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Hawkeyes’ freshman quarterback gets first start at Ohio State

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg walked into a sporting goods store to shop for a birthday present on Saturday, just hours after the Hawkeyes’ perfect season ended with a 17-10 loss to Northwestern.

As Vandenberg was trying on some hunting waders, someone asked him if he had been at Kinnick Stadium for the game. The relatively unknown redshirt freshman who had seen his first extended action against the Wildcats played along.

“He said ’Did it look as rough in person as it did on TV?’ And I said, ’You have no idea,”’ Vandenberg said.

Vandenberg won’t have to worry about going unrecognized much longer: He is No. 15 Iowa’s starting quarterback now that junior Ricky Stanzi has had surgery to repair a severely sprained right ankle.

Stanzi injured the ankle in the second quarter of the Northwestern game last weekend and did not return. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Stanzi is “very doubtful” for Iowa’s final two regular season games, though he’s optimistic Stanzi will be back for the bowl game.

Vandenberg, who was 9-of-27 passing for 82 yards and a costly interception against Northwestern, will make his first career start for the Hawkeyes (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) at No. 10 Ohio State (8-2, 5-1) on Saturday.

No pressure. Just perhaps a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line.

“It’s going to exciting,” Vandenberg said. “It’s kind of what you dream about all growing up, being in a situation like this. And here it is.”

Vandenberg was certainly well known — in eastern Iowa, at least — during a prolific high school career.

Vandenberg, a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Keokuk, was arguably the most prolific passer in Iowa prep history, throwing for 7,709 career yards, 93 career touchdowns and 49 touchdown passes as a senior, when he was picked off just seven times in 372 attempts. Though he said Nebraska offered him a scholarship, Vandenberg jumped at the chance to sign with the Hawkeyes shortly after he led his team to a state title.