Who starts at quarterback? Let the Iowa debate begin

Rick Brown
Iowa's C.J. Beathard made his first career start at Purdue Saturday

The visitor's post-game interview room at Purdue is cozy. But there was still an elephant in that room Saturday afternoon.

Who will be Iowa's starting quarterback Oct.11 against Indiana? Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked that several times after Saturday's 24-10 victory in West Lafayette, and his answer was the same:

"We have two good quarterbacks."

So let the debate heading into this bye week begin. C.J. Beathard made his first career start against the Boilermakers. Jake Rudock, who had started the previous 17 games, was sidelined with a hip pointer. Beathard entered the game as the fan favorite after leading the Hawkeyes to a second-half rally at Pittsburgh.

Beathard's outing was more positive than negative. He showed resilience, rallying from an early pick-six.

"That's really a positive, when you hit some turbulence and bounce back from it," Ferentz said.

Beathard got better as the game went on. But that won't be enough, to my way of thinking, to unseat Rudock as the starter against Indiana.

The bye week comes at a perfect time for Rudock to heal, and Ferentz expects him to be 100 percent by the next kickoff. I asked Ferentz last week if he had a set policy on a player not losing a starting job to injury.

"There is no set rule," he said.

So we'll use this Ferentz rule of thumb instead: Rudock, a junior, is 11-6 as a starter. Beathard, a sophomore, is 1-0.

Beathard completed 17-of-37 passes for 245 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, in his first college start. Rudock made his first college start in last season's opener against Northern Illinois. He also attempted 37 passes, completing 21 for 256 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Beathard had that pick-six early in the game. Rudock got intercepted late in the game, setting up Northern Illinois' winning field goal. Beathard completed four passes for gains of 23 yards or more. Rudock completed three passes of 24 yards or more.

They have different skill sets, winning qualities and diverse personalities. And maybe that change of pace can spark the offense in the future.

No matter who starts, both Rudock and Beathard deserve time behind center the rest of the season. That is the challenge facing Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis: making that two-quarterback dynamic work.

But as challenging as that sounds, it might not be the biggest hurdle on the horizon. The offense continues to struggle moving the ball consistently on the ground. Iowa ranks 86th nationally in rushing offense at 140.2 yards a game.

The Hawkeyes haven't had a 100-yard rusher in a game this season. Since Ferentz became head coach in 1999, Iowa has never gone an entire season without someone cracking the 100-yard mark in at least one game.

As a team, the 175 yards Saturday against Purdue was a season high. Last season's team had at least 200 yards rushing in each of its first five games, and six times overall.

Iowa has exhibited a better downfield punch with the passing game the past two games, and that has helped open up the running game a little. The Hawkeyes have also worn down the last two opponents physically, giving the run game an extra punch.

But there's work to be done there. The bye week gives Iowa a chance to get healthy, and the coaching staff a chance to spend most of its time on Iowa, not the opponent. And it gives the coaches a chance to see how this two-quarterback system can work moving forward.

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