Brown: Rudock on top of his game in easy victory
IOWA CITY, Ia. – OK, so Jake Rudock wasn't flawless.
But Iowa's junior quarterback was pretty darn good, and in total command of the offense, in a 48-7 drubbing of Northwestern on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
"Right on top of his game" is the way Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz put it. Let me go a step further. I think it was the best, most complete game of Rudock's career. What do you think, Jake?
"That's up to you guys," Rudock said after engineering an easier-than-expected victory that keeps the Hawkeyes in the thick of the Big Ten's West Division race.
You see, the bottom line for Rudock isn't the "best game of your career" labels. His go-to guy is the scoreboard.
"We won," Rudock said after Iowa improved to 6-2 overall, 3-1 in the West Division and erased any hopes Northwestern had of remaining a contender. That list is down to four: The Hawkeyes and three of their last four opponents: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
If Iowa's offensive line continues to block like it did Saturday, giving Rudock a clean pocket on virtually every snap, the Hawkeyes will be in this race until the very end. Rudock had time to go through his progressions, and read the Northwestern safeties. He was not sacked.
"A good, clean pocket makes you a little bit more comfortable," said Rudock, who got in rhythm early by completing eight of his first 10 passes.
It's been a season of ups and downs for Rudock. Quite frankly, he's not played well at times. The second half against Iowa State and the Hawkeyes' most recent game, at Maryland two weeks ago, are prime examples.
The offensive identity of this team has been in the witness protection program for much of the season, too. And because of that, Rudock got plenty of negativity thrown his way from those calling for backup C.J. Beathard to unseat the incumbent.
"The people in our program understand what they're doing," Rudock said after completing 12 of 19 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. "Whatever people outside the program want to say, they can say it. It's a free country. That's freedom of speech, right? It's just words."
When Rudock was injured late in the first half at Pittsburgh, Beathard rallied the team to a victory in the Steel City and another the following week at Purdue.
But after a bye week, Ferentz went back to Rudock against Indiana. It was not a landslide decision. But it was the right one. I, too, wanted to see what Beathard could do. He showed he's a Big Ten-caliber quarterback in Rudock's absence.
But this is Rudock's team. And his steady approach is not lost by his teammates.
"You need a quarterback who stays on an even keel," running back Mark Weisman said. "The best quarterbacks have it. You have to have a short-term memory. He's a great leader for us."
Rudock was a stand-up guy with reporters after a poor showing at Maryland two weeks ago, critical of his effort. Then he watched the film once, flushed it down the drain and moved on.
"You watch, fix what you can and then get rid of it," Rudock said. "That's all you can do."
It works the other way, too. Rudock will watch Saturday's victory once, critique his performance and move on. Watching it time and time again, he said, might bring a false sense of security.
"There's stuff you're going to miss out there," Rudock said. "Things we've got to correct."
Rudock's arm strength has been a red flag to some. But he fired BBs over the middle to Tevaun Smith and Kevonte Martin-Manley on several occasions Saturday. And his 31-yard touchdown pass to Smith was a thing of beauty. To everyone but the guy throwing it.
"I'll honestly say I wish had thrown it a yard further, so the defensive back would have had no chance at it," Rudock said.
He'll watch that play on film today and move on. Just like that quarterback controversy has. This is Rudock's team.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.