Quarterback, special teams focal points of Iowa football

BY MATT CABEL | AUGUST 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa football struggled with its quarterback and special-team play in 2012.

Senior quarterback James Vandenberg threw for 7 touchdowns all season and never truly adjusted to first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ system. Several errors on special teams — particularly with onside kicks — led to several late-game drives that resulted in game-winning field goals as time expired.

Now, with a new season kicking off Saturday, things have changed for the Hawkeyes. A lengthy quarterback battle has ended. Redshirt sophomore Jake Rudock was given the starting spot for the season-opening game against Northern Illinois last week.

“You’ve been working since high school, saying ‘Hey, hopefully I’ll get a shot somewhere in college,’ ” Rudock said.

His chance is now. Rudock has never taken a snap in an actual college game, but he has the full support of the coaching staff as he prepares for his first college start, and he’s more comfortable in Davis’ system after two training camps.

“Coach Davis and Coach Ferentz were very clear that it was a clean slate,” Rudock said Aug. 8 at Iowa football media day. “It’s what you do on the field now.”

Freshman wideout Tevaun Smith said that while the quarterback was seemingly up in the air until the formal announcement, he’s happy that he’s now able to build a rapport with Rudock.

“After every rep, after everything we do, we talk after so that we have some sort of understanding of what we’re both doing. I’m able to build a bit of chemistry with him, and it’s a little easier now than it was before.”

Kick returner and wide receiver Jordan Cotton was one of few bright spots for the Hawkeyes in 2012, and he seeks to continue to be successful. He returned one kickoff for a touchdown against Penn State. This season, Cotton would like to be successful in whatever way he can — he believes that he can return every kickoff that comes to him for a touchdown. “[Special teams are] kind of the backbone of our team,” he said. “It gives you an edge in football games.”

Kirk Ferentz also wants consistency from punter Connor Kornbrath and kicker Mike Meyer, both of whom had successful seasons in 2012, with Meyer has been named to the preseason Groza Award watch list for 2013.

Although special teams have been troublesome in the past, Ferentz is preaching to his players do their jobs without worrying about outside pressure. That success starts with Meyer, who was 25-for-25 in PAT attempts last season, and 17-for-21 in field goal attempts.

“Special teams come down to a couple things; the specialists first of all,” Ferentz said. “They have to do what they’re supposed to do to make it work, but everybody else has to do their job, too.  I think the big thing for Mike is just, kind of like every player, just go out and do what you do; don’t worry about all this stuff.  If you’re called on to kick, then kick it well.  And I think he’ll do that.  He’s a tremendous young guy, and he’s improved every step of the way.”

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