Brown: One bad practice shows how much Beathard's grown

Rick Brown
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard grows by the game.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz just can't let it go. It shares space in his brain with a lifetime of Xs and Os.

"It's burnt in my memory bank there a little bit," the Iowa football coach acknowledged Tuesday.

The culprit? One poor practice by quarterback C.J. Beathard two days before last season's game at Pittsburgh.

"You can't go out and have a bad practice like he did," Ferentz said. "Maybe it wasn't that bad. But it was bad in my mind, for what you want on a Thursday."

Two days later, Beathard came off the bench at halftime in relief of an injured Jake Rudock and helped turn a 17-7 deficit into a 24-20 victory at Heinz Field.

"He played a lot better than he did on Thursday," Ferentz said.

I'm betting that Beathard has a better practice this Thursday, two days before Pittsburgh comes to Kinnick Stadium. Beathard's growth in two starts — and victories — this season shows the consistent focus that was missing that Thursday last September.

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"I think that's really the story, his grasp of what it's like to be a starting quarterback of a major school," Ferentz said. "I think he's really taken that responsibility to heart."

This is a more mature, consistent and experienced quarterback than the one who rallied his team against the Panthers a year ago.

"He's a year older and wiser, and that's definitely showing," senior center Austin Blythe said.

Beathard has completed 30 of 49 passes this season, good for 426 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. On Monday, he became the first Iowa quarterback to be named Big Ten player of the week since James Vandenberg in 2011.

Beathard's presence in the huddle shows the respect his teammates have for him.

"When the quarterback is in the huddle, he's the commander," Blythe said. "All eyes are on him. Everyone is quiet, listening to him for direction."

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We got a sample size of Beathard the Good at Heinz Field last season.

"I knew I could do it at this level," Beathard said. "That's why I came here."

Beathard made his first career start the next week in a 24-10 victory at Purdue, but Rudock started the rest of the season. You've got to think Beathard's bad practice was an image that Ferentz couldn't shake.

"I guess I'm settled down a little bit because I am the guy now," Beathard said. "Last year, it was in and out during certain times of the season. But I'm excited for this game this week."

Pittsburgh will be a step up in competition, and Beathard will see a blitz package he hasn't seen in the first two games. Another chance to grow.

The Panthers have Iowa's full attention now. But let's go back to one pivotal series last week to show the growth and maturity of Beathard.

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The game was tied 17-all as Iowa started its first possession of the fourth quarter. Facing a third-and-21 from its own 6, you figured a draw or screen pass would be called, right? Offensive coordinator Greg Davis called for a vertical pass play.

"Like coach Davis was telling me, if we catch them with their pants down, we're going to take a shot," Beathard said.

Had the Cyclones gone to a prevent defense, Beathard would have checked down to another play. They didn't, and he threw a perfect strike to wide receiver Matt VandeBerg for a 46-yard gain that turned field position and gave Iowa the momentum to later win the game.

A play that Ferentz will remember for a long time. Maybe as long as a bad practice.

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