IOWA CITY — This hasn’t been the senior season James Vandenberg envisioned.
The Iowa quarterback’s career comes full circle Friday when he competes at the collegiate level one final time as the Hawkeyes take the field against a Nebraska program that was the first to offer Vandenberg a college scholarship.
“It’s strange how that worked out. They have a tremendous program, I know that, and playing them this week, that provides us with a tremendous opportunity,” Vandenberg said Tuesday.
“I’m just trying to take it all in as much as I can. In three or four days, and then it’s over. Certainly there will be a lot of emotions, and I can’t wait to get to play on Friday.”
Vandenberg has averaged 196 passing yards per game this season, ranking fifth in the Big Ten behind the Cornhuskers’ Taylor Martinez.
He has completed 58 percent of his 365 passes, down from his 58.7 percent completion rate in 404 attempts as a junior.
The biggest difference has been in the Hawkeyes’ bottom line as a team.
Last weekend’s loss at Michigan eliminated Iowa from bowl contention. A 2-4 record in games decided by three points or less has added to the 4-7 record and five-game losing streak Iowa carries into its 11 a.m. finale against 17th-ranked Nebraska.
The Hawkeyes’ lack of success hasn’t lessened Vandenberg’s competitive demeanor.
“Whether you’re going to a bowl game or not, there will always be a lot of pride involved, you want to go out and play your best,” he said. “That doesn’t change whether you are 12-0 or 0-12.”
That steady approach is one thing coach Kirk Ferentz appreciates about Vandenberg, who arrived at Iowa after setting 12 different Iowa high school passing records during an all-state career at Keokuk High School.
Given the Hawkeyes’ lack of success this season, Ferentz appreciates that even more.
“You learn a lot about people in times when they are challenged, and I don’t know if anybody’s handled things any better than James has,” Ferentz said. “It’s not gone the way any of us have wanted. The season’s not over yet, but with one game left, this is not a script he would have written.”
Through it all, from the double-overtime victory at Michigan State to the last-second losses to Central Michigan and Purdue, Vandenberg has coped with the Hawkeyes’ season-long roller-coaster ride.
“He’s handled it with class, dignity and shown great leadership skills and has remained very, very positive,” Ferentz said. “Nobody’s worked harder.”
That is among the reasons Vandenberg has been given the chance to make the most of his senior season.
He is the only Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback in the country who has taken every snap for his team this season.
Other than in the waning moments of a blowout loss to Penn State, Ferentz said he never contemplated putting the ball in anybody else’s hands behind center.
That won’t change Friday.
“From the day we got here, our idea was to play the best players we could in every football game, and that is really all that has motivated us through the end of 14 years,” Ferentz said. “… You do your best to win every football game and play your best and if that means a senior playing or a true freshman, that doesn’t really matter.”
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- Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said time will tell if Iowa can reap recruiting rewards from the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten.
“I don’t know if it helps or hurts, really,” he said. “It might be better for them than us, but it’s a sign of the times in college football. … The one thing I would say is that change has been good for our conference going back to Penn State, certainly Nebraska, the people making the decisions do a great job with that.”
- Running back Mark Weisman, playing for the first time in three games after a groin pull, came out of the Michigan game in good health.
“He’s a little sore, but he will be that way through Friday,” Ferentz said. “He’s in good spirits and we anticipate him being able to go.”
Damon Bullock is not as fortunate. Ferentz expects the sophomore running back to miss his second straight game with a back injury.
- Big Ten tackles leader Anthony Hitchens, who missed last week’s game with an injury, practiced Monday and is expected to return to his linebacker position against Nebraska.
- This is the second year of a two-year trial of Iowa and Nebraska playing on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Ferentz said he will wait until after this week’s game to ponder extending the arrangement.
- Former Hawkeye A.J. Blazek was named Tuesday by the American Football Coaches Association as its NCAA Division II national assistant coach of the year. Blazek is the co-offensive coordinator, offensive line and tight ends coach at Winona State, where he has worked for four years.
In addition to his coaching responsibilities, Blazek is the coordinator of community service for the entire athletic department, organizing over 3,200 hours of community service work by the school’s athletic teams.