Hlas column: Hawkeye throwing woes? This too shall pass
Homefield is where the heart is for James Vandenberg
IOWA CITY — The Beatles played 12 songs in 30 minutes before 55,000 screaming fans at New York’s Shea Stadium in 1965, then got the heck out of Queens.
Always leave them wanting more.
Iowa fans hollered happily when their team pulled out an 18-17 win over Northern Illinois last Saturday in Chicago’s Soldier Field, yet left wanting more themselves ... from the Hawkeyes’ passing game.
But Tuesday’s general response from the Iowa camp Tuesday seemed to be a collective “What, Us Worry?”
Game 1 in the Greg Davis Era as the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator was a lot of horizontal, not much vertical, and nothing to get excited about if it involved a forward pass.
Thirty-three throws, 21 completions, 129 yards. Just three completions for 10 yards or more. Only a very few of the 33 throws went longer than 10 yards.
“Shocked, yeah,” said Iowa senior receiver Keenan Davis about the team not making much happen passing-wise. “But we got the win. I’m not really focused on the stats or anything. I’m more focused on us trying to win. A win’s a win.
“We went out and we competed, and that’s the most important thing.”
True, that. But still ... just 3.9 yards per pass attempt? From a senior quarterback who averaged 7.4 yards per throw as a junior?
“It was kind of a different thing every time that didn’t click,” Vandenberg said. “The whole cohesiveness of the offense, everybody being on the exact same page has to improve.
“The first thing was we played a good defense and they took a lot of things away from us. They tackled us. We didn’t get that many yards after we caught the ball. They were right on us, they made the tackles.
“Everything else was us.”
That was for sure. Vandenberg wasn’t his crispest, receivers rarely untangled themselves from defenders, and the biggest uh-oh was the six sacks of the quarterback.
No FBS team in America had more sacks in Week 1 than Northern Illinois. Yes, the Huskies have a nice defense. No, they aren’t Michigan State or Nebraska.
Iowa’s pass-blocking must improve significantly, or this will bear no resemblance to a glorious season.
“That group of guys, they take every one of those personally,” Vandenberg said. “They probably were a little too hard on themselves, but we’ll get it figured out and will correct that, for sure.”
That was the prevailing theme from coach and players. We’ll clean it up. We’ll figure it out. What, us worry?
Vandenberg isn’t in the Big Ten’s top 10 in pass efficiency, and his 96.5 rating was less than half of what Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez posted last Saturday against Southern Mississippi. But to Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, it’s all just an easily and quickly changeable number at this point.
“It just says we didn’t throw the ball as well as we wanted to,” Ferentz said. “That is all it says. I am glad (Vandenberg) is our quarterback. I am glad he is our quarterback for at least 11 more games.
“I think he played well. He led the team and we won the game. That is the objective.”
If you want a clear-cut reason to believe Iowa’s passing game will get more proficient Saturday, here’s a concise one: The game is at Kinnick Stadium.
Last season with Vandenberg, the Hawkeyes were 6-1 at home, 1-5 away from it. The quarterback averaged 257 passing yards per game at Kinnick, 204 elsewhere. He averaged 9.4 yards per pass at home, 6.4 otherwise.
“Our passing game (Saturday) wasn’t what we wanted it to be,” Ferentz said, “but we’ll get better.”
The dreadful yards-per-pass and half-dozen surrendered sacks were aberrations, like Iowa getting just three field goals out of four trips to the red zone. Or so one would surely assume.
Two years after that concert at Shea, the Beatles recorded a song called “Getting Better.”
“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better,” Paul McCartney sang. “A little better all the time.”
In the background, his bandmates quickly added “It can’t get no worse.”