberg, 100,000-plus fans in Ohio Stadium certainly will test that.

"I'm comfortable," he said. "I've got to learn from today. That's especially true. We've got to move on. There's no time to dwell or be nervous any more. There's too much at stake."

Hawkeye Insider Top Stories