Is C.J. Beathard ready to be Hawkeyes' QB starter?
IOWA CITY, Ia. – There's a piece of the conversation that's gotten lost amid Iowa's offseason quarterback shuffle.
Now that C.J. Beathard is the man (presumably for the next two years if he stays happy and healthy), what level of production can he provide?
Whether you're in Beathard's camp or Jake Rudock's or just a passionate Hawkeye fan regardless, that's the question you really want answered.
Though he's only started once in his college career, there are two-plus games of Beathard being thrust into the No. 1 role — the second-half comeback at Pittsburgh, the entire win at Purdue and a majority of the TaxSlayer Bowl — that can be analyzed.
What does the video say? Let's break it down.
Numbers and trends
Before we get into each game, there are a few over-arching themes and numbers worth mentioning:
•Rudock, who is being kept outside the program as he explores transfer options for his final season, averaged 7.06 yards per pass attempt last season. Beathard averaged 7.01.
•Beathard took 172 snaps in the three aforementioned games, and the run/pass ratio was practically a push. He attempted 68 passes, rushed 16 times for 131 yards and was sacked only twice (more on that later). Scrambling is a big part of his game.
•Of the 32 passing calls on 75 first-down plays, Beathard completed 10-of-21 throws for 211 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also scrambled seven times (all for positive gains), was sacked once and drew three defensive pass-interference penalties.
Beathard vs. Pitt
Beathard's mystique grew in the second half on Sept. 20, when he took over after Rudock was injured with Iowa down 17-7. Beathard's big arm was quickly unleashed.
On his fourth snap, Beathard found Damond Powell down the middle for 62 yards — the ball traveled 52 yards in the air. Iowa scored a touchdown on that drive, a field goal on the next and a touchdown on the next.
But other than the big throw to Powell, Beathard was deployed mostly as a game manager. His play-call diet was heavy on bread-and-butter run calls.
Beathard showed a clutch gene on third-and-7 with Iowa down 20-17. He pump-faked and released a pass off his back foot as he was hit, hitting well-covered Ray Hamilton for a 10-yard gain. That helped set up the go-ahead touchdown run by Mark Weisman, and it all added up to a 24-20 come-from-behind victory.
With Rudock still out the following week at Purdue, Beathard would get his first career start.
Beathard vs. Purdue
The most interesting batch of Beathard data — 89 snaps in a start-to-finish Big Ten Conference road game — revealed a lot.
Early, he looked like a backup. He was stiff in the pocket and took two sacks. He made a bad read that resulted in Frankie Williams' 39-yard, pick-six interception. He opened 3-for-9 for 12 yards — though, to be fair, Iowa receivers dropped seven passes in the game.
Things changed when Beathard's legs got into the game with Iowa trailing 10-0. And the rest of his performance followed.
A designed quarterback draw gained 15 yards on second-and-10 and keyed Iowa's first touchdown drive.
Suddenly, Beathard's throws were more on point, and he had more time to throw. A little luck didn't hurt, either, when Jonathan Parker caught a tipped pass and went for 34 yards on a drive that set up the tying field goal. (It should've been a go-ahead touchdown, but Jacob Hillyer dropped a certain TD in the end zone.)
This game, though, underlined a slice of Beathard's resiliency. The first play after being clocked by Williams on a blitz as he released an incomplete pass, he zinged a 27-yard dart to Tevaun Smith that set up a go-ahead 23-yard TD pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley.
Beathard's numbers in Iowa's 24-10 win: 17-for-37* for 245 yards (*again, don't forget the seven drops), some mistakes (the pick-six included) and a 1-0 record as starter.
Beathard vs. Tennessee
It's hard to grade a blowout bowl loss in which your team rotates quarterbacks throughout. Beathard's best plays came when the Volunteers were using backups, but there's still information to be gained.
There were positives: A 31-yard TD pass to Hamilton that was a perfect back-shoulder throw between two defenders; impressive open-field speed on a late 33-yard scramble.
There were negatives: A lost fumble on a center exchange; a red-zone interception in which he failed to identify lurking safety LaDarrell McNeil in the end zone.
In Beathard's only action in which the outcome was not in doubt, he flashed his strongest attributes — a 60-yards-in-the-air bomb to Smith that drew a defensive pass interference flag and an improvised scramble-pass to Jordan Canzeri for a third-down conversion.
Ultimately, Beathard did enough (13-of-23, 145 yards passing and another 82 running) in the 45-28 loss to persuade coach Kirk Ferentz to announce six days later that he was the new No. 1, ahead of Rudock, entering spring practice.
Beathard has been exposed to multiple circumstances in his two-plus games as "the guy" — playing from behind, playing from ahead, vs. an aggressive (Tennessee) defense.
The slow start at Purdue was his low point, when the gameplan — with Rudock gimpy and no other experienced QB option available — kept him inside the tackles.
Overall, he showed confidence in his ability to make plays with his legs and arm. He missed a few throws; he made some eye-opening throws.
When scrambling became a staple option for Beathard, the pass rush subsided and he was at his best. However, as the Tennessee game showed, that style also exposes Beathard's 6-foot-2, 209-pound frame to open-field licks.
The question now is whether we'll see wide-open Beathard this fall, with no proven backup on the sidelines. It's something Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis are surely thinking about already. The answer will begin to emerge on Sept. 5 against Illinois State.