IOWA CITY, Ia. – The excitement generated by Iowa's second-half offense Saturday against Wisconsin carried more questions — and some answers — into Tuesday's media availabilities at the Hawkeye football complex.
Here are five issues that Hawkeye fans can chew on with their Thanksgiving turkey entering Friday's regular-season finale against Nebraska (11 a.m., ABC).
Is this downfield passing attack here to stay?
The Hawkeyes gained 412 yards Saturday, the most Wisconsin had allowed all season.
Jake Rudock completed 10 of his final 14 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. That's 15.1 yards per attempt. Tevaun Smith, Jordan Canzeri, Matt VandeBerg, Jake Duzey and Kevonte Martin-Manley had receptions of 20-plus yards in the second half.
But let's be clear: Iowa lost the game 26-24, and likely wouldn't have been whipping the ball around the field if it wasn't trailing 19-3. Coach Kirk Ferentz said Wisconsin's stout rushing defense nudged Iowa into its wide-open approach.
"Every game takes a life of its own, that's the biggest thing," Rudock said. "If we need to throw, we need to throw. If we need to run, we need to run."
In other words: Don't expect a steady diet of downfield passes. But, at least there are flashes that this team can throw more than 5-yard outs on third-and-8.
"We had some good play calls that attacked it at the right time," Rudock said.
The Iowa coach praised the play of Jake Rudock and his QB depth.
Is Rudock a better quarterback when he's behind?
The evidence says yes. He woke up a dormant offense just in time with two late touchdowns to rally Iowa past Ball State in Week 2. And don't forget the rally from a 21-7 deficit to beat Michigan last season.
Yet is he taking too long to get going at times? Even though he furiously put points on the board late against Maryland and Wisconsin, both resulted in Big Ten losses.
"He's really done a pretty good job of doing whatever we ask him to do," Ferentz said. "Game circumstances certainly alter the way you play."
What about C.J. Beathard?
Clamoring for the backup QB is trendy when things are sputtering. When Iowa trailed Wisconsin in the second half, even ABC announcer Chris Spielman called for Beathard to revive a "stale" offense.
Ferentz was asked Tuesday about the continuing Rudock-Beathard dynamic.
"To me, we have two good players there," Ferentz said. "We still think C.J. is a heck of a football player, great guy."
As for next year …
"Time will tell," Ferentz said. "Right now, I'm just worried about Friday. It's nice to know we got two good quarterbacks.
What about the latest clock-management issue?
Down 16-3 as halftime approached, Iowa stood around as 20 seconds ticked off before expending its final timeout, with 8 seconds left, as a fourth-and-2 from its own 48 loomed. Those 20 seconds would have been valuable, considering Rudock hit Tevaun Smith for 17 yards to Wisconsin's 35 on the next play, but there wasn't enough time left spike the ball.
Ferentz explained Tuesday that he didn't want to risk giving Wisconsin the ball back with a chance to kick a field goal before halftime.
"It's an easy answer there," Ferentz said. "If we knew we were going to convert on fourth, we would have done it a lot sooner."
Rudock said that type of decision is standard behind the 50-yard line.
Is Rudock playing at his highest level now?
Rudock redirected questions, as you might expect, about whether he is performing up to his expectations.
"That's for a lot of other people to decide," said Rudock, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total offense and passing efficiency. "The only opinions that really matter on that are my teammates and my coaches."
His coach spent much of his 21-minute news conference Tuesday heaping praise on the junior pre-medicine major for standing up to the pressure of being a Division I quarterback.
"That's something you don't really know until a guy gets out there and starts getting banged around physically and all the mental abuse that quarterbacks take," Ferentz said. "It's a lightning-rod position.
"It's not an easy job, at least the way we play. It's really a tough job. Some guys are better than others. He's really doing a nice job."