The 99-yard drive that showed C.J. Beathard was right choice for Iowa QB

Chad Leistikow
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard calls a play during the Hawkeyes' game against Illinois State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – "This is my team" sounds good from your starting quarterback. It's great to hear.

But Iowa observers found out Saturday that C.J. Beathard hasn't been offering lip service. The 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes are really Beathard's team. He speaks, they listen. He leads, they follow.

Iowa's second drive in the Beathard Era began on the 1-yard line – 99 yards away from paydirt after Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson sneakily pooched a fourth-down punt past the Hawkeye defense.

What Beathard told the guys in the huddle, well, he couldn't remember word-for-word. But junior receiver Matt VandeBerg recounted it like this after Iowa's 31-14 win in front of 59,450 at Kinnick Stadium: "He took command of that huddle and said, 'Hey, we're going go to go score. We're not going to dilly-dally, help field position. We're going to change it and turn this into a positive.' And we did just that."

Did he really say "dilly-dally"? Probably not, but the message is: Beathard oozes confidence and it's contagious.

"When his confidence is high, all of our confidence gets high," VandeBerg said. "We're all, 'He thinks we can do this. Let's go.'"

Status Report: Breaking down Beathard's debut and other key factors in Iowa win

Beathard called the 12-play, goal-line-to-goal-line march – six runs, six passes – a statement.

"This is what we practice and I was thinking, what bigger statement to make than go 99 yards on them right now?" Beathard said after completing 15 of 24 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown in his Kinnick Stadium debut as starter. He also rushed for 26 yards and two scores and wasn't sacked.

"Later in the game, I feel like they kind of gave up. Their defense was tired ... and we kind of had our way with them up front. For that 99-yard drive, that was a statement that started all that."

It spoke volumes, and not just about the outcome of a game against last year's FCS runner-up.

As Beathard confidently said in April in his first interview after being named the starter, he can "do more things" than two-year starter Jake Rudock – now at Michigan, where he became 0-1 as a starter Thursday.

The ball leaves Beathard's hand quicker; it just does. You can see it. Twice, he hit VandeBerg on well-timed, flare-out bubble screens – for 17 yards on Iowa's 99-yard drive, then for a 9-yard touchdown and a 24-0 lead in the third quarter.

Iowa's red-zone offense showed versatility with Beathard, too. With second-and-goal from the 6 on the game's opening march, Beathard squirted into the end zone on a QB draw. One of the reasons the quarterback competition was re-opened in December was because Rudock committed two red-zone turnovers and missed open receivers in a 37-34 regular-season-ending loss to Nebraska.

There's no looking back for Ferentz, who thinks he made the right call.

New Iowa tackles shine: 'We're not as bad as everyone thinks'

"It seems like things I've read, there's been an assumption that C.J. is a veteran player. He's got one start underneath his belt. This is his second career start," Ferentz said, reiterating that Beathard's leadership has grown since the Jan. 8 depth chart was revealed.

"And I think that showed through today's start. The leadership group voting him to be a game captain and then certainly his play (Saturday), I thought, was really impressive for a guy who hadn't played a lot."

In postgame interviews, Beathard's teammates were complimentary in how the junior got them into the right plays. That's why Iowa didn't throw deep Saturday – it wasn't there.

But the grind-it-out, steady offensive attack with key conversions from Beathard's arm and legs were. It's his team, and he's been embracing that for months. Now we can see it.

"I was confident going into the game," Beathard said. "Ever since the end of last season was over, we started preparing for this season. Not necessarily on Illinois State, but we've kind of been hungry as a team. We weren't going to settle for anything less than a win."