- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Some moments stick with players for years, especially when those moments are attached to big opportunities.
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg hasn't forgotten the third-down sack he took against Ohio State in 2009. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes were playing for the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, Iowa's first since 1991. Vandenberg, then a redshirt freshman, was making his first career start in place of the injured Ricky Stanzi. He had handled himself well in the glare of Ohio Stadium, leading Iowa on an 8-play, 70-yard drive to tie the score at 24-24 with 2:42 to play.
The Hawkeyes had the first possession in overtime, and after two fruitless plays, faced third-and-10 from the Buckeyes' 25. Vandenberg dropped back and was sacked by Ohio State's Doug Worthington, pushing Iowa out of field-goal range. A heave, a prayer and an interception later, Ohio State took over and converted a manageable field goal for the victory.
"That sack on third down, I remember that thing vividly," Vandenberg told ESPN.com. "The ball needed to come out. It would have been a long field goal, but we could have tried. Instead, we had to take a shot for the end zone, and you can't expect that to [work]."
Vandenberg views the Ohio State game as a "great stepping stone" in his career. He returned to a reserve role in 2010 before taking over for Stanzi last season, passing for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions.
He enters his senior season as the Big Ten's most prolific passing quarterback.
"It was an experience you can't really replace," he said of that Ohio State game. "I know that experience helped me last season and before that. Being thrown in the moment, you can't really prepare for it. And it's an opportunity that I lost to [win] a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl."
Vandenberg finished the game 20-for-33 passing for 222 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Asked if he's still motivated by the Ohio State loss, Vandenberg replied, "Absolutely."
That night in Columbus, Vandenberg showed he doesn't back away from challenges. He proved it again in May by killing a 300-pound black bear in Saskatchewan with a bow and arrow.
Asked Thursday if the bear kill is his claim to fame among Big Ten quarterbacks, Vandenberg replied, "I'd rather win some more games."
He can start this fall in leading an Iowa offense featuring some question marks, namely at running back.
Although few forecast Iowa to win a treacherous Legends division, Vandenberg still has one last shot to finish what he couldn't in Columbus.
"That was a tough circumstance he was playing in," Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz said, "to all of a sudden be our starter, and to go into one of the toughest, if not the toughest, environments in our conference. Basically, it ended up being the championship game for that year. He may have taken a sack, but we had some drops, too, that may have changed the game. I thought he really played admirably."
Ferentz recalled the way Vandenberg prepared for his first start, spending late nights at the football complex with Stanzi and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe.
"The manner in which he played and conducted himself, to me, that was really a signature moment for him," Ferentz said. "It's one of the reasons I'm so optimistic he'll play well this year. He's got the right stuff."
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