C.J. Beathard's legs give Greg Davis more playbook options
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Hard evidence hasn’t been on display during a few open practices since April, but clues have trickled from key voices in the Iowa football program that there will be schematic changes to the 2015 offense.
“We’ll do some things a little different than in the past,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said a month ago during the Big Ten Conference’s media gathering in Chicago. “The key is … trying to move toward the strengths of your team.”
The most obvious place to look for changes is at sports’ most visible position: quarterback. Even though Jake Rudock provided more mobility than most starting QBs in the 17-year Ferentz era (he rushed for 394 net yards and eight touchdowns in 25 games), new starter C.J. Beathard has an extra gear in his legs that expands the playbook for fourth-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
“I think he will naturally do some things with his legs that will be exciting,” Davis said.
Davis then offered this caveat:
“Don’t misinterpret what I said. We’re not all of a sudden going to run him 25 times in a ballgame. That’s not going to happen. But I think we’ll (run) more quarterback draws, things like that. And then I think he’ll naturally leave the pocket and do some things that will give us opportunities to stay on the field.”
Beathard uncorked runs of 17, 24 and 33 yards for first downs during the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl. He wound up with eight carries for 82 yards — 76 of them came after Tennessee led, 42-7. (The Big Ten Network tweeted that it was the highest single-game rushing total by an Iowa QB since 1975.)
Though Beathard has been encouraged to reduce risky plays by the coaching staff, he says he's not going to change his running mentality.
“I’m still going to continue to do things with my feet,” said Beathard, who averaged 5.8 yards a carry on 28 attempts last year. “It’s just a matter of (not) taking unnecessary hits.”
We haven’t seen much of Beathard-on-the-run since Jan. 2. Like all quarterbacks in Iowa practice, Beathard wears the red no-contact jersey — so as soon as a fingertip grazes his body, he’s ruled down. In open practices, Beathard has been under siege from senior defensive ends Drew Ott and Nate Meier whizzing past sophomore tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger.
One way Davis can help his inexperienced tackles is to put Beathard in the shotgun formation — allowing him to throw or make the decision to run more quickly. In other words, Beathard's legs might take some pressure off the guys trying to replace NFL draft picks Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal.
“Common sense would say shotgun’s a little bit easier,” Davis said, “but common sense would also tell you that since you’re not a spread team, that pretty much tells the other team you’re probably going to throw the ball. There has to be a mixture.”
The most rushing yards by a quarterback in the Ferentz era was in Iowa’s best season in the Ferentz era — Brad Banks with 423 yards in 2002. Beyond that, only Rudock in 2013 netted more than 200.
Beathard is Iowa’s best QB rushing threat in 13 years. How much will Davis turn him loose? We’ll begin to find out at 11 a.m. on Sept. 5 against Illinois State — when Beathard puts on the full-contact jersey.
IOWA STARTING QUARTERBACKS — RUSHING YARDAGE BY YEAR
The season net rushing totals for the Hawkeyes’ primary starting quarterback during Kirk Ferentz’s 16 years (remember, in college football, sack yardage counts against a QB’s rushing total):
2014: Jake Rudock (67 carries, 176 yards, 3 TDs)
2013: Jake Rudock (67 carries, 218 yards, 5 TDs)
2012: James Vandenberg (63 carries, 16 yards, 4 TDs)
2011: James Vandenberg (78 carries, 61 yards, 3 TDs)
2010: Ricky Stanzi (48 carries, -6 yards, 2 TDs)
2009: Ricky Stanzi (55 carries, -31 yards, 0 TDs)
2008: Ricky Stanzi (56 carries, 20 yards, 0 TDs)
2007: Jake Christensen (99 carries, 0 yards, 1 TD)
2006: Drew Tate (49 carries, 124 yards, 0 TDs)
2005: Drew Tate (44 carries, 41 yards, 1 TD)
2004: Drew Tate (89 carries, -76 yards, 2 TDs)
2003: Nathan Chandler (89 carries, 138 yards, 6 TDs)
2002: Brad Banks (81 carries, 423 yards, 5 TDs)
2001: Kyle McCann (58 carries, 78 yards, 3 TDs)
2000: Kyle McCann (56 carries, -23 yards, 1 TD)
1999: Scott Mullen (48 carries, 114 yards, 4 TDs)