C.J. Beathard is the master of Iowa's offense
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The opposing coach compared him to Peyton Manning.
One of his running backs thinks he should be in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
It’s only two weeks in to Iowa’s football season, but quarterback C.J. Beathard is displaying the kind of command of an offense that demands attention.
It was evident throughout the then 10th-ranked Hawkeyes’ 42-3 stomping of Iowa State on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Beathard led Iowa on four, first-half touchdown drives that drained any drama from the contest and signaled that, in a game full of mismatches, the biggest gap may have been at the sport’s most important position.
Beathard was on another plane, and he could just be lifting off.
“We’re going to go as far as C.J. takes us,” said tailback Akrum Wadley, the recipient of one of Beathard’s three, first-half touchdown tosses. “He can do it all. He can run. He’s got a cannon. He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s got a lot of heart and we all respect him. He’s going to lead us.”
Best player in the country?
“He’s Heisman to us; in our eyes he is,” Wadley concluded.
Beathard isn’t going to get such national acclaim until he faces a higher caliber of opposition than Miami of Ohio or Iowa State, of course. But he has led the Hawkeyes to 87 points without a single turnover in the first two weeks, showing an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what opposing defenses are trying to do and then finding the play that will foil them.
“It’s almost like playing against Peyton Manning,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell marveled. “You’re almost competing against the quarterback and not an offensive coordinator, and that’s the credit to (Beathard) and really understanding his system.”
Beathard completed 19-of-28 passes for 235 yards and those three touchdowns, rushing for another to boost Iowa to a 28-3 halftime lead that felt insurmountable. The margin of victory was the biggest in the Cy-Hawk series since 1997 (a 63-20 Iowa win).
Beathard surpassed the 4,000-yard mark for his career, the 10th Iowa signal-caller ever to do so. Twice, he checked the Hawkeyes in to plays that resulted in touchdowns, a 12-yard pass to favorite target Matt VandeBerg and a 43-yard run by LeShun Daniels Jr.
Afterward, Beathard barely wanted to focus on what he accomplished, praising the playmakers around him and especially his offensive line.
He is low-key and humble in dealings with the media, with flashes of humor.
Of VandeBerg, who caught seven passes for a career-high 129 yards Saturday, Beathard deadpanned:
“He’s white, but he’s really fast.”
Of their touchdown connection, on which Beathard, on the run, put the ball high and to VandeBerg’s outside shoulder, the only place he could catch it and the defender could not:
“I actually checked in to that play. They were blitzing. I got a little pressure off the side so I moved and tried to give Matt a shot.”
It sounds simple, but it definitely is not.
“I don’t know if you guys even get to see a real fraction of what he does for us as far as a leadership role and knowing what play to put us in,” VandeBerg said of Beathard. “There are times where we go out on the field, we just call a formation and then he puts us in the right play because he knows his football.”
With Beathard at the controls, Iowa has even run trick plays each of the past two weeks: A flea-flicker to Jerminic Smith that resulted in a 38-yard gain against Miami and a reverse to VandeBerg that netted 25 yards Saturday.
Gadget plays? An offense putting up 40-plus points a game?
There’s something magical happening inside old Kinnick Stadium, where Beathard has won all nine of his starts. His teammates sense it.
“We all follow his lead,” Daniels said. “He really pushes everybody to be better. I think having him back there gives everyone a confidence boost.”