As a microbiology and pre-med major, Iowa redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock understands stress. But he also understands how to handle it.
It should come as no surprise that his approach to his classes is the same as his approach on the field. He takes advantage of the opportunity and does his best to maximize his productivity in that time span.
“When you go to the library and you sit down to do some academic studying, [you’re] really focusing on what you’re doing at that time and not studying for two hours but only getting an hour and a half of actual good study work,” Rudock said.
His productivity in the classroom has him on his way to attending medical school and becoming a doctor.
And his productivity on the football field has led the Hawkeyes to a 4-1 start -- Iowa’s best start since 2010.
But this weekend, Rudock will face the toughest football test yet of his collegiate career: Michigan State. The Spartan defense -- which has had two weeks to prepare for its matchup with Iowa -- is holding opponents to a conference-low 13.2 points per game.
On top of that, they lead the Big Ten in total defense (188.8 yards per game), rushing defense (58.2 yards per game) and pass defense (130.5 yards per game). The Spartans have held opposing quarterbacks to just a 37.3 percent completion rate.
And while Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio believes Rudock is “going to have a tremendous career,” Dantonio’s goal this weekend is for his defense to get to the sophomore QB.
And Rudock knows that.
But that type of pressure is nothing new to Rudock. He takes it in stride. Rudock knows that preparation is the key to the Hawkeyes taking down the Spartans and it’s the same step-by-step guide he’d use for his next physics exam.
“You prepare like you’re going to take a test,” Rudock said. “They’re the test on Saturday. The better prepared you are the more calm you are coming in to the game.”
That demeanor that Rudock holds is pretty apparent at all times according to junior offensive lineman Brandon Scherff. On the field and off, Rudock never loses his cool.
“He’s pretty calm,” Scherff said. “Nothing really tips his trigger. He’s just like, ‘OK guys we’ve got to keep going, keep moving the ball.’ ”
And with Rudock at the helm of the offense, that’s what the Hawkeyes have done so far this season.
The Hawkeyes are averaging 244.4 yards per game rushing and Rudock has picked up another 203 yards per game in the air. Against the Gophers last weekend, Rudock and the rest of the offense, picked apart the defense -- opening major holes for the run game and allowing Rudock to take shots down field.
It helps that Iowa has an established back in junior running back Mark Weisman -- as well as a good supporting cast of backs -- to pick up the bulk of the carries. That’s something the Hawkeyes haven’t consistently had over the past few seasons and it’s paying dividends.
Last season, the Hawkeyes managed to come out with a 19-16 double overtime win over Michigan State, but their offense took a while to get going. The Hawkeyes rushed for just 20 yards in the first half and Iowa had to score 10 fourth-quarter points to force OT.
But Scherff said the Hawkeyes are focused on making sure they don’t dig themselves holes early in games this year. Because of the offense's consistency -- due in large part to Rudock -- that hasn't been a major issue.
"They're running the ball very well,” Dantonio said. “It's a good, physical offensive line. The quarterback's not making mistakes. He's running around with the ball a little bit. I've been impressed with Rudock. As a redshirt sophomore, he's got poise back there.”
And that poise has pleased Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
"You just never know until you get into games,” Ferentz said. “To be a successful quarterback, it sure does help to have an awareness and self-control, if you will. And so far, so good. He's really done a great job with that.”