Quarterback Race Heats Up Prior to Spring Game

April 14, 2004

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Through the spring period of evaluation, one position race has risen above the rest in intrigue and importance. But so far, Drew Tate is still leading Jason Manson to lead the team as quarterback next season.

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz confirmed Tuesday that Tate, who will be a sophomore next fall, will be the field marshal, all things remaining the same through the summer. But Ferentz is very quick to point out that little is likely to remain the same through the summer, and sometimes that’s a very good thing.

“Drew’s been having a real nice spring,” Ferentz said. “I’m really pleased with that position. I think Drew’s moving forward, and Jason’s made some major strides too. Both of those guys look more comfortable in that position.”

So does that mean the two are on equal footing?

“No, Drew’s No. 1 and Jason’s No. 2,” said Ferentz. “But it’s a fun race to watch right now. I think they’ve both improved and elevated their game. I’m real pleased with the way that they’re both progressing.”

But according to the coach, the battle for the most publicized position is one which pits street smarts against book smarts. And right now, experience is winning out.

Tate, who threw 11 passes for 55 yards in six games last season, accrued a Texas high-school career record 12,180 yards on 970-of-1576 passing including 113 touchdown passes. He also guided Robert E. Lee High School to four consecutive Class 5A playoff appearances.

“Drew’s probably a more accomplished passer. He’s thrown more balls in the course of his career,” Ferentz said. “Basically, when he got here last August, he was trying to figure a lot of things out, like how to get to practice. So he’s really grown in a lot of ways.”

Manson, a redshirt freshman who barely saw action last season, put up numbers just over half of those by his competitor while in high school. But, according to Ferentz, what Manson has lacked in experience he has made up for in playbook study.

“He probably had the best grasp of our offense coming in,” Ferentz said. “He studies this thing and knows it inside and out. That’s paying off for him. He’s throwing it more accurately now than he ever has, and he’s getting bigger and stronger.”

So are there any similarities between the two? Don’t ask the coach for a straight answer.

“They’re different but similar, you know?” Ferentz said. “I don’t know. We’re just trying to get a good feel for them at this point.”

One thing that Ferentz is certain of is Tate’s confidence.

“He’s not lacking for confidence, that’s one thing I’ll say about Drew,” the coach said. “That’s a good thing, but it’s something you have to watch. He’s certainly more comfortable than in the fall. This guy has thrown a lot of balls in his lifetime and grew up in a family that talked a lot of football, so I think that’s helped him.”

Outside of the “infectious” moxie that Tate is demonstrating at practices, Ferentz will be watching the decision-making processes of the ball handlers. The coach said the entire team has not been playing conservatively.

“If anything, they’ve been brazen in throwing the football and they can’t take those chances throwing the ball or they’re not going to survive,” Ferentz said. “But you like to see them playing out there and taking chances rather than playing tentatively.

“You don’t want any football player to be timid. But I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. After they do something a little questionable, they know what they’ve done when they see it go the other way. Drew understands the game, and I think Jason understands the game.”

However the race for QB turns out, the result will be the first underclassman to take the helm in five years. Since 2000 with Scott Mullen, Iowa has had a senior taking the snaps and Coach Ferentz is looking forward to the change.

“Drew’s been having a real nice spring. I’m really pleased with that position. I think Drew’s moving forward, and Jason’s made some major strides too. Both of those guys look more comfortable in that position.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz

“I think long-term-wise, no question,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll both play well for us and that would be great for us. There’s no doubt about it, and it’s a good feeling. Now guys are at least growing in the program a little bit. I think they’re going to improve with every opportunity, but long-haul you’re going to get better.”

One thing lost in the news about the quarterbacks is who will be feeding the ball to the eventual winner of the internal competition. Since center Brian Ferentz is out indefinitely with injuries, sophomore Mike Elgin has been at No. 1 on the two-deep charts since March. However with the neck injury of right guard Chris Felder, which has forced backup center Ben Cronin over a spot on the line, new competition has sprouted for Elgin.

Todd Plagman, a walk-on redshirt freshman from Carson, Ia., has “surprised” Ferentz and moved out of obscurity to challenge Elgin at center.

“He’s a sleeper guy,” Ferentz said. “He flew under my radar screen last year. He really did. We got him out there running some drills and playing against our defense, and he did some really nice things. He’s intriguing. It’s going to be fun to learn more about him and watch him grow.”

HAWK SHOTS: Matt Roth was named to the Playboy magazine pre-season all-America team. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end from Villa Park, Il., is the 14th Hawkeye to ever be named to the team. Last season, Robert Gallery and Nate Kaeding were both put on the team along with Coach of the Year Kirk Ferentz. Roth is also a candidate for the 2004 Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award…

…On the injury front, letterwinning linebacker Zach Gabelmann suffered a knee injury during spring practices and underwent surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament yesterday. Redshirt freshman Mike Klinkenborg replaced Gabelmann on the two-deep chart, behind Abdul Hodge. Recently positioned fullback, Tom Busch, a redshirt freshman, suffered a “fairly significant” lower-leg injury. Bush is not slated to return to preparations until late May or early June, according to Ferentz.

…Rob Brooks will be the new sideline reporter at Iowa football games starting in September. Brooks, the son of Iowa Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Brooks, will replace Mark Allen. Allen will continue as the voice of Hawkeye women’s basketball. Brent Balbinot, who broadcasts Iowa baseball, will be the new producer for football as well.

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com