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Matt VandeBerg injury makes tough season even harder for Iowa

03 SEP 2016: Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Matt VandeBerg (89) runs after catching a pass during a non-conference NCAA football game between the Miami of Ohio RedHawks and the University of Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for the Iowa Hawkeyes so far, and unfortunately it may only get tougher.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz confirmed a report on Tuesday that leading receiver Matt VandeBerg suffered a broken foot. According to the press release, VandeBerg is out indefinitely and the headline of the release said that the senior will “miss games.”

The foot injury happened in practice.

“It is unfortunate that Matt will miss some time due to his injury,” said Ferentz. “We know that Matt will work extremely hard to get back on the field as soon as possible.  We feel confident that some of our younger receivers will step up in Matt’s absence.”

The loss of VandeBerg couldn’t have come at a worse time for Iowa. Two weekends ago, the Hawkeyes suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of FCS foe North Dakota State. It was a historic upset at Kinnick Stadium, and it dropped the Hawks out of the Top 25 rankings.

This past weekend, Iowa was underwhelming in a 14-7 win over Rutgers. The Hawkeyes’ defense did a good job, holding the Scarlet Knights to just seven points, but Iowa was extremely pedestrian offensively.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard did throw a touchdown to tight end George Kittle, but he only completed 12 of 23 passes for 162 yards through the air. Iowa’s run game, though producing the winning score via Akrum Wadley, only managed 193 total yards between three rushers. Wadley led the Hawks with 84 yards on 12 carries. LeShun Daniels Jr. picked up 77 yards on 13 carries while Beathard rushed 10 times for 37 yards.

A win is a win, but Iowa didn’t do anything to stand out against Rutgers. Coming off the devastating loss, a statement game would have been huge for the Hawkeyes. Instead, they put up a “meh” performance against a Rutgers team trying to find its identity with a new head coach. Sure, Iowa improved to 3-1 and 1-0 in the Big Ten, but the game will be barely a blip on the radar when looking back at the 2016-17 season.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for VandeBerg’s injury.

The 6-foot-1, 190 pound receiver is Iowa’s leader in receptions (19), receiving yards (284) and touchdowns (3) through four games this season. VandeBerg is Beathard’s favorite and most consistent target.

Last season, he averaged 10.82 yards per reception. So far in 2016, he’s averaged 14.95 yards per catch. Since 2014, he’s put up 1,243 yards and eight touchdowns for the Hawkeyes. He was Iowa’s leader in receptions and receiving yards last season when the Hawks went 12-2.

In 2015, VandeBerg averaged 4.6 catches per game. So far this season, he’s averaged 4.8.

Iowa faces a 1-3 Northwestern team this weekend for its annual Homecoming game at Kinnick Stadium and that’s a game the Hawkeyes should win, even without VandeBerg. Things get a bit more concerning when looking ahead at the schedule.

After Homecoming, the Hawkeyes will travel for games at Minnesota and Purdue. The Golden Gophers are currently 3-0 while Purdue checks in at 2-1.

It gets even worse.

After that stretch, the Hawkeyes will host No. 8 Wisconsin, go on the road to Penn State and then host No. 4 Michigan. Even with VandeBerg that was going to be a tough three games for the Hawkeyes. Without him? Iowa’s offense could be in a lot of trouble.

Michigan is currently ranked No. 11 nationally in total defense, giving up just 269.8 yards per game. Wisconsin is just one spot back, giving up 277 yards per game. That’s good for Nos. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten for total defense, and neither team appears to be slowing down.

The Hawkeyes finish the season with games at Illinois and against No. 15 Nebraska in a pretty big rivalry matchup.

Perhaps VandeBerg is able to make a quick recovery and make an impact for Iowa at the end of the season. But even with him, the Hawkeyes are in for some tough sledding.

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