Big Ten defenses gear up to stop Iowa's Beathard
CHICAGO — You can only be a revelation once.
That’s what Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard will have to contend with in his senior season, and opposing Big Ten Conference coaches and players are already plotting against him.
Last year, Beathard was unknown to most of the country, a fourth-year junior handed the reins to the Hawkeyes offense after making just one start. He had no tendencies, no minuscule flaws that Big Ten teams could tease out and exploit by watching game film.
“The year before, we played Jake Rudock,” Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton said Tuesday, referring to the Iowa quarterback who transferred to Michigan when Beathard took his starting spot. “We knew from watching (Iowa’s first four) games that (Beathard) was a good quarterback, and that was just a chance for us to see for ourselves. He played big that game, and they were able to come out with a victory.”
That was in the Big Ten opener, a 10-6 victory in Madison in which Beathard threw for a mere 77 yards and a single touchdown. He also had a 16-yard gain running, though, and left Shelton with some vital knowledge that he’ll use in the rematch Oct. 22 in Iowa City.
“You try your best to contain him inside and he’ll break a run here and there and that’s what kind of opens up so much for the offense,” Shelton said. “They have a strong running game, so he can make all the passes, and if you get too conservative, he’ll take off on you and pick up some yards. C.J is a fun quarterback to play against, and I look forward to playing against him again this year.”
Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot found the experience to be lacking the fun. He sacked Beathard once in a 29-20 loss the week after the Wisconsin game, but he also saw the Hawkeye quarterback slip through his grasp twice while passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
“It makes you a little mad, because when you get close he can escape the pocket at any second if someone gets out of their gap,” Smoot said at the Big Ten football media days gathering. “You’ve still got to chase him; you’ve still got to run him down either way.”
It’s that elusiveness and ability to throw accurately on the run that makes Beathard, a second-team all-Big Ten pick a year ago, so maddening to handle, opponents say. And that’s despite the fact that he played injured in the final 12 games of Iowa’s 12-2 season, nursing a groin injury and eventually having off-season hernia surgery.
Beathard says he’s 100 percent healthy, heading into the season, and he's hoping to run some more. That could be bad news for defenses, but it won’t come as a surprise this time.
The update on C.J. Beathard's health:
More from Big Ten Media Days:
- Leistikow: Josey Jewell is the embodiment of a Hawkeye
- What opposing defenses think of C.J. Beathard
- Barta working on 'retirement' contract for Kirk Ferentz
- Takeaways from Iowa's session at Big Ten Media Days
- Chad Leistikow explains Iowa's life as the hunted team in the West
- What we learned about Iowa's Big Ten opponents
- Jim Harbaugh's quirks a good thing for buttoned-down Big Ten
- Media Days takeaways from Monday's sessions
- Depth chart breakdown: What we learned about Iowa
- Drake product Chris Ash tackles Rutgers rebuild
Beathard said Tuesday he didn’t notice teams altering game plans to try to contain him as last season wore on and more game film became available.
“I think they started game-planning on just what we were doing that was successful — not necessarily me; not necessarily anybody in particular,” he said. “Some teams started loading the box (to stop the running game), and then we took advantage of it in some other ways. … If they’re going to try to stop one thing, they’re leaving another thing vulnerable, and it’s just a matter of taking advantage of that.”
Beathard passed for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns against only five interceptions. He completed an impressive 62 percent of his throws. He also ran for 237 yards and six touchdowns.
“He knows where to go with it — that’s the most important thing — he is really good, in terms of getting the ball out and ball placement,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. “And he’s a tough guy; he’s a great leader.”
Iowa quarterback Chuck Long said Beathard presents defensive coordinators with their most vexing problem.
“He can move out of the pocket and extend plays, especially on third down — those are the dangerous guys,” Long said.
“He’s one of the most accurate passers I’ve seen in college football on the run. And he keeps his eyes down the field. A lot of quarterbacks, when they break the pocket, just want to run the ball. He looks to throw first, which makes him even more dangerous, because then you’ve got to stay in your coverage. And if you stay in your coverage and there’s nobody there, then he can make that run and get a lot of yardage off of it.”
Beathard enters this season with plenty of acclaim. He is considered by many to be the best NFL Draft prospect among senior quarterbacks. He is bound to encounter more defenses designed to do what Michigan State’s did in the Big Ten championship game in December — make him one-dimensional.
The Spartans sacked Beathard three times in that 16-13 victory, while he broke free for one 85-yard touchdown strike. That tradeoff was fine by them, linebacker Riley Bullough said Tuesday.
“You really know you can’t stop (Beathard) completely,” Bullough said. “He made some great plays that game. We just tried to limit him as best as we could, and I think, for the most part, we did do that.”