Iowa might be a swing state, but Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg doesn't need to win the popular vote to keep his job. He has an endorsement from the only guy who matters.
Despite a drumbeat from fans to see backup signal caller Jake Rudock, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz made it clear Tuesday he's sticking with Vandenberg as the starter and fully supports the senior. Vandenberg has completed just 55.8 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and five interceptions, and all of his numbers are down from a solid junior season (3,022 pass yards, 25 TDs, 7 INTs).
Ferentz stuck with Vandenberg throughout last Saturday's 38-14 home loss to Penn State, a game in which Vandenberg completed 17 of 36 passes for 189 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also had a fumble deep in Hawkeye territory that led to a Penn State touchdown.
"He's our starting quarterback," Ferentz said Tuesday. "We all believe in James. I think I speak for everybody involved in our program, team and coaches."
Ferentz faced a flurry of questions about Vandenberg, Rudock and his plans at the quarterback spot during his weekly news conference in Iowa City.
On what it would take to bench Vandenberg: "If it comes to a point where I change my mind, we'll change whatever. Be it a position, the way we do things, whatever, but that's what we do. We try to figure out what's best for us at any given point and go from there. So that's kind of where we're at."
On why he left Vandenberg in against Penn State despite a 31-0 deficit: "I guess you could make an argument that it would give the next player experience. But at that time, I felt like the best thing to do was keep our offense out there and let them play."
On Rudock's abilities: "He's got the potential to be a good quarterback. ... He's a good thrower with good command and works extremely hard. He's a lot like James Vandenberg in my mind. He's got all the characteristics that give a guy a chance to be a good player. He's into it, very smart, very competitive. He throws the ball well. He's going to be a good player."
On whether there's actual competition at quarterback: "There's been competition in a lot of spots. But we're trying to make a habit of getting our best guys on the field, the guys that we feel give us the best chance to win."
On whether Rudock is ready to play: "We won't know that until he starts playing. That's usually the million-dollar question."
On Vandenberg's confidence level: "I worry about everybody's confidence. We just got trashed. We got nailed pretty good."
Here's my take and my attempt to translate what Ferentz means: He's definitely loyal to Vandenberg and wants to see a guy who has worked as hard as Vandenberg has succeed as a senior. Vandenberg likely wouldn't be struggling nearly as much had Iowa not changed offensive coordinators during the offseason. Rudock probably isn't as ready to step in as many Iowa fans are hoping. He's not where Ricky Stanzi was in 2008, when he bumped Jake Christensen from the starting job.
That said ... it baffles me why Ferentz didn't use Rudock in the second half against Penn State. Maybe he was trying to build some confidence with Vandenberg and the other starters, but the outcome long had been decided and it would have given the young quarterback a taste of Big Ten action against a strong defense. If anything, it would prevent the possibility of an injury to Vandenberg.
It'll be interesting to see what Ferentz will do if Vandenberg struggles this week at Northwestern, a team that boasts an improved defense, but also one that makes a lot of quarterbacks look good. While a change at quarterback still seems highly unlikely, at some point Ferentz has to look to the future.