Harty: Beathard gives Ferentz, fans something to think about

Pat Harty
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard hands the ball off against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the third quarter Saturday at Heinz Field. The Hawkeyes won 24-20.

First we anointed it.

Then we buried it.

And now we're trying to make sense of it.

We're trying to figure out how and why the Iowa football team finally did things Saturday during a 24-20 victory over Pittsburgh on the road that it couldn't do the previous week in a 20-17 loss against Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium?

And by things, I mean stretching the field with some regularity, getting the ball to its most explosive skills player, Damond Powell, with more regularity and throwing caution to the wind by going for it on fourth down three times, and each time succeeding?

I would've included switching quarterbacks on the list, but Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told the sideline reporter for ESPNU after the game that sophomore C.J. Beathard was inserted for junior Jake Rudock to start the second half because Rudock was injured late in the second quarter.

"Jake got injured right at the end of the (first) half, so he couldn't go," Ferentz said. "You know, C.J. has done a good job.

"You just reminded me; we'll probably have a huge controversy in Iowa now to deal with. But we have great faith in both guys."

That statement is in reference to the black and gold fishbowl in which Ferentz has been immersed for nearly 16 years. The worst of it always resurfaces after a loss to the Cyclones.

Ferentz is used to the criticism, but he also is human.

It seemed like with his comments after Saturday's victory, which was Iowa's fifth in its last six road games by the way, that Ferentz was perturbed by the backlash that came from losing to Iowa State for the ninth time in 16 games. Ferentz ended his post-game radio show by sarcastically making reference to criticism that he doesn't display enough emotion during games.

He brought up the criticism after Iowa play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin said Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz, who is Kirk's oldest son, looked like a young, animated Kirk Ferentz while inspiring his players near the end of Saturday's game.

"He's animated. I guess I'm not," said Kirk Ferentz, who turned 59 in August. "I think I got criticized for that earlier this week. I'm working on that."

Actually, I don't recall that criticism being a part of the negativity from this past week.

Most of the criticism centered on offensive coordinator Greg Davis' reluctance to throw downfield to speedy receivers like Powell, Iowa's unexpected rushing woes and why Ferentz wouldn't give Beathard more of a chance to show his stuff on gameday. Beathard only played one series in the first three games, much to the dismay of some fans.

But with Saturday's come-from-behind victory in which Iowa trailed 17-7 at halftime, Ferentz addressed all those criticisms with positive results and his team showed why some prognosticators thought so highly of it entering the season.

And Ferentz did so without having to say that Rudock was benched Saturday.

Benched or not, Beathard was clearly more effective, completing 7-of-8 passes in the second half for 98 yards. But the kid with hair more suited for the Allman Brothers Band and a gunslinger's mentality in the pocket, also showed patience and poise, many times checking down to the underneath routes, which is Rudock's specialty.

"I'm just happy he played better today than he practiced Thursday. I'll just leave it at that, OK?" Ferentz said when asked about Beathard on his post-game radio show. "We had two pretty good days and then Thursday we had way too many mistakes.

"But to his credit, C.J. is a really tremendous young guy. And he came in today and played real poised."

Ferentz then singled out the 10-yard pass that Beathard completed on third-and-7 for a first down to tight end Ray Hamilton on Iowa's game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Beathard was under a heavy rush when he threw the ball.

"We've had great faith in him," Ferentz said. "I think we have the luxury of having two really good quarterbacks. And I'm just really proud of what he did today."

Ferentz said Rudock suffered an injury "up in the hip area" that prevented Rudock from running. Ferentz said he didn't think the injury was too bad.

So it'll be interesting how Ferentz and Davis handle a delicate situation.

As impressive as Beathard was against the previously undefeated Panthers, it still was just two quarters of football, whereas Rudock made his 17th consecutive start Saturday.

The decision to switch quarterbacks isn't as easy as some fans want to make it out to be. You're dealing with feelings and team chemistry and media scrutiny. Ferentz's comment about Beathard performing poorly in practice also points to perhaps Ferentz's biggest concern about making a switch in that Beathard isn't as consistent as he needs to be.

On the other hand, the decision to make Powell a focal point in a vertical passing attack would seem like a no-brainer, and yet it didn't start happening until Saturday.

It probably was just a coincidence that Powell's breakout performance came just four days after he was bombarded by the media with questions about whether he was frustrated with playing such a limited role. Powell only had three catches for 42 yards and one touchdown heading into Saturday's game.

He handled the interview with class and humility and was rewarded Saturday with a bigger role. Now you just hope for Powell's sake that it continues because he appears to be a big play waiting to happen.

He might've had college football's most spectacular catch for the day and its most incredible drop during Saturday's game. Powell made a one-handed catch in full stride that gained 62 yards in the third quarter.

His drop, which also came on a deep route, bounced off his leg in the first quarter and into the arms of Pittsburgh defensive back Lafayette Pitts.

That's when you wondered if this Iowa team was just unlucky or snake bit or whatever you wanted to call it.

You really started to question things when the Iowa defense performed like a sieve in the first half, allowing 100 rushing yards to James Conner in the first two quarters alone.

But the Hawkeyes stiffened on defense in the second half, rediscovered their power running game behind 240-pound Mark Weisman, who rushed for a season-high 88 yards on 22 bruising carries, and maybe found a reliable kicker as junior Marshall Koehn made a 52-yard field goal in the third quarter, to go along with all his touchbacks.

"I think we grew up a little bit in the second half," Ferentz said.

And now it's on to the Big Ten schedule, beginning with a very winnable game at lowly Purdue on Saturday and a chance for Iowa to be 4-1 overall.

It just shows that there is life after a loss to Iowa State no matter how hopeless it might seem.

When will we ever learn?

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or