Iowa CITY, IOWA - As he has been throughout the season, James Vandenberg was the main topic of conversation at Iowa's weekly press conference. Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz and his teammates backed their senior quarterback.
Iowa scored one offensive touchdown in a 38-14 meltdown against Penn State Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.
"To evaluate what happened Saturday, any one player's performance or job status, that would be tough to do," Ferentz said. "There wasn't much that went well. To try to say that it was one person or one area I think would be missing the boat. It was a thorough beating we experienced."
During Saturday's post-game press conference, Ferentz took exception to a suggestion that his team's offensive struggles have been around all season. While the Hawkeyes have enjoyed some high points, they rank 101st out 120 teams in the FBS in points per game (20.9). All of that hasn't been a result of a conservative approach.
It may be cliche, but when an offense falters, fingers from outside the team are pointed at the quarterback and the coordinator. Greg Davis is staying above the fray, for the most part, as a first-year guy taking over for former whipping boy, Ken O'Keefe.
Vandenberg said last week that he heard critics calling for a change at the position. He understood why people expect more consistent play from a fifth-year senior. He hasn't shied away from accepting blame all season long.
"Generally most of my decisions are made on what's best for our football team," Ferentz said. "Be it the offense, defense, special teams, collectively. If it comes to a point where I change my mind, we'll change whatever. Be it a position, the way we do things, whatever, but that's what we do.
"We try to figure out what's best for us at any given point and go from there. So that's kind of where we're at."
That's a nice way of Ferentz saying back-up Jake Rudock isn't going to do a better job than Vandenberg and that it's the coach's decision.
"We're trying to make a habit of getting our best guys on the field, the guys that we feel give us the best chance to win," Ferentz said while wading through a gauntlet of quarterback questions on Tuesday.
Other than injury, Ferentz has stuck with one quarterback, for the most part, since the 2002 season started. He replaced Drew Tate with Jake Christensen for a few plays at Minnesota in 2006. Two years later, he benched Christensen for Ricky Stanzi early in that campaign.
"Any time you see players rotating particularly at that position, because it is a little unique, that would indicate, yeah, you think it's really close," Ferentz said. "There is usually a reason why you do it."
Ferentz does not feel Rudock is close to Vandenberg when it comes to the ability to lead the team to victory.
"(Rudock has) got all the characteristics that give a guy a chance to be a good player," Ferentz said of his redshirt freshman. "He's into it, very smart, very competitive. He throws the ball well. You know, he's going to be a good player."
Translation: Ferentz doesn't believe he is ready to lead the Hawkeyes right now.
Well, why not at least give Rudock a shot late in Saturday's blowout?
"I guess you could make an argument that it would give the next player experience," Ferentz said. "But at that time, I felt like the best thing to do was keep our offense out there and let them play."
The coach said running back Damon Bullock has been cleared to practice full speed, Ferentz said. He has missed the last four games after suffering a head injury.
"But we've got to get him into the game Saturday," Ferentz said.
Mark Weisman said he feels better than last week and should move closer to fully healthy as long as there are no setbacks before the weekend. He cautioned that ankles are tricky injuries and he didn't seem confident that he'd be 100 percent.
TBD: It looks like it will be Nolan MacMillan or Matt Tobin replacing Scherff at left tackle this week at Northwestern. Ferentz didn't commit to either being the starter when asked about it on Tuesday.
"We're pretty much out of guys unless we dip into the freshman class," Ferentz said. "So basically anybody can practice right now. They have to be fairly multiple, not everybody, but a lot of guys have to be fairly multiple in what they do."
Ferentz said he would rather not push true freshman Ryan Ward into action this season.
X-TRA POINTS: Ferentz reiterated that he'd like to red shirt running backs Jordan Canzeri and Michael Malloy, especially the latter…Tom Donatell remains the starter at strong safety, Ferentz said. The senior gave way to sophomore Nico Law in the second half on Saturday.