Brown: C.J. Beathard's brilliant half a shining moment for Iowa
PITTSBURGH – C.J. Beathard loves the football flick "Remember the Titans." That's where he got his nickname, "Sunshine" — from Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass, the movie's long-haired quarterback.
"Great movie," Iowa's sophomore signal caller said after rallying his team to a 24-20 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday at Heinz Field.
Beathard led Iowa to a touchdown, field goal and touchdown on their first three possessions of the second half, erasing a 17-7 halftime deficit. A team that needed a ray of sunshine got a whole half of it.
"I don't care what people call me," said Beathard, who completed seven of eight passes in the second half after replacing the injured Jake Rudock.
This was a victory the Hawkeyes really needed, a positive step in a season that has gotten off to a sluggish start. But Beathard's performance brings us to this question: Who will start at quarterback next week against Purdue?
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who said he doesn't think Rudock's injury is serious, knew that question was coming.
"How can I answer that?" Ferentz said. " I'm sure we'll see some opinions. I'll be glad to read them (Sunday)."
All the talk heading into this season was a two-quarterback look. Rudock was No. 1, with Beathard in the bullpen to deliver a change-up. Beathard's only action had come in for one series against Ball State. The cry for more grew when Iowa's offense struggled in last week's second half against Iowa State.
Would Beathard have played Saturday had Rudock not been injured?
"I don't know," Beathard said. "That's a coach's decision. We work on certain things in practice. It's nothing like, 'Hey, you're going in this week.' It's a game-time decision. You've got to prepare each week in practice like you're the guy."
Beathard saw the trainers working on Rudock after he left the field.
"I didn't think it was anything serious," Beathard said. "I figured for sure he was OK, and he'd start the second half and go from there. Then Coach (Greg) Davis came in at halftime and said, 'Hey, you're up.' I didn't expect it, but I was excited for the opportunity. A little nervous."
Three big plays highlighted Beathard's relief stint.
Play 1 came on his third snap, a third-and-3 from the Iowa 13. Beathard hit Kevonte Martin-Manley for 7 yards on an out route for a first down, with a blitz in his face.
"Had we gone three-and-out there, it might have gone different," Beathard said.
Play 2 was the next play, Beathard zipped a long pass to Damond Powell for 62 yards.
Play 3 came came on Iowa's go-ahead touchdown drive. Facing a third-and-7 from Pittsburgh's 34, Beathard — with another blitz in his face — threaded a pass to Ray Hamilton for 10 yards. First down.
"It's not like this is the first time we've seen him do good things," Ferentz said. "I think we have two good quarterbacks. I'm really pleased with how (Beathard) played. But I'm not sitting here saying, 'Gosh, I didn't see that coming.' The guy is a good football player. I think Rudock is really a good football player, too."
Rudock was getting treatment after the game for a lower-body injury and wasn't available to the media. Of Rudock's injury, Ferentz said, "I don't think it's anything devastating. We'll probably know more (Sunday). It's more of a strain."
When Iowa last played at Pittsburgh, in 2008, Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi were in a battle for the starting quarterback job that Stanzi eventually won.
Rudock, who emerged from a three-way battle with Beathard and Cody Sokol (now at Louisiana Tech) last fall, was 4-1 on the road as a starter last season. Beathard saw action in five games last season. Three appearances came after Rudock was injured vs. Wisconsin, Nebraska and LSU.
But Beathard has never started in college.
If Rudock is available to answer the bell Saturday against Purdue, that's who I think Ferentz will start. But the genie's out of the bottle with Beathard, who proved he can lead Iowa to victory and would be deserving of a start as well.
Regardless, it's clear that Saturday will be a day that "Sunshine" will never forget.
"If you would have told me before the game that, 'Hey, you're going to play the whole second half,' I would have been like, 'I don't know about that,' " Beathard said. "You never know. You've got to keep the faith. God has a plan for everything."
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.