IOWA CITY, Iowa - James Vandenberg went from anonymous to synonymous with Iowa football in one play. The redshirt freshman spoke on Tuesday about how things have changed for him since he became the Hawkeyes starting quarterback for this week's showdown at Ohio State.
"My birthday is in a couple of weeks and my dad wanted me to get my birthday present out of the way because he kind of knew it was going to be chaotic. So, I was up in Bass Pro Shop trying some waders on, some hunting waders. The guy was like, "Did you go to the (Iowa) game today?" I was like, ‘Yeah." And he said, "Did it look as rough in person as it did on TV?" And I said, ‘You have no idea.' "
"Otherwise, it hasn't been bad. I received a lot of support. That's the biggest thing. There have been people contacting me, telling me they're behind me and all my teammates. Basically, nothing has changed."
Vandenberg kept reporters entertained on Tuesday as he faced his first barrage from the media at the scheduled weekly press conference. He carried himself well for a 19-year-old freshman going to Columbus for his first college start.
Oh yeah, and a berth in the Rose Bowl is on the line.
"It's a great situation to walk into, actually," Vandenberg said. "What more could I ask for? The chances are that you could never be in this situation again. I just plan on making the most of it and putting in as much effort this week as I can to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
"This is a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity. Yeah, I haven't had all the experience in the world before this game, but I plan on working as hard as I can this week to give it my best effort."
When Stanzi went down against Northwestern with a high ankle sprain, Vandenberg couldn't find a rhythm. He complete just 9 of 27 passes for 82 yards and Iowa failed to score during the game's final three quarters. He had only thrown three college passes before relieving Stanzi.
"It put it in perspective that the things we made mistakes on weren't that huge," Vandenberg said. "They are things that are correctible. We mentally corrected them on Sunday. You just hope not to make the same mistakes and that's our goal for this week."
Iowa last won in Columbus during the 1991 season. Vandenberg was just short of his second birthday back then.
Ohio State's defense, as usual, is stellar. The Buckeyes are allowing just 11.2 points per game in conference play, which ranks tops in the Big Ten. They also lead the league with 20 sacks.
"A lot of the older guys have got with me and we've watched film," Vandenberg said. "I've watched a bunch of Ohio State tape the last two days and have started to get kind of a feel for them."
Vandenberg was asked if he expected to play better in Columbus than he did against Northwestern.
"I don't know if I can predict," Vandenberg said. "I just know that getting more work is going to make me more comfortable overall. I'll be more familiar with all the looks and just have better timing with all the guys. My work load will increase so much that it will really help in a game situation."
Kirk Ferentz announced on Tuesday that he would be taking Stanzi on the trip this weekend, in large part to have a mentor for Vandenberg.
"Those guys meet more than other players," the coach said. "They watch tape together anyway routinely, so we're not going to break up that party. I think it's a nice way to keep (Stanzi) involved. The other guys do it, too, but it's not quite the same."
Vandenberg said that Stanzi has been contacting him regularly since Saturday.
"He's already helped me a ton," Vandenberg said. "He was in there with me Sunday night. He's really good at keeping everything in perspective. He told me that nobody is dead. I'm sure he'll help me all week. I look forward to learning a lot from him this week."
Vandenberg has received mostly second-team reps this season. He expected a full week with the ones will help him a lot.
"It's going to be a lot different than getting the No. 2 reps," he said. "And it's a lot more important. I have to make sure I'm on the ball on everything now. There's not as much pressure on you as a No. 2. If you do slip up, it's kind of expected because you're not getting as many reps. But now, I'm in the light and it's my job to get prepared as well as I can."
Vandenberg heads into the land of blue chip prospects as someone that wasn't offered a scholarship by Iowa until November of his senior year. He led Keokuk to the Iowa State championship in Class 3A while rewriting the record books with his passing numbers.
"To me, it was always going to be Iowa," Vandenberg said. "This was the place I was going to go. If they were going to offer, I wasn't going to be able to turn it down."
And when he came to Iowa City, he was given No. 16. It was the same number worn by all-time Iowa passing leader Chuck Long.
"My uncles joked around about it when I got it at the beginning, my (true) freshman year," Vandenberg said. "I haven't really thought about it other than I just want to represent it because he was such a good player. I feel like it is kind of my duty represent it after him."
While it's hard to predict what reaction Vandenberg will have when going in front of 100,000 plus fans at Ohio Stadium, he heads to The Shoe with plenty of memories of how this team has stepped up through adversity throughout the season. The Hawkeyes already have defeated Penn State, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Michigan State on the road, and have had their share of nail biters at home.
"It's been an exciting year for sure," Vandenberg said. "We've tackled a lot of tough situations. We're looking forward to talking another tough situation this weekend."