Diversity has become the mantra of the Rudock-led Iowa offense
The overlying philosophy of the 2013 Iowa Hawkeye offense has never been more evident than it was during Damond Powell’s 29-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter of the Black and Gold’s 59-3 rout of Western Michigan on Sept. 21.
Quarterback Jake Rudock took the snap with Iowa leading 45-3 and surveyed the field one last time before being given the rest of the day off. He looked towards tight end Ray Hamilton and the rest of his possible targets across the middle of the field — players who usually end up with the ball on that specific play call.
Powell —a junior transfer from Snow Community College — continued his burst on the route, despite knowing the pass was likely to be thrown in a different direction. That type of mentality, players say, is a requirement in this year’s offense, because of Rudock’s tendency to spread the ball around.
Rudock noticed Powell was breaking away from the coverage and fired a strike into the speedy wideout’s hands, which gave the Hawkeyes a 51-3 lead.
“[Powell] works really hard, if a play is designated for him, or even if it’s not,” junior wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said following the game. “The play that he caught today usually doesn’t go to him. But he ran it hard as if it was coming to him and it did.
“Rudock has to read the coverages, according to what play we have. And he’s a smart guy. [Offensive coordinator] Greg Davis has done a good job with those quarterbacks. And Jake’s done a great job making his reads.”
Through four games, Rudock has completed passes to 16 players on only 103 attempts. Last year’s starting quarterback James Vandenberg only hooked up with 14 different Hawkeyes on 389 attempts.
Rudock’s willingness to spread the ball and diversify the offense’s gameplan, head coach Kirk Ferentz said, was something his staff was hoping the first-year starting quarterback would be able to embrace this season.
“It seems like they're getting more involved,” said Ferentz of his young receiving corps. “We knew coming into the season we were going to have to get a lot of people involved to have a chance. I hope that continues.”
Rudock stated that he doesn’t enter games intending to target as many receivers that he has. But the strategy seems to be developing as a part of his style of play. And the first-year man under center is starting to realize the benefits of keeping opposing defenses guessing.
“Coaches are rotating a lot of guys in there. A lot of guys are doing a good job of getting open and the offensive line is giving me plenty of time to get it to them,” Rudock said. “I think spreading the ball around is just kind of how it happens. It’s not necessarily something you aim to do, but it helps us if defenses realize we can get it to a lot of people.”
A common criticism of Vandenberg was that before that ball was thrown, the Keokuk native would tip the defense or give off hints as to where the ball was going.
Players who spent time alongside both quarterbacks — like running back Mark Weisman — have recognized Rudock’s unique ability to survey the entire field and make the most productive decision in the pocket, regardless of where that may be.
“We need to spread the ball out,” Weisman said. “The other teams will be focusing in on a few guys, so you have to spread it out and spread the wealth to other people to keep it fresh.
“Jake’s been doing a great job so far, making the right reads and not really staring guys down. He’s been doing great and he’s going to continue to get better. It’ll be good to see.”
With Rudock under center, Iowa has scored 59 more points in its first four games than it did a year ago. The credit for diversifying and energizing the Hawkeye offense shouldn’t all be given to Rudock, though.
Like Powell, the Hawkeyes’ group of pass-catchers has put an emphasis on being prepared whenever they’re asked to enter the game. In fact, a large part of the group’s offseason training regimen involved developing the type of mentality that lends itself to being called upon when least expecting it.
“As soon as the season ended last year, we got back to work, it became a mindset,” Martin-Manley said. “Every guy feels like he can be the guy to make the play. You can’t wait on anybody else to make that play for you.
“If you’ve got eleven guys on the field thinking the same way, somebody’s going to make the play.”
With a multitude of options at Rudock’s disposal, receivers and tight ends have had a hard time distinguishing themselves from the pack. Other than Martin-Manley, no one has emerged as a legitimate go-to receiver in the Hawkeye passing game.
Tight end CJ Fiedorowicz’s seven receptions are second most on the team. After that, nine players have between two and five catches. Martin-Manley leads all Hawkeye receivers with 20 catches.
Like Ferentz said, Iowa isn’t talented enough offensively to zero in on just a few targets in the passing game. Giving the opposition multiple looks and diversifying the offense’s personnel groupings is the hope, and possibly a necessity if the Black and Gold intend to return to postseason play after the disastrous and forgettable 4-8 campaign that was 2012.
With Rudock as the leader of the group, several inexperienced receivers will get the chance to solidify themselves as regulars in the Hawkeye passing game. That possibility, players say, will only encourage the group to continue to intensely push itself.
“There’s a lot of stress on us to make a lot of big plays down the field, because we need that on offense to open it up and help the run game,” sophomore wide receiver Jacob Hillyer said. “I feel like as we grow, we’ll be used to the big stage. Right now we have a lot of young receivers. As we grow, we’ll understand that and play better, dealing with a big stage like that. “… But having a defined leader like Rudock really helps a lot.”
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