Raise your hand if you saw this coming at about 1:15 CT on Saturday?
Offensive Player of the Week
James Vandenberg, Iowa
Jr., QB, Keokuk, Iowa/Keokuk
· Led Iowa on three touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes to rally for a 31-27 win over Pittsburgh
· Threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns, with each score coming in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning strike with 2:51 to play
· Scored Iowa’s fist touchdown late in the third quarter on a one-yard run, cutting the score to 24-10
· Earns his first Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor
· Last Iowa Offensive Player of the Week: Ricky Stanzi (Oct. 18, 2010)
Put your hands down, you liars. Except you, Mrs. Vandenberg. Your faith was quite admirable.
No, I don't think there was a single non-related Hawkeye partisan -- not in Kinnick, not watching at home on TV, and certainly not in our game thread -- who thought Vandenberg would, in the span of 20-odd minutes of game time put together the sort of sparkling performance that would warrant the Big Ten giving him Offensive Player of the Week honors. Doc Saturday has a handy table breaking down his performance in Qs 1-3 and his Q4 performance and it is jaw-dropping. The raw numbers:
Q1-3: 14/25, 182 yards, 0/1 TD/INT, 4 sacks
Q4: 15/18, 217 yards, 3/0 TD/INT, 0 sacks
Hot damn. Now that's some fine quarterbackin'. Granted, if BHGP readers, lurkers, and random passersby were allowed to vote on Big Ten awards, this honor might have gone to Iowa's sensational troika of wide receivers, at least based on this poll. To be sure, Messrs. McNutt, Davis, and Martin-Manley (which also sounds like the name of a law firm that gets up to wacky hijinx every Wednesday night on TBS) were top shelf on Saturday: McNutt had a one-handed grab that was as stunning as it was effortless, Davis appeared to have hands of glue (making for a very nice bounce-back performance after that terrible drop at the end of the ISU game), and Martin-Manley was in full Make Plays Or Die mode in the fourth quarter, particularly on those two stellar touchdown grabs.
Yet Vandenberg was also lasering in some of those passes (his touch looked nigh-impeccable on the two touchdown throws to KMM, for instance) and, as a whole, looked like the confident, rifle-armed gunslinger we'd seen glimpses of in the past (see: the comeback against Ohio State in the 'shoe in 2009) and that the coaches had been chatting up all spring and summer. Perhaps the most exciting part of watching the offensive eruption in the fourth quarter (aside from, y'know, the whole "winning the game in insanely dramatic fashion" thing) was how relatively easy it looked. I opined last week that watching Iowa's offense work is too often like pulling teeth*: it's just a constant, low-intensity grind where good plays often feel like miracles and scoring points seems like the hardest thing to do in the world. It certainly felt that way in the first half; that 15-play, 86-yard, 7:30 drive that ended with a Meyer chip-shot field goal was a classic example of the Iowa offense.
But the offense that ripped up and down the field and scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives at the end of the game didn't look anything like that. Acquiring first downs no longer felt like a reward at the end of an arduous trek, but something that just happens naturally. Big plays happened almost routinely. Receivers made catches and hoovered up yards after the catch. It was as if Iowa, for once, had an honest-to-god big boy offense that could do what it wanted and score points without making it seem like it was an accomplishment on par with scaling Everest. "Easy" may not be the right word -- the receivers still had to make some tough catches, Vandenberg still had to make some accurate throws, the line still had to protect him -- but there was a definite change to the late-game offense than we'd seen earlier in the game (or in many other Iowa games of recent vintage). And, good god, was it nice to see. Hopefully we see it again sooner rather than later; if we do Vandenberg (or perhaps his pass-catching cohorts) will be racking up more Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards.
* Note: I am not a dentist, nor do I play one on TV.