Hawkeye Football | James Vandenberg and the Game Within the Game
Originally I wanted to take a look at the last two games to see if Hawkeye quarterback James Vandenberg was "tipping his pitches." That's a baseball term and if you're not familiar it means that he's tipping the defense on what he's going to do after the snap. After thinking about it, I don't think that's the case. I do think that Vandenberg has some tendencies and defensive coordinators are gambling with the blitz when they think they have him figured out.
I made an observation when Iowa took on Indiana back on October 22nd. When Iowa was in a passing situation and in the shotgun formation, Vandenberg was using a hard count and getting the Indiana linebackers to flinch. That flinch was his way of getting those linebackers, or sometimes secondary, to show their cards. He would then step back after recognizing that the flinch was telling him where the blitz was coming from and either allow the offensive line to make their calls or signal a hot route to the outside wide receivers. It was smart and shows his level of maturity in his first year as Iowa's starting quarterback.
I don't think I was the only one to notice this little trick. I think the Minnesota coaching staff noticed it too. And to their credit, I believe they coached their players to purposely make movements (flinch) when Vandenberg barked out his hard count. The linebackers purposely jump towards the line and when James thought he was calling their move they'd blitz from the opposite linebacker position. Tricky, tricky, but it's little things that go on each and every play that can make the difference between a successful pass play and an unsuccessful one. That is the game within the game.
I think there may be another tendency that opposing coaches are picking up on too. Now I need a little help from you all in determining if my theory is true. I searched and searched for a video clip of Indiana's sack from the backside but couldn't find it. The reason I'd like to see it? To see if the blitzing defender came from the opposite of McNutt's side.
See, my theory is that opposing defenses have figured out that in third down situations, where Iowa has to pass, they know that Vandenberg will look only to McNutt's side. Watching the game it's hard to tell that it's McNutt that James is looking for but you see that he never really scans 100% of the field and the backside blitz spelled disaster for the Iowa offense. There was another breakdown that led to the Minnesota sack. A miscommunication along the offensive line allowed their safety to have a free run at JV. But, he never saw him coming, not at the line or after the snap. Was he zoned in on McNutt's half of the field?
Like I said, I'd like to see a replay of the sack that came from the backside against Indiana. I want to see if McNutt was the wideout to the opposite side of the blitzing defensive back there too. If my theory is true it's a fixable tendency. He's still learning and maturing as a quarterback and will need to learn to scan the field. It's something he can see on film and work on in time.
The defenses Iowa will face the next four weeks will blitz Iowa a lot. If they've seen the film there's no doubt we can expect the backside blitz attacking Iowa on third down and other obvious passing situations. Getting Keenan Davis back on the field will help. He was missing against Minnesota and perhaps Vandenberg felt that McNutt was his only reliable option.