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Before talking to Chuck Long on Wednesday, I felt alone in my thinking about the Iowa quarterback situation.

It seemed like I was the only person from Larchwood to Keokuk who felt that Jake Rudock should deserve to start over C.J. Beathard against Purdue on Saturday if Rudock is healthy enough to play.

Beathard is the overwhelming choice among fans after replacing an injured Rudock for the second half against Pittsburgh on Saturday and leading Iowa to a 24-20 come-from-behind victory on the road.

"I think if Jake is healthy enough to play, that he'll be the starting quarterback," said Long, who is arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of the Iowa program, finishing runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1985. "Everybody wants the backup quarterback. But the reality of the situation is they put in Beathard and he provided a spark and they won the football game.

"But Jake, to me, has not lost his job. You forget the first long throw he had against Pittsburgh. I mean, that was a great throw and it ended up as a weird interception. So you have to look at the film. And then he took them on a nice drive for a touchdown against Pittsburgh. So I do believe that he has not lost his job. I believe that he has earned the right, enough to at least get another starting assignment, whenever that is."

The throw that Long referred to was a long pass from Rudock in the first quarter that senior receiver Damond Powell bobbled and had bounce off his leg and into the arms of Pittsburgh defensive back Lafayette Pitts for an interception.

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Iowa football coach says his regular starter has a soft tissue issue.

Powell redeemed himself by making a spectacular one-handed catch on a similar deep route in the third quarter, but Beathard was the beneficiary this time, with 62 of his 98 passing yards coming on that play.

Flip those catches around against Pittsburgh and Rudock's stat line, which included him completing 5-of-10 passes for 80 yards and one touchdown, suddenly looks much better.

The argument to start a healthy Rudock over Beathard gains credibility with Long helping to state the case. Long has dealt with the quarterback position from about every possible angle as a former college and NFL player, as a former college head coach and as a former offensive coordinator.

It might not even be an issue if Rudock, who has started the last 17 games in a row, doesn't heal in time to play Saturday.

The real issue, as of right now, is whether Beathard has done enough to supplant Rudock as the starter. Long feels the answer is no.

"It's hard because you feel good about a guy coming out of camp," Long said of Rudock. "You feel good about a guy from last year, an eight-game-winning quarterback. It's a hard, hard decision to make because you always lean towards giving him the benefit of a doubt when things are rough."

Beathard certainly helped his cause by completing 7-of-8 passes against Pittsburgh. The sophomore from Franklin, Tenn., also showed off his powerful right arm on the completion to Powell.

It's obvious that Iowa has two capable quarterbacks who play the position differently.

Rudock takes fewer risks and he won't wow anybody with his arm strength or with his running ability. But the junior from West, Fla., also is completing 66.9 percent of his passes this season, and he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes last season while leading Iowa to an 8-5 record and to the Outback Bowl.

At this time last year, Rudock was considered a major part of the cure to what had been ailing the Iowa football team.

Fans adored him for his moxie and for his intelligence but mostly because Iowa was in the process of winning eight games with Rudock behind center, doubling its win total from the disastrous 4-8 campaign of 2012.

The media also embraced Rudock as being the thinking man's quarterback, somebody who always was prepared and who had a knack for winning.

But how quickly we all forget.

Rudock, in the eyes of many fans, has gone from being a key piece to Iowa's resurgence last season to now deserving to be benched after just four games this season. The lack of support for him on social media has been widespread.

Beathard, on the other hand, becomes more popular with each pass he throws. It's like the old saying goes about the No. 2 quarterback being the most popular person on campus.

Beathard played in one series in the first three games, and he played sparingly last season as Rudock's backup.

But that still hasn't stopped Beathard's popularity from soaring, helped now by social media and by the vast television market spreading the word.

"I think it's an old trend that's been magnified with the attention that's happening," said Long, who in addition to recently being named the new CEO of the Iowa Sports Foundation, also works for the Big Ten Network as a game and studio analyst. "Back in the day, you barely got on TV for two games. I think with the media attention and the Internet and how much you can visualize teams, more and more fans are involved now."

As for knowing when to make a quarterback switch, Long called it a gut feeling.

And for now, his gut is sticking with a healthy Rudock, and deservedly so.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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