C.J. Beathard's true dawn as Iowa QB finally nears

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – C.J. Beathard’s journey to becoming Iowa’s full-time, undisputed quarterback in a real game is almost complete. Just a few more days.

The fourth-year Hawkeye junior can hardly believe it’s happening. If you were a Hawkeye fan who predicted this day would come, especially after transfer rumors swirled around him in December and he was led away from the Iowa locker room by uniformed officers following the TaxSlayer Bowl, hopefully you bought a lottery ticket, too.

But at 11 a.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium against Illinois State, Beathard will indeed take the Hawkeyes' first snap. On hand to watch him will be most of his family — Mom, Dad, grandparents, brothers. Even his uncle, Kurt, the offensive coordinator for Iowa’s season-opening opponent, will be there, along with 60,000 others. Tens of thousands more will tune into the Big Ten Network telecast.

No pressure, right? No. Really. No pressure.

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard calls a play during Kids Day on Aug. 15.

“Honestly, I don’t really feel any pressure. I just feel excited more than anything,” Beathard said Tuesday. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for four years, and it’s finally here.”

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Beathard was named Iowa’s starting quarterback six days after the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl, which led starter Jake Rudock to seek transfer options. And on Thursday night, Rudock more than likely will take snaps for Michigan in Jim Harbaugh’s coaching debut in a game at Utah.

Beathard has received so much attention in the past eight months that it’s easy to forget he’s started one career game at Iowa — a 24-10 win over Purdue that wasn't at Kinnick Stadium. In fact, only 14 of his 92 pass attempts a year ago came in home games.

Saturday will be a new experience for Beathard in so many ways.

“He's doing a wonderful job,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz, whose Jan. 8 depth-chart release changed the direction of Hawkeye football. “All that being said, I think we forget how inexperienced he is. He's started one game since he's been here. But he's a fourth-year player, and he knows what's going on. He's got good skills and tools, and if he hadn't grown the way we talked about, we wouldn't have made that decision.”

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Beathard actually felt more pressure entering the 45-28 loss to Tennessee in Jacksonville, Fla., when he became a co-No. 1 with Rudock and went into the game with the plan to share snaps. Beathard wound up getting 49 to Rudock's 19..

“It’s definitely different (now),” Beathard said. “You went into that game knowing that if you score, you’ll go back in. If you don’t, you’re out. It was just kind of up and down. Back and forth. It was kind of hard to get into a rhythm, I guess.”

Since being named the starter, Beathard has taken ownership of the Hawkeyes. He’s not afraid to call them “his team,” and teammates have raved about his in-house leadership.

And though most of the last two years of Hawkeye film shows Rudock at the helm, Illinois State coach Brock Spack is working hard to get to know Beathard’s tendencies.

“He brings an added dimension. He runs pretty well. He has a live arm — a very live arm,” Spack said Tuesday. “I like him a lot. I wish I didn’t like him.

“He’ll be really good for the Hawks’ offense. He’s going to be dynamite.”

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So what should we expect from Beathard? For starters, it’s safe to assume he 6-foot-2, 209-pound native of Franklin, Tenn., will run more than he has shown in three open practices while wearing a red no-contact jersey, where even the touch of a fingertip counts as a sack.

Beathard is ready for the chance to show what he can do — really ready.

“It’s the first time you actually get to go out and get tackled, get hit,” Beathard said. “(In scrimmages), a play you think you can make and break free, they’re calling you down. Sometimes you get mad (and think), ‘C’mon, he wasn’t going to tackle me there.’ Now, you get to see that stuff.”

Beathard is the only junior among Iowa’s captains for Saturday’s game. It’s his team. And it’s almost showtime.

He’s doing a good job keeping any nerves under wraps, and his mission is clear.

“Make throws, make plays, execute the gameplan, get into the right checks,” Beathard said. “Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win the game.”