IOWA CITY, Iowa - There’s an extra challenge - or three - awaiting Iowa’s defense in Saturday’s Big Ten opener at Rutgers. The Hawkeyes don’t know who the opposing starting quarterback will be.
Noah Vedral, a sixth-year senior and the team’s returning starter, hasn’t played this season after suffering an undisclosed injury in spring ball. He started taking snaps in practice last week, and Coach Greg Schiano said he’s close to returning to action.
Gavin Wimsatt was knocked out of last week’s game at Temple with an injury and didn’t return. That leaves Evan Simon the only scholarship player at quarterback remaining if Vedral or Wimsatt can’t go. Simon started last week’s game at Temple. Schiano said the starter would be a game-time decision.
“You’re just never quite sure what you’re going to get, and it sounds like they’re not sure, either,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
The unknown leaves game preparation a bit more challenging for Iowa’s defense.
‘“It puts a little more on your plate,” linebacker Jack Campbell said. “Each guy has his strengths and weaknesses. I’ve got to know what this guy might like to do, and that guy might like to do. It’s just making sure you’ve got all those little details down on those guys so you’re able to perform at a high level.”
Vedral started his career at Central Florida, then transfered to Nebraska. He completed one of three passes for 11 yards against the Hawkeyes in 2019, when Keith Duncan’s walkoff 48-yard field goal gave Iowa a 27-24 victory in Lincoln. Vedral then landed at Rutgers, where he has started 20 games including all 13 last season.
Iowa is coming off its first shutout since 2019 after blanking Nevada last week at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeye defense, with a field-position assist from punter Tory Taylor, has allowed a total of just 13 points in three games. That’s the second-fewest in the Associated Press poll era that started in 1936. The only touchdown Iowa has allowed came in a 99-yard drive by Iowa State in a week two loss (10-7).
“We shouldn’t have let that happen,” Campbell said. “It wasn’t fun. That’s in the past. Right now our focus is on Rutgers.”
Iowa’s defense is allowing just 77 yards on the ground and 117.7 through the air. Rutgers ranks 13th in the Big Ten in total offense, which includes 227.3 yards rushing per game.
Campbell said that Iowa’s touted defense has room to grow.
“I feel like our defense is going to be as good as we want it to be,” he said. “It all starts with attention to detail. You have to focus on every single snap. If you make a mistake you have to flush it and move on. If we take that approach and we all do our jobs, there’s not a ceiling for this defense. Right now we have 22 guys on the two deep that want to be great.”
Campbell has made a career out of harassing quarterbacks.
“As a linebacker, any time you can get a shot on a quarterback it’s pretty fun,” he said. “You want to do it fast, physical and clean. Any time I see that ball, it’s a dead sprint.”
But which quarterback Campbell will be chasing on Saturday remains up in the air.
“We’ve seen all three quarterbacks on film, so we’ve got that ability to at least know what to expect a little bit,” Ferentz said. “But you just never know, so we’ll have to just try to be ready and adjust as we go.”