Brown: Stakes increase for Beathard, Hawkeyes
Iowa is averaging 37.8 points a game behind a quarterback, C.J. Beathard, who has given the offense a swagger.
“The goal as an offense is to score on every possession,” center Austin Blythe said. “First off, you’ve got to believe it. And then you have to go out and actually do it.”
Up next for the 4-0 Hawkeyes is Saturday’s Big Ten opener at No. 19 Wisconsin (3-1).
“We need to elevate our play to another level,” Blythe said. “We’ve been playing well these first four games, but we’ve made a lot of mistakes. We have to learn from those to be able to compete in this conference.”
Here are some things to keep an eye on as Iowa heads to Camp Randall Stadium for an 11 a.m. game that will be televised by ESPN.
Keeping drives alive
One reason Iowa’s offense has been so productive is an ability to convert on third down. The Hawkeyes have converted on 26 of 50 third-down situations so far. That 52 percent success rate, which ranks eighth nationally, is an improvement from 45 percent last season. Iowa has also converted on three of four fourth-down plays.
Here’s how they’ve converted on third down: seven keepers by Beathard; six passes to Matt VandeBerg; three passes to Tevaun Smith; three runs by LeShun Daniels; three runs by Jordan Canzeri; and a pass to Canzeri, a pass to Henry Krieger Coble, a pass to George Kittle and a run by Akrum Wadley.
VandeBerg’s third-down catches have been for seven, nine, 10, 11, 17 and 48 yards. Smith’s have been for 12, 14 and 15 yards.
Wisconsin’s first four opponents have converted on 17 of 54 third-down plays (31.5 percent).
On the road again
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is well-versed in opening Big Ten play on the road. The trip to Wisconsin will be the 13th time in Ferentz’s 17 seasons as head coach that the Hawkeyes have started league play away from Kinnick Stadium. It’s also the fourth time in five years.
Iowa has won the last two – at Purdue last season in Beathard’s first career start, 24-10, and in 2013 at Minnesota, 23-7.
Iowa is 7-9 in Big Ten openers under Ferentz. The Big Ten goes to nine league games in 2016. The Hawkeyes open on the road again next season, at Rutgers, and in 2017, at Michigan State.
Iowa will open league play at Kinnick Stadium in 2018 (Wisconsin) and 2019 (Rutgers).
Hey, aren’t you?
Jake Duzey. He’s back. And the timing couldn’t be better. Nothing like adding an experienced, senior tight end to the package heading into Big Ten play.
“To get him in the game (against North Texas) and have him play a little bit should be good for his confidence,” Ferentz said.
Duzey, who had 36 catches last season, suffered a patellar tendon tear in spring camp and had surgery April 27. With Duzey back, Iowa showed some three tight end formations against North Texas. That’s a formation that will likely be used with regularity against Big Ten foes.
“It’s great to have back out there,” Beathard said.
When you say Wisconsin
We’re a season removed from Melvin Gordon’s record-smashing 2014, when he set a Big Ten single-season rushing record. The Badgers’ ground game is a work in progress this season, but things are starting to move downhill.
Wisconsin rushed for a season-high 326 yards in 54 carries against Hawaii Saturday, after not cracking the 200-yard mark in any of its first three games. With Gordon’s heir apparent, Corey Clement, out four to six weeks with a sports hernia, someone else has to step up. Meet Taiwan Deal, who rushed for 147 yards against the Rainbow Warriors.
Iowa’s rushing defense is 12th nationally, giving up an average of 84 yards a game. But flip the coin and you’ll find Wisconsin 11th nationally in rush defense at 82.8 yards a game. Linebacker Joe Schobert has 9.5 tackles for a loss this season, which shares No. 1 nationally. That includes six sacks.
Translation: rushing yards might he hard to come by this week at Camp Randall.
Tevaun Smith has become Iowa’s big-play receiver.
“He’s really been practicing well,” Ferentz said. “There’s nothing better than experience. He’s a fourth-year guy, a true fourth-year player. He works hard, and has a great attitude.”
The senior enjoyed the first 100-yard receiving game of his career against North Texas. He had four grabs for 115 yards, including a career-long 81-yard touchdown catch. Eight of his 12 catches this season have been for at least 12 yards. Smith could be a difference maker at Wisconsin. Especially if the Badgers stuff Iowa’s running game.
“I trust him to make big plays,” Beathard said.