Niyo: UM's Rudock plays it cool with no-nonsense style
Ann Arbor — If Jake Rudock plays the real game as well as he plays this game, deftly sidestepping trouble inside Schembechler Hall, maybe Michigan's got something.
Or maybe it just means the fifth-year senior is old enough — and smart enough — to know better. And to be honest, his chief competitor in the huddle across the room wasn't exactly fumbling away the game, either.
But if Rudock is the guy, as everyone seems to think he is, it's not hard to understand why. If the graduate transfer from Iowa is the quarterback Jim Harbaugh tabs as his starter for next week's season opener at Utah, ahead of junior Shane Morris, his poise surely will have something to do with it.
Friday night, it was on display again, though admittedly the pressure applied by reporters after practice wasn't all that well disguised.
Everyone wants a definitive answer as to who'll be the Wolverines' No. 1 quarterback, and both Rudock and Morris could see the blitz coming in what will be Michigan's last media availability before Thursday's debut.
Asked if he felt he'd earned the starting nod, and if he'd been the better quarterback in preseason camp the past few weeks, Rudock didn't so much as flinch.
"I don't know," he said, flashing a quick grin. "You guys are trying to bait me into something. But that's cool. Guys, I've been doing this for a couple years now."
Steady, not flashy
And that's exactly why it'll make complete sense if — or when — Rudock's under center when Michigan takes the field next week at noisy Rice-Eccles Stadium. Rudock's been doing this for a couple of years now.
And doing it a bit better than many, including some of the folks in Iowa City, have given him credit for in 25 starts for the Hawkeyes the last two seasons, which partly explains why he's here in the first place.
Harbaugh took one look at the roster he inherited last winter and promptly sought help at a position of serious need. He brought in Rudock, who was being pushed aside by Iowa's coaching staff in favor of a younger backup. Harbaugh also added another transfer, Houston's John O'Korn, who'll be in the mix for the starting job next fall, as well as a four-star recruit (Zach Gentry) in a freshman class that already had one in Alex Malzone.
That makes for a crowded meeting room with the quarterbacks, and it made for a competitive camp with Rudock and Morris at the front of the line, alternating reps with the first-team offense the last few weeks.
Or at least that's the way it started, with Morris trying to show the new coaching staff he's made huge strides the past several months — "He's been more focused," receiver Jehu Chesson said Friday — and Rudock, an academic All-Big Ten winner at Iowa, trying to prove he's a quick study.
"It's always tough early, trying to wipe out an old system," admitted Rudock, who's working with his third different coordinator in five years.
Tougher still when the head coach has a better grasp on your job than you'll ever have, the way it generally is for quarterbacks playing under Harbaugh.
"He played the position, he played in the same stadium," Rudock said, "so he's kind of got a leg up on you there."
"And he'll let you know that," he added, laughing. "Sometimes you get frustrated early, because it's all new. But you just have to stay after, keep studying."
That's what Jedd Fisch, the passing game coordinator, keeps reminding his quarterbacks, asking them, "What are you doing when you're not in the building? How are you spending that time?"
Not many mistakes
Rudock didn't waste any time getting to work when he arrived on campus in May, taking a facilities job at Schembechler Hall. And it sure sounds like he didn't take long in letting everyone in camp know he was ready to run this offense.
"It's not like he came in this summer and — boom — he was a leader," said Chesson, the senior wideout. "But sometime during camp, maybe the first week or so, when he really knew his playbook and he started making plays on the field, guys started looking up to him, guys started embracing him as a quarterback. …
"He's a guy who doesn't complain, he doesn't hang his head low. Guys are excited to follow him. Because he does things right."
And more than anything, that's what this offense — this team, really — needs right now. A quarterback who does things right and keeps the mistakes to a minimum, something Rudock, with his accuracy and pocket presence, already has shown he can do. And something Morris and his big, erratic arm seem far less-equipped to do, though the junior insisted Friday, "I'm ready."
Everyone knows the statistics by now. Michigan's 2014 season came unraveled amid a mess of turnovers, with Devin Gardner tossing 15 interceptions and Morris adding three of his own in very limited duty. Rudock only threw five in 345 attempts, finishing third in the Big Ten in pass efficiency on a team that wasn't exactly blessed with offensive playmakers.
It's hard to say what this offense has in that regard, either. But we'll find out soon enough, just as the quarterbacks will learn their fate, though I highly doubt it's really a mystery at this point, regardless of what they're saying.
Rudock was asked once more Friday if he felt like he'd done enough to win the job.
"Hope so," Rudock said. "I don't know. That's a coach's decision. And I'm just gonna roll with it."
Sounds like he's ready to me.