Sure, Iowa just beat Tennessee Tech, 34-7. But what was so important about beating Tennessee Tech? How much do we really know? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
We are all Mandenbergs. Or Mendenberg. I need a ruling on this one. James Vandenberg sure looked like he belonged under center for this team. At the very least, he showed why there was never any quarterback controversy in Iowa City, not even with OMG AJ DERBY backing him up, not even for one day. That's a major accomplishment for a kid who was a middling prospect out of Keokuk who got offers from Iowa, Nebraska... and some directionals and that's about it. Iowa State passed on him. Yes, the team currently starting Steele Jantz at QB, who my ISU-doting brother described as "flat out untalented in running and especially throwing (and decision making)--other than that, a hell of a qb" after watching him play UNI last week. Yeah, that team looked at JVB and said "no thanks." So he's proven a lot of people wrong since he stepped foot in Iowa City.
But back to the game itself--Vandenberg looked pretty damn good, didn't he? Granted, we're talking about Tennessee Tech's defense here, but I can't tell you how many times Vandenberg's passes were both perfectly timed and perfectly placed. Try to find a way to watch that 88-yard TD he threw to Marvin McNutt in the second quarter. The ball couldn't have been put in a better place at a better time, and that was on an out route. No, it wasn't rifled like Ryan Mallett hitting a guy on a 25-yard out with a laser, but it didn't have to be, and it was wildly successful all the same. The guy Vandenberg reminds me of--and this is going to make Brian Cook shoot nuclear missiles at my house from Ann Arbor in protest--is Chad Henne. They've both got an uncanny touch on their throws, which is FAR more important to keeping a drive alive than being able to throw the ball 75 yards in the air or whatever. They're both... well, they're both not Michael Vick on the move. And they both came up in college behind some damn good college QBs--John Navarre for Michigan (27-9 as a starter), and obviously Ricky Stanzi for Iowa (26-9 as a starter). Henne had four years to start at Michigan (college starts being a key indicator for NFL success at QB), while JVB will only have two, so this comparison will probably break down at some point, but I tell you that if he stays healthy, Vandenberg will be Iowa's Chad Henne and that is very very very good.
We desperately need a better ending to the Mika'il McCall saga than this. Ross already covered the McCall injuryto the point where we don't really need to go over what happened again. Y'all know what happened. Y'all know he's out for the year. Y'all know he at least gets to be a freshman again next year and so at least he'll probably get two seasons as a full time starter if everything goes right for him from here on out.
But like the Spartans responding to the threats of Philip II of Macedon, there's only one word at play here: "If." Because we've got a true freshman, and once we introduce his ankle getting nuked in his first quarter of play, the probability of him making it to Year 5 at Iowa gets smaller and smaller. This is a school that hasn't seen a running back stay on scholarship for his entire run of eligibility since Albert Young and Damian Sims (both 2007 graduates), after all--and lord have we seen men come and go. I'd love to see that trend bucked, for many many reasons, but it'll depend on McCall and Coker to have uncommon devotion to finishing their careers at Iowa. Like, everyone says that when things are going good, and nobody shows up as a Hawkeye saying "I can't wait to transfer!", but McCall has a major hardship in front of him right now and history shows that's a bad omen. Ignore the omens, Mika'il! You are an awesome tailback and we want you around for as long as possible. For serious. Please don't leave or otherwise lose hope.
Jordan Bernstine is happening and that is great. We're not at practice and we don't have "sources" who are, so we don't know what led to Collin Sleeper being given the starting role at SS over Jordan Bernstine, but when it came to one player not only establishing his presence on the field but exerting his will, that was Bernstine ten times more than Sleeper. We're not going to call him Bob Sanders II quite yet or anything, but Bernstine got pads popping often when he was on the field, to the point that Ferentz called him and (sigh) McCall out specifically in postgame comments as "playing at a different level than the rest of our guys when they were in there." He wasn't wrong on either count.
We've mentioned this before on BHGP, mostly in reference to Pat Angerer and the basketball team, but it seems like one underreported aspect of Iowa athletics is how much the high rate of roster turnover hurts the team. Todd Lickliter failed for many reasons, but principal among them was his total inability to keep any of his point guards around, ever. Ever. If you're running a "thinking man's offense" or however else Butler-ball got packaged by announcers, the last thing you want is a never-ending stream of first-year point guards who spend one year running the show and high-tailing it out of town before the next.
Similarly, there is a great deal of value in retaining football players through the end of their eligibility, no matter how crappy their first year or two has gone. Nobody would have blamed Pat Angerer for transferring after he spent two malady-plagued years on the roster and then found himself out of the two-deeps going into his redshirt sophomore year. Likewise, Shonn Greene could have tired of being recruited by Kirk Ferentz for a third time and gone somewhere else for a "fresh start," and it would have totally made sense. And then Iowa wouldn't have had guys like that as anchors in 2009, and nobody would have missed them, because they would have just been "guys who didn't work out" at that point and not "future leaders."
So if Jordan Bernstine had announced after this spring that he was taking his talents elsewhere, well, who would have objected, or thought anything other than "he didn't pan out so whatever"? His career up to this point had been wracked by major injuries and a general inability to crack the starting lineup, despite his four-star status as a recruit and his substantial athleticism. When he caught the rhabdo back in January, that would have been the perfect "out" for him, and it would have been "Next Man In" and that'd be that. Except he stayed. And kept working his ass off. And now here he is playing on that "different level" and probably earning himself a starting spot at safety for the time being. This is what we miss when guys transfer away, and if you think transfers haven't hurt Iowa at key positions in recent years, look at what James Cleveland did at Houston, or Dezman Moses at Tulane. The Hawkeyes could have used that kind of production, and it really sucks that their careers at Iowa didn't pan out, even while acknowledging that both of their transfers were brought on by bad acts on their own part. Like, yeah, that's true, but it would have been nice to see them work to bring that kind of production back to Iowa and not to some C-USA schools instead.
It's just Week 1 and Tennessee Tech. It would be easy to balk at Iowa gaining just 4.5 yards a pop against Tennessee Tech, or to see that the team miserably failed to cover the 42-point spread in the 34-7 victory, or Marcus Coker and his two early fumbles and his 41 whole yards of rushing, or that A.J. Derby went just 2-5 against a I-AA defense, which oh my god that's like 1-10 against Michigan State if you really think about it, isn't it, and yeah yeah yeah. Iowa still won, and won easily, and that's about all Kirk Ferentz really cares about when it comes down to it (like it or not). He clearly doesn't care about the spread; anyone who put any money on Iowa-ISU 2008 knows that excruciatingly well. Yeah, Iowa underwhelmed against a I-AA opponent, but the last time they did that, it was 2010 where Iowa won 37-7 against EIU when they were favored by 39... and the very next week they went out and beat ISU by 28. The time before that, it was 2009, when the Hawkeyes needed to use the Block Field Goal Cheat Code twice in a row to beat UNI by one whole point... and the very next week they went out and beat ISU by 32. This might be all the in-season information we've got to evaluate Iowa on, but it's still a really small sample size, and extrapolating anything off of it is an exercise in stupidity, especially as it relates to predicting performance against ISU the very next week (seriously, look at Iowa over the last decade, and explain how much the scores prior to ISU week tell us how the Iowa-ISU games will go).
So yeah. That game and its rain and lightning and INTs returned for touchdowns and its everything else are done. It's Iowa State week now. Hate week. And by god are we going to hate Iowa State this week. Let's do this.