Iowa freshman James Vandenberg to make first start

BY foxsports • November 11, 2009

As Vandenberg was trying on some hunting waders, someone asked him if he had been at Kinnick Stadium for the game. The relatively unknown redshirt freshman who had seen his first extended action against the Wildcats played along.

"He said 'Did it look as rough in person as it did on TV?' And I said, 'You have no idea,"' Vandenberg recounted.

Vandenberg won't have to worry about going unrecognized much longer. He is No. 15 Iowa's starting quarterback now that junior Ricky Stanzi has had surgery to repair a severely sprained right ankle.

Stanzi injured the ankle in the second quarter of the Northwestern game last weekend and did not return. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Stanzi is "very doubtful" for Iowa's final two regular season games, though he's optimistic Stanzi will be back for the bowl game.

Vandenberg, who was 9 of 27 for 82 yards and a costly interception against Northwestern, will make his first career start for the Hawkeyes (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) at No. 10 Ohio State (8-2, 5-1) on Saturday.

No pressure. Just perhaps a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line.

"It's going to exciting," Vandenberg said. "It's kind of what you dream about growing up, being in a situation like this. And here it is."

Vandenberg was certainly well known - in eastern Iowa, at least - during a prolific high school career.

A 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Keokuk, he is arguably the most prolific passer in Iowa prep history, throwing for 7,709 career yards, 93 touchdowns - 49 as a senior. He was picked off just seven times in 372 attempts. Though he said Nebraska offered him a scholarship, Vandenberg jumped at the chance to sign with the Hawkeyes shortly after he led his team to a state title.

It didn't take long for him to realize he wasn't in Keokuk anymore.

His first pass against the Wildcats was thrown straight to linebacker Quentin Davie, whose interception set up what turned out to be the go-ahead touchdown. Vandenberg, who had thrown just three career passes before being called on to help keep Iowa's unbeaten season alive, struggled the rest of the way.

Ferentz said he has "total confidence" in Vandenberg, who had previously beaten out fellow redshirt freshman John Wienke for the backup job. Ferentz said Vandenberg's misfires against the Wildcats were due more to inexperience rather than lack of knowledge about the offense.

"The guy's a good quarterback. He throws the ball well," Ferentz said. "The biggest issue now is getting him experience, getting him caught up to speed and bringing him along."

Though Iowa will likely tweak its game plan to play to Vandenberg's strengths, the Buckeyes aren't expecting the Hawkeyes to do much different with Vandenberg.

"They're still going to be who they are," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "That's what, in our estimation, has made Iowa such a solid program, is that they know what they believe in, they know what they teach. Their young people do a good job of learning what they teach."

The Hawkeyes know their young quarterback has a major challenge in front of him Saturday.

"You couldn't ask for a tougher starting contest for him," Ferentz said. "He'll be prepared. I'm not going to measure him over the next 60 minutes of play. He'll continue to improve. He's a quality football player, and he works hard."