Brown: Cloudy QB forecast, but we need some Sunshine

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – We got a sample serving of C.J. Beathard in the Steel City. Boy, it was a tasty dish.

So good, in fact, that many are clamoring for a full-course meal Saturday at Purdue in the Big Ten opener. The sophomore quarterback whet their appetites after he relieved injured junior Jake Rudock in the second half and rallied the Hawkeyes to a 24-20 victory at Pittsburgh.

One of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz's favorite terms is "clearly cloudy." That sums up the uncertainty surrounding the starting quarterback position. But there's no doubt who the fan favorite is.

"Everybody loves the No. 2 guy," Ferentz said. "And I do, too."

But who will be No. 2 this week? Rudock is listed the starter on the depth chart. Beathard moved to No. 1 Tuesday when Rudock watched practice from the sidelines. This has "game-time decision" written all over it.

Who should be No. 2? If Rudock is cleared to play, I am convinced that is who Ferentz will start. If he's not, Beathard is your guy, and true freshman Tyler Wiegers is one play away from throwing away his redshirt and taking snaps.

"That's a little different topic there now," Ferentz said.

To me, that is a much bigger concern than who starts. With departed quarterback Cody Sokol now throwing the ball all over the lot at Louisiana Tech and another, Nik Shimonek, at Texas Tech, things could get a little dicey under center Austin Blythe.

Even if Rudock is given the green light, I'd like to see Ferentz start Beathard at Purdue. Let's see if he responds to the pressure starting with the first snap. With a bye week coming, you can get Rudock completely healthy for the meat of the Big Ten schedule ahead.

And you'll also see if Beathard has what it takes as a starter. Some guys are better in relief. Some need more seasoning. We'll never know until we see it.

I don't see Ferentz throwing caution to the wind and doing that, given the fact that this is the Big Ten opener. And in the coach's mind, Rudock is still his No. 1 guy. Rudock has started the last 17 games since beating out Beathard and Sokol in fall camp last season. And I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's accomplished.

"He helped us win eight games last year, to turn it around from 4-8," Blythe said. "Obviously he's doing things right. He knows what he's doing, and he does them well. People should appreciate him, like we appreciate him in this building."

Perception is that Beathard clearly outplayed Rudock at Pitt. The numbers tell a different story. Iowa gained 5.81 yards per play with Rudock in there, compared to 5.90 under Beathard. Rudock's 50-yards-plus pass to Damond Powell bounced off the receiver's hands and was intercepted on Iowa's opening drive of the game. Powell made a one-handed snare of a Beathard pass for a 62-yard gain.

Rudock also completed a 44-yard pass to Matt VandeBerg. Beathard completed seven of eight passes, two with a blitz dead in his face. But one figure shows why Beathard has plenty of fan support: 17 second-half points, compared with seven in the first for Rudock.

Ferentz is predictable, but he throws an occasional curve. Jake Christensen was No. 1 on the depth chart all week for the second game of the 2008 season against Florida International. Ferentz started Ricky Stanzi instead. Stanzi started the next week against Iowa State, and Christensen came off the bench to bail him out.

Christensen started the following week, at Pittsburgh. Ferentz went to Stanzi in the first half, and he completed seven of 10 passes. Based on his "gut feeling," Ferentz went back to Christensen for the second half of a 21-20 loss.

Stanzi became the starter for good the following week against Northwestern. After losing his first two Big Ten starts, Stanzi engineered Iowa to victories in 15 of the next 16 games. Iowa hasn't had a quarterback competition like that until last fall, when Rudock won the job and has remained No. 1 ever since.

I don't know what the gameday forecast is for West Lafayette on Saturday, but I do know this: I want to see some Sunshine.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.