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Why Rudock doesn’t deserve the criticism

BY JACOB SHEYKO | SEPTEMBER 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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“I feel like he has no trust in our receivers.”

Former Iowa receiver Marvin McNutt tweeted that out midway through the Hawkeyes’ 31-23 win over Northern Iowa on Aug. 30. He was critiquing quarterback Jake Rudock’s performance, and he was not the only one.

Several fans and former players chimed in on whether Rudock was being too conservative with the ball and not taking chances down the field. Another former Hawkeye receiver — Derrell Johnson-Koulianos — tweeted out a nickname for the junior quarterback: Jake Checkdown.

At the end of the day, Rudock completed 31-of-41 passing attempts for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 31 completions is a career high.

Maybe it comes with the job of being a quarterback, but despite his performance, Rudock was criticized for his conservative playing style.

But was that criticism warranted?

Rudock is more of a game manager. It was the case last year, and it likely will be the case again this year. It may vary from game to game, but rarely does a quarterback drastically change his tendencies.

Last season, Rudock averaged 6.89 yards per attempt, which isn’t the greatest statistic, but it may be the most telling one available. Against Northern Iowa, Rudock averaged 6.1 yards per attempt — and he averaged 8.1 yards per completion.

When breaking Rudock’s completions down into three levels — 0-5 yards, 6-10 yards, and 10-plus yards — it’d be easy to say he dumped the ball off a fair number of times. Fourteen completions went for five yards or fewer, 10 for 6-10 yards, and seven went for more than 10 yards.

So, was Rudock actually being conservative or, as he said postgame, taking what the defense gave him?

It sounds cliché, but it was a little bit of both.

Seven of Rudock’s completions were to his running backs, and most of those were check downs after he appeared to not see anything certain down the field.

As the game progressed — and perhaps as the defense crept up more because of the check downs — Rudock became more aggressive, his yards per attempt jumping to 11.86 in the fourth quarter. 

(This is also when Rudock’s biggest play of the day, a 46-yard completion to Derrick Willies, occurred.)

A lot of this can be attributed to Northern Iowa’s defense. The Panthers clearly didn’t want to allow anything over the top, something Rudock noted to after the game.

The main reason Willies was so wide open on his big reception was because two Panthers defensive backs ran into each other as he ran up the seam. Even when Rudock threw it deep, he was taking what the defense gave him.

Rudock will get — or, at least, attempt to get — what is necessary for a first down. For instance, against Northern Iowa, on third down distances of 6 yards or more, his average per attempt was 9 yards.

On only one occasion during the Northern Iowa game did Rudock — faced with a third down — throw a completion that fell short of the chains. Conversely, he converted six first downs through the air.

It’s hard to think that a quarterback who completed more than 75 percent of his passes, amassed 250 yards, threw 2 touchdowns, no picks, and wasn’t sacked would be criticized the way Rudock has been. But it happened, and will, more than likely, happen again at least once this season.

After the game, Rudock was asked about the number of short passes, and whether it was part of the game plan.  His response shed a lot of light on who he is as a quarterback and whether he’ll changing that anytime soon.

“The game plan,” he said, “is to win the game.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa football team.


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