Iowa's C.J. Beathard being told to take fewer chances

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – One of the most interesting nuggets to come out of Saturday's Kids Day at Kinnick Stadium was C.J. Beathard saying he had only been intercepted once in 12 football practices this August.

Asked to verify that statistic's accuracy, the Franklin, Tenn., native and Hawkeye starting quarterback replied politely: "Yes, sir."

Talk has abounded since January that Beathard, a 6-foot-2, 209-pound laser-thrower would be a stark alternative from the low-risk, conservative starter of the past two seasons. In 12 starts in 2014, Jake Rudock posted a ratio of 16 touchdowns to five interceptions.

But as the Sept. 5 season opener approaches, Beathard made clear that one of his top fall-camp focuses is taking fewer chances. Beathard has completed 51.3 percent of his 119 career attempts as Iowa's quarterback, with six touchdowns and four interceptions. He committed two turnovers in 49 snaps in the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Tennessee.

"That's one thing (offensive coordinator Greg) Davis keeps talking to us quarterbacks about," Beathard said. "When you limit those turnovers, you give yourselves a chance to win the game."

Yet could tightening the leash around Beathard limit the upside his strong arm provides?

Senior wide receiver Tevaun Smith, who, like Beathard, in in his fourth year in the Hawkeye program, said he hasn't seen the quarterback get overly conservative.

"He's been doing his thing, making explosive plays for us," Smith said Saturday after Beathard unofficially completed 10 of 24 passes in Saturday's 11-on-11 action for 106 yards with zero interceptions. "He's taken that leadership role, and I know he's pushing himself and he has a lot of expectations for himself. It's going to be exciting to see him."

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has addressed turnover margin as a high priority this offseason. He was especially perturbed in the offseason about the four first-half turnovers in last year's regular-season-ending 37-34 loss to Nebraska.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker said on last week's Big Ten Network Iowa-focused show that his defenders are being taught to "scoop and score" with every loose ball in practice — even incomplete passes — to emphasize the importance of creating more turnovers.

In Saturday's scrimmage, Sean Draper (against Tyler Wiegers) and Isaiah Kramme (against Drew Cook) each recorded pick-six interceptions.

The Hawkeyes ranked 102nd out of 125 FBS teams in 2014 in turnover margin. Beathard is intent on doing his part to improve that ranking, even when the offense is sputtering like it did in the team's final open practice before the Sept. 5 opener against Illinois State.

"It's frustrating (to struggle), but as long as you're not turning over the ball, you give yourselves a chance to win the game," Beathard said. "When you have a defense like we have on the other side, it's very good to see. Hopefully they'll do that to other offenses as well."