Beathard can be special, but future bright for other QBs

Chad Leistikow
C.J. Beathard won his first 13 starts as the Hawkeyes' quarterback before losing 16-13 in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State.

LOS ANGELES — When Greg Davis speaks of greatness, he is bringing 37 years of college football coaching context to the conversation.

So when the 64-year-old Iowa offensive coordinator raves about C.J. Beathard, who is 13-1 as the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback, it’s worth a listen.

“C.J. has a chance to be really special. Really special,” said Davis, who engineered Texas’ offense for 13 seasons and won the 2005 national championship at the Rose Bowl — the site of Friday’s game between Iowa (12-1) and Stanford (11-2). “And when you say that, I'm talking about Gary Kubiak to Kevin Murray to Colt McCoy, Chris Simms, Major Applewhite.

“I'm talking about he has a chance, because he has all the things that you can't coach, in that he's got a really quick arm that can extend plays. He's smart. He's tough. And then he has a passion that he wants to always get us in a better play.”

Davis went on about the 6-foot-2, 209-pound native of Franklin, Tenn. — saying that there could be a big jump in Beathard’s senior year.

Beathard has already turned heads during his first year as a starter, assembling 2,570 passing yards, another 270 rushing (the highest for an Iowa quarterback since Brad Banks in 2002) and 21 total touchdowns against four interceptions. He was one of three finalists for the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football, given to the Big Ten MVP.

“What I think you'll see when we start next year is a much more confident quarterback,” Davis said. “And even though he plays with a lot of confidence now, I think he's going to be really special.”

Beathard’s decision-making has been excellent this season, with his string of 155 consecutive passes without an interception ending on a fluke play in the Big Ten Conference title game against Michigan State. But he would tell you that's where he’s made the most growth, in pre-snap reads at the line of scrimmage.

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A lot of Beathard’s best decisions are handing the football off to a running back when he sees a mismatch. He checked into Jordan Canzeri’s game-changing 75-yard touchdown run against Illinois.

“As a quarterback it's all about seeing things,” Beathard said. “It's more of a mental game than it is a physical game. As long as you can see things, coverages before the snap and then process them during the snap as you're dropping back, that's a big part of it.”

It’s exciting to think about a healthier Beathard (he’s been hobbled by a groin injury for months) in 2016. But the future of all four of Iowa’s quarterbacks was the hot topic of Sunday morning’s media availability with Davis and five offensive players.

Davis said the best thing that could have happened to redshirt freshman backup quarterback Tyler Wiegers was Beathard being limited or out of practice for about three consecutive weeks in October.

“So Tyler took all the first-team reps and most of the second-team reps,” Davis said. “And you could see his growth as the season was going on, even though he wasn't playing. But you could see it during the week, just the confidence and the checking and changing things.

“So it's been a really good year for him from that standpoint.”

Behind Wiegers, there’s true freshmen Ryan Boyle (of Dowling Catholic) and Drew Cook (of Iowa City Regina). They are unknowns, but the early reports are positive. One of those three is likely to take over after Beathard’s career is done following the 2016 season.

Davis explained that when you’re a true freshman, you either have a “good redshirt” or “bad redshirt” year. A “good” redshirt year means you show up to your first spring practice period in late March without looking back.

“Are you starting over like you did in August? Are you able to pick up with those guys?” Davis said. “My sense is that both of them had a really good redshirt year, that they really studied what was happening throughout the year.

“And one of the things that (coach Kirk Ferentz) has done is that they travel to every ball game. So not only do they travel to every ball game, they sit in on every game plan meeting. They sit right there at halftime when, OK, we're going to change here, versus a diamond, we're going to do this. So they've sat there and they've listened to halftime adjustments. They've given game plan sheets.

“And my sense is that they both have had a really good year.”