Brown: Iowa's good play, greater grit make room for belief

Rick Brown
Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard (16) talks with his offensive line during the first half of the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It was the fourth quarter, and Iowa was 10 yards from putting Saturday's game away. Before the second-down snap, Coach Kirk Ferentz wanted a timeout.

He signaled for it, then ran onto the field and tried to get the attention of the officials. Or his quarterback, C.J. Beathard.

"He ignores me all the time," Ferentz said. "Just like my wife."

The ball was snapped, Beathard threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle and Ferentz was issued a sideline warning. The head coach didn't think the play had been communicated properly.

Turns out, Beathard knew exactly what offensive coordinator Greg Davis wanted.

"He was two steps ahead of us," Ferentz said.

That excuse-me touchdown pass, followed by Desmond King's school record-tying eighth interception of the season, gave the 10th-ranked Hawkeyes the cushion they needed in a 35-27 victory over Indiana on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Iowa is now 9-0, joining the 2009 team for the best start in school history.

“It’s significant, because we haven’t lost,” Ferentz said.

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The Hawkeyes also moved a step closer to a Big Ten West Division crown. Two victories in the final three games will clinch a trip to Indianapolis on Dec. 5.

Yes, the national pundits will take more shots at the Hawkeyes heading into next week’s game with Minnesota. Iowa’s position in the National College Playoff ranking — No. 9 last week — will be scrutinized. Again.

Not that it matters.

"If we win out, there's nothing they can do about it," King said.

Ferentz doesn't care, either.

“We’re not worried about a committee,” Ferentz said. “We’re just worried about the next game.”

Does the coach laugh at the cynics?

"It wouldn’t be kind if I said I laugh," Ferentz said. "I'm entertained by some things every now and then. But I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it, quite frankly. That’s the reason I think we've been able to get to 9-0. The guys have done a great job of staying focused on what's in front of us. That’s really all you can control."

Status report: 9-0 mark salves Beathard's mounting pain

That one-game-at-a-time mentality has worked on nine occasions. Why stop now? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And to Ferentz, the past nine games have been downright gorgeous.

In Beathard, Iowa has a quarterback who is tough as nails. If you didn’t admire his grit and toughness before Saturday, you should now.

Playing with a bad groin and sore hip that has limited his mobility, the junior still made the plays he had to make to win. He’s now 10-0 as a starter.

Beathard risked life and limb on a somersault 7-yard touchdown run with 17 seconds remaining in the first half. When Davis called a quarterback draw, Beathard was surprised. And delighted.

And there was Beathard’s scramble and 12-yard third-and-11 hookup with Matt VandeBerg on a touchdown drive that gave Iowa a 28-20 lead in the final quarter.

And there was his rollout keeper to the left for a first down that put this game away for good in the final 90 seconds.

Davis (in the press box) and offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Brian Ferentz (down on the field) debated calling that play. The coaches weren't as sure as Beathard was that it would work.

They gave it a go. Game over.

“They said, 'Do you think you can get out there?’” Beathard said. “I said, 'I can get the first down.'”

And Iowa is still standing. Undefeated. Minnesota and Purdue at home, then at Nebraska. One victory from the fifth double-digit win total under Ferentz, on a journey that started this summer.

"We made it a big priority to come together as a team," Beathard said. "We wanted to change the culture of the program. I think we've done that. But we're not stopping here. We want to keep going."

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