Iowa didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel when it started last week’s game against Louisiana-Monroe in a no-huddle attack and quarterback James Vandenberg operating from the shotgun.
It only felt that way for Hawkeyes fans.
Those accustomed to a mix of runs between the tackles, mid-range play-action passes and the occasional shot down the field were jolted by what looked like Boise State in black and gold.
It worked, too. Vandenberg led Iowa (3-1) on a 74-yard touchdown drive in the opening 3:21 and 28 points in a high-flying first half. Vandenberg finished with 270 yards and three touchdowns in an easy 45-17 win.
The Hawkeyes, who dusted off the no-huddle to pull off the biggest comeback in school history on Sept. 17 against Pitt, will likely continue to use it regularly when they start Big Ten play next week at Penn State after a bye week.
“(Vandenberg) has done a great job of keeping his composure, poise,” offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said. “Once he sees it, he can go to work pretty well.”
For Iowa, moving to a more open attack has been a byproduct of the program’s makeup in 2011.
The Hawkeyes have just one running back they have complete faith in, sophomore Marcus Coker. None of their tight ends — typically a mainstay for the program — has more than four catches through four games.
But the Hawkeyes just might have the best three-man receiving corps in school history.
Senior Marvin McNutt is leading the way with 25 catches for 413 yards and four touchdowns and is on pace to break Iowa’s records for yards in a season, 1,037 set by Keith Chappelle in 1980, and Maurice Brown’s 11 TD grabs in 2002.
“Over the years up here, with strength and conditioning, he’s really benefited,” O’Keefe said. “He’s got a unique set of hands.”
Junior Keenan Davis isn’t far behind, with 19 receptions for 286 yards and three TDs.
Redshirt freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley has chipped in with 14 catches and three more TDs, including a leaping, game-winning score late in the fourth quarter against Pitt.
Iowa’s decision to catch opponents off-guard through the air speaks to the confidence the Hawkeyes have had in Vandenberg for three years now.
He is completing 62.8 percent of his passes, a stellar number in an offense that often asks its quarterbacks to make tougher throws than the typical dink-and-run tosses favored by so many programs. He’s also thrown 10 TD passes against just one interception and is quickly putting himself alongside Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson as the league’s top pure passers.
“We trust him. We feel he knows what he’s doing and, he’s a very good leader,” O’Keefe said. “He can communicate what needs to be done and how it can be done, and he can adjust faster.”