IOWA CITY, Iowa – Austin Blythe was at the center of the Iowa quarterback drama last season in more ways than just the position he plays.
Iowa’s all-Big Ten center watched his close friend, Jake Rudock, get passed on the depth chart at quarterback by C.J. Beathard shortly after the end of a disappointing 2014 season.
Rudock has since transferred to Michigan where he is competing for the starting quarterback position as a fifth-year graduate student, while Beathard is firmly entrenched as Iowa’s starter as a fourth-year junior.
Beathard will make his second career start, and his first start at Kinnick Stadium, when Iowa faces Illinois State in the season opener on Saturday.
Blythe will make his 36th career start on Saturday, but his first without Rudock as part of the team.
It’s never easy seeing a friend leave under delicate circumstances, but Blythe harbors no bitterness either way.
Blythe still considers Rudock a friend for life, but Blythe is also fully committed to Beathrd’s cause.
“It hasn’t been really too tough, I guess,” Blythe said Tuesday. “I’ve really bought into C.J. and what we’re trying to do here at Iowa.
“I wish Jake all the best. But right now, we’re trying to win a Big Ten Championship at Iowa.”
The players throughout the spring and summer have described the current Iowa team as being closer than last season’s team, which lost its final three games to finish 7-6.
It’s reasonable to think that the drama at quarterback caused some of the players to splinter into groups that were either loyal to Beathard or Rudock. Teammates are no different than anybody else from a large group in that they gravitate towards certain people in the group.
Blythe believes that Rudock’s departure had a unifying effect, but not because Rudock was a divisive figure.
“That’s probably fair, not that Jake was a bad guy, absolutely not,” Blythe said. “Nothing against other guys in the locker room that aren’t here anymore. But I think we just understand that we have a common goal, not that we didn’t have a common goal last year.
“But it’s just more of a sense of urgency. There are guys on the team that want big things to happen and we’re working hard to make sure big things happen.”
Blythe and Rudock were part of the same 2011 recruiting class. They came to Iowa at the same time as true freshmen and grew together from teenagers to young men.
Rudock attended Blythe’s wedding this summer and they still keep in contact, although, it’s been more difficult with the season approaching.
“I love Jake and I wish him all the best at Michigan,” Blythe said. “I know I’ll stay in touch with him and I know he’ll be a good player.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz seemed annoyed when I asked him on Tuesday about whether Blythe has struggled to adjust to life without Rudock, being that they’re such close friends. Ferentz didn’t realize that I already had spoken to Blythe about the subject.
“You’d have to ask him,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think we have to console him. I don’t know, maybe you know more than I do.”
Blythe doesn’t need any sympathy because he understands the big picture and is a loyal teammate. The Williamsburg native would’ve enjoyed finishing what he started with Rudock at Iowa. But sometimes, life gets in the way and people have to do what is best for them.
“I mean, guys graduate too,” Ferentz said. “You lose friends to graduation, you lose friends for all kinds of reasons.
“I think, ultimately, everybody understands it’s probably the best thing for everybody involved. Yeah, I don’t think it’s been any big deal for (Austin). I haven’t noticed him with any droopy-dog looks or anything like that, so we’ll see.”
Ferentz is correct in saying that Rudock transferring probably was the best deal for everybody involved. It would have been the same if Beathard had transferred instead of Rudock because there wasn’t room for both of them behind center anymore.
The coaches picked Beathard in what really was a business decision as part of a quest to win games. Blythe understands that and is determined to end his career on a high note.
“Talking about it gives me goose bumps a little bit,” Blythe said of the upcoming season. It’s going to be fun. I know what I want to do for this team as a senior and how I want this senior season to go.
“I’m not going to settle for any average plays or anybody else playing average and kind of going through the motions. I think that’s my job as a leader and other guys on the team, their job as leaders is to get guys going and making sure they understand the tempo of the game.”
Blythe said the way last season ended was unacceptable.
“That’s not how we wanted to finish,” he said. “That’s not the result we wanted. Obviously, we went to a bowl game. That’s good for a lot of programs, but that’s not good for us. We want to be great and we want to win championships around here. And I think that’s my motivation as a senior. It’s my last go-around and I want that to happen.”
Blythe has the perfect scenario for how he would like this season to unfold. He wants to face Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game because that would bring him and Rudock together under positive circumstances.
“It would be a lot of fun, especially if he is the starting quarterback there,” Blythe said. “It would be kind of a storybook ending, a good movie plot, I guess.”
It certainly would give two friends something to talk about forever.