Vandenberg’s show now


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As the No. 15 Iowa Hawkeyes attempt to move on from a stunning 17-10 loss at Kinnick Stadium to Northwestern on Nov. 7, they can look back at the 1990 New York Giants for motivation.

That year, the Giants lost their starting quarterback, Phil Simms, to a season-ending foot injury in the third-to-last game of the season — a 17-13 home loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Jeff Hostetler came in to replace Simms that day and started the following week for New York on the road. The Giants won the away contest against Phoenix, 24-21, and that vaulted them on the road to ultimately winning Super Bowl XXV.

During the Hawkeyes’ loss to the Wildcats last weekend, Iowa lost junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a guy who had proven to be a consistent winner much like Simms, to a severe ankle sprain that will sideline him for the last two games of the regular season.

Now, to compare the football attributes of Iowa redshirt freshman quarterback James Vandenberg to those of Hostetler may be a stretch. While Hostetler was known more for his mobility, Vandenberg is known more for his rocket arm that made him one of the most prolific high-school quarterbacks ever in the state of Iowa.

But much like the Giants of 1990, the Hawkeyes of 2009 find themselves playing for a Big Ten championship on Saturday at No. 10 Ohio State with Vandenberg leading the way.

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“He practices just like Rick does,” senior center Rafael Eubanks said. “He does the same things. He knows everything, and I have the utmost confidence in him. This is his opportunity now to show what he’s got.”

While Vandenberg doesn’t possess the game experience Stanzi did, the Keokuk native has enough characteristics that make players on both sides of the ball respect what he brings to the team.

In fact, sophomore safety Tyler Sash, an Oskaloosa native who played against Vandenberg in high school, said he immediately gave the 6-3 quarterback words of encouragement on the sidelines before he first took the field for the injured Stanzi.

“As soon as Rick went down, I went over to James, I said, ‘This is what you’ve been waiting for your whole life, and this is your time,’ ” Sash said. “For the most part, I think he did a good job. He was thrown into a tough situation and really hasn’t played that much, but I know he’ll be ready for [Saturday].”

There’s no question Stanzi and his leadership will be missed, just as the Giants’ squad missed Simms and his leadership.

But it won’t keep the Hawkeyes from sticking to their “next man in” mantra, even though they’re about to visit one of the Big Ten’s most hostile stadiums, “The Horseshoe,” with much at stake.

And just like then-Giants head coach Bill Parcells had faith in Hostetler, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has faith in Vandenberg, describing him as “mentally tough,” and calling him on numerous occasions “a quality football player.”

“We have to play,” Ferentz said. “We’re going to have to go over there and try to be aggressive and see if we can’t score points because it’s going to be tough.

“I’m not going to say he’ll be comfortable. Very tough environment we’re going to walk into. But he’ll meet the challenge.”

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