IOWA CITY — With the crowd still ringing in his ears and his body probably still hurting, Jake Rudock mentioned Saturday evening that he loses sleep over losses.
It wasn’t just the hyperbole you’d expect in the postgame of Iowa’s 26-24 loss last weekend to Wisconsin. The Iowa quarterback said Tuesday this stuff does actually keep him awake at night.
“We’re training 365 days a year,” Rudock said. “Even on off days, we’re taking that off day to rest and get ready to train harder the next day. It really hurts losing games. You put in so much effort and time, you do start waking up sometimes and start shaking your head for whatever reason.”
Way back in August, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said he expected Rudock, a junior and in his second year as the Hawkeyes starter, to improve this season. Numbers-wise against the Badgers, you can argue you saw the improvement. Rudock finished 20 of 30 for 311 yards and two TDs, while rushing seven times for 25 yards, gaining first down on a third-and-15 and scoring a 3-yard TD.
Iowa needed every inch and, certainly, every point after falling behind 19-3 early in the third quarter. Rudock didn’t hold up the box score and yell “read it and weep.” No, he talked about losing sleep over a loss.
Ferentz fit “mental toughness” into his thought on Rudock’s improvement.
“It’s usually the formula for our best players. They improve during their careers,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “It only happens if they’ve got the right attitude, the right work ethic, the right mental toughness. Certainly Jake excels in all those areas. He puts a lot of time into his preparation, takes great pride in it.
“Mental toughness, working through just putting the work in that’s necessary. He’s got a lot on his plate outside of football certainly to carry the kind of GPA he does as a pre-med student.”
Rudock hasn’t been perfect. He readily admits that. Iowa has been far from perfect this season. The Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) need a victory over Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) on Friday to keep one of their traveling trophies in the Hayden Fry Football Complex (Iowa has lost Cy-Hawk, Floyd of Rosedale and last weekend’s loss cost them the Heartland Trophy).
The “is it better to be 8-4 or 7-5” question came up a lot with Ferentz and players on Tuesday. The answer obviously is 8-4. Ferentz deferred an overall assessment until after the season. He also acknowledged how difficult it is for a quarterback to lead an offense that has struggled, at times mightily, this season.
“Enduring the peaks or valleys, that’s part of being an athlete, a competitor,” Ferentz said. “You have to go through the ups and downs and be able to handle those. He [Rudock] plays a position that attracts a little bit more attention and criticism than most positions. I think it takes a special, unique individual to be able to succeed at that spot.”
When the slings and arrows have come this season, Rudock has needed his helmet and maybe a shield. That is part of the gig when you win the QB job at Iowa or anywhere.
“Everyone loves the Hawks, you guys have 20 reporters here every day,” Rudock said. “It’s one of those things that happens. With the Internet and social media, people who are happy don’t go on there and voice their opinions. That’s psychology, that’s scientifically proven. That’s what happens, you just try to push it away.”
Black Friday is the last game of the regular season for the Hawkeyes. Assessment of 2014 is coming sometime on Saturday. If you take a peek at Rudock’s numbers, they’ve skewed up. These numbers don’t have to be scientifically proven.
Rudock has completed 192 of 299 for 2,174 yards, 14 TDs and four interceptions. His completion percentage is up more than five points from last year (64.2 to 59.0), pass efficiency is up nearly 12 points (138.06 to 126.47) and, really big number here, he’s cut interceptions from 13 to just four.
Has there been a steadier presence on Iowa’s offense this season? Has anyone been knocked around more than Rudock? Physically? Mentally? Rudock did cop to biting his tongue in interviews, but he’s remained calm, controlled no matter the result.
“Everyone bites their tongue because you don’t want to look like an idiot,” he said. “You don’t want to come off poorly, it reflects on your team, it reflects on your family.”
The answer on the “has there been a steadier presence on Iowa’s offense” is no. Iowa’s record is pedestrian at 7-4, but does that all wash up on the QB’s shore? It shouldn’t, but not everyone sees wins and losses as a team stat.
“Can you do that [perform] when you get knocked around a little bit, which quarterbacks tend to get the crap knocked out of them,” Ferentz said. “It’s a tough position to play. That’s something you don’t really know until a guy gets out there and starts getting banged around physically and all the mental abuse that quarterbacks take. It’s a lightning rod position.
“It takes a lot to be a really good quarterback. It happens so fast from to getting the call to reading the defense. It’s not an easy job, at least the way we play. It’s really a tough job. Some guys are better than others. He’s really doing a nice job.”
Ferentz was asked Tuesday if Rudock’s job was ever in jeopardy. Sophomore C.J. Beathard saved the day at Pittsburgh, bringing Iowa back from a 17-7 halftime deficit after Rudock left the game with a hip injury. Beathard started the next week and helped the Hawkeyes win at Purdue. Was there ever a “Rudock or Beathard” moment?
“I don’t like that word ‘jeopardy,’ and I’m not being critical,” Ferentz said. “To me we have two good players there. We still think C.J. is a heck of a football player, great guy. He does a lot of that stuff, too. It’s one of those rare things where we’ve got two really good players who we have a lot of faith and confidence in.
“The coaches and I, like the players, feel the same way. They see C.J. every day. The question is, how do you relay guys in and out. It’s a little trickier at that spot.”
Will Ferentz have the comfort level of having two QBs next season? He deferred that to the future. What actually played out at Iowa QB in 2014 was an improved Rudock. And reality is a 7-4 Iowa, the team not just Iowa the quarterback.
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