MARION - Even through the disappointment of defeat, there is no denying the significant progress made by the Marion Indians.
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No. 8 ... Junior quarterback Jake Rudock had a checklist of things he wanted to improve during the offseason. No. 1 through maybe 8 on the list was turnovers. It’s not like Rudock tossed prayers around and was repeatedly victimized, but he did throw 13 interceptions, which was tied for the most among starters last season (Wisconsin’s Joel Stave and Illinois Nathan Scheelhasse also had 13) and the most for an Iowa QB since Ricky Stanzi threw 15 in 2009.
Rudock is a hypermotivated pre-med student. Perfection is kind of their thing. You heard him talk about some chemistry thingie before last season’s opener and his first start (“If you were to throw it in a vacuum and attack it with an electron laser, so if you have RL or all L’s, that would be healthy. That would be good for you to consume. The R or the L could be completely different.” You remember that, right?), so yeah, mistakes, not good. Interceptions not good, obviously, so into the football laboratory and the solution.
“That kind of involves the entirety of the game, not just one little aspect,” Rudock said. “That’s something that gnaws at you. You don’t want to give the other team the ball. You want to keep our defense off the field.”
Another aspect of his game that is under development is arm strength. You can attribute one or two of his picks last season (definitely one against LSU and you can debate the Northern Illinois INT) to leaving a ball a little short or taking a step into the throw. Here’s how QBs work their arm strength:
“There’s a lot of stuff you can do, a lot of high volume stuff,” Rudock said between fake hurt over the notion that QBs aren’t weightroom warriors (they are, but they’re not super huge, for the most part). “A lot of heavyweight stuff, a lot of cleans and jerks, all that good stuff. We do a little bit more rotator cuff than a lot of the other guys on the team. Long toss, I always swear by that as the most important thing to get your arm stronger. There’s no other way to do it.”
Can you measure it?
“Yes, you can say, ‘I throw it 45 yards on a line, it’s a bullet,’” Rudock said jokingly. “When you have a bye week during the season, you can tell your arm gets a little stronger with more rest. That’s one of those things you can tell at the beginning of camp to the end of camp, that’s a big indicator.”
Playing two QBs, possibly maybe ... The possibility that Iowa might give No. 2 QB C.J. Beathard some time in real games and real situations this fall was perhaps Iowa’s most interesting headline coming out of spring practice.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said in April that Iowa’s offensive staff threw around the idea of a package for Beathard, a sophomore. He also said Rudock was the definite starter.
After Iowa’s spring game at Kinnick, head coach Kirk Ferentz said playing two quarterbacks in games is “very realistic,”
“It was on the board coming out of the recruiting phase,” Ferentz said, “and after watching this spring, I think it’s very realistic. They both do somethings well.”
Ferentz said both quarterbacks have improved this spring. Beathard got the longer look Saturday. He led the first-team offense in the second half and finished 21 of 39 for 349 yards and a touchdown. Rudock was the starter and completed 11 of 22 for 165 yards with a TD and interception.
“I’ll be clear about this,” Ferentz said. “Jake has really elevated his performance. He’s a better player than he was in January. When you have two players who you have confidence in, I think it makes sense to play them in a game. The tricky part is with quarterbacks, it’s a little bit different, but I think that’s realistic and it’s certainly something we’re going to talk about when we get back together football-wise in June.”
What Rudock sees pre-snap ... The real explosion in football strategy in the last five or so years has been what QBs do and see and read and react to before the ball is snapped. It’s no different at Iowa. The evolution continues.
In 2013, Year 2 under Davis, Iowa’s offense struck a coherent rhythm. Last season’s incompletes and palms-up looks from receivers have turned into messages communicated and received, in both pre- and post-snap situations. In other words, everyone seems to be on the same page.
“You can’t always walk up there and run the play,” said Rudock, who completed 204 of 346 for 2,383 yards, 18 TDs and 13 INTs. “I know there are a lot of offenses out there that do that, and they’ve had success. Our offense is a little bit different. You have to see what they’re doing, see what you can possibly get them on or just get those 3 yards rather than 1.”
Rudock is a triggerman in every sense of the word. The sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., calls the checks and has a plethora of options on most plays. Rudock has structure and tools, but he’s also handed a game plan on a weekly basis and told to make it work.
“He does a ton at the line of scrimmage,” Davis said. “Run-to-pass, pass-to-run. Run this side, run that side. Part of that is how smart he is, and then you hate to say that without talking about how much he works at it, too. You can be smart, but watching film on his own ...
“I tell them all the time: There’s no way, because we’re not pro football players, that I can watch as much (film) as I’d like to with you, so you’ve got to do that on your own. He’s done a great job of doing that. Quarterbacks like a lot on their plate. It’s fun to give it to them when they can handle it.”
This isn’t Peyton Manning-level wizardry, but it is very NFL. How did that manifest itself for Iowa this season (beyond a yards-per-pass attempt that went from 5.8 yards in 2012 to a respectable 7.0 this season)? Iowa was able to run a no-huddle tempo, increasing average plays per game from 66 last season to 72 this season.
“Sometimes, it’s tougher game-planning. You can’t just go, ‘On 1, here we go, let’s snap the ball,’ ” Rudock said. “At the same time, that’s what the pros are doing. That’s what Tom Brady is doing. Not to compare myself to Tom Brady at all.
“It’s what the professional guys do. They have to walk up and make all these calls. You look back at it and think, I’m doing something similar to them. Makes it feel special.”
Outlook ... Rudock is an extremely smart, resourceful quarterback. His physical skills might be underrated. They also might be a work in progress. One thing Davis said during bowl prep was that Iowa needed to be two dimensional to beat LSU. It didn’t happen against the Tigers (Iowa’s 157 yards passing was its lowest output in 2013). It has to happen if the Hawkeyes want to win the Big Ten West and earn a spot in the Big Ten title game.
The quarterback has to have some “strike” to his game. If a defense lapses, the QB has to make it pay. The passing game has to take over when the running game is a minus.
Iowa has two quarterbacks its coaches trust. That’s a good thing. Rudock started all 13 games last season and showed toughness, leadership and a steady hand. He had several potential “freak out” moments, but kept his cool and showed a “winningness” in his outlook.
He managed games, yes, definitely. At some point in QB history, “game manager” became a derogatory term. This ignores the fact that all QBs manage games. Quarterbacks don’t make decisions/plays in a vacuum. Rudock’s big-picture comprehension locks in with what Iowa coaches want/demand in their quarterback.
Now, mix in a playmaker element, and the Hawkeyes will have a two-dimensional offense and be a real threat to win the West.
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