IOWA CITY, Iowa – C.J. Beathard holds inside information on this week’s opponent. If any of his Iowa teammates attempt to overlook FCS Illinois State Saturday, the junior quarterback will caution them.
Beathard watched the Redbirds extensively last season while they were on their way to the national championship game. His uncle, Kurt Beathard, coordinates their offense and coaches their quarterbacks.
"At the time, it was fun watching my uncle. But when you get right down to it, and you start watching film, they’re a really good team and we have to go out there and play the best we can play in order to beat them," C.J. said.
Illinois State fell to four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, 29-27, in the ’14 title game decided in the final minutes. It represented just the second loss for the Redbirds.
There’s a stigma that comes with the FCS label. Public perception is that FBS teams should not lose to schools from a lower level. C.J. Beathard said there’s a distinction that needs to be recognized.
"There are some teams that are lower level FCS but there are teams that are up there. Illinois State, UNI, North Dakota State, obviously, I feel like they could be FBS football teams," he said.
"We respect them. We’re not going into this game thinking, "Oh, they’re FCS" because we know they can get us if we don’t come out ready to play. They can beat us that’s why we have to be ready and can’t let off the gas."
Iowa opened last season with a 31-23 victory against Northern Iowa of the FCS. The Hawkeyes led 24-20 heading into the fourth quarter.
UNI almost upset their big brother in ’09. The Hawkeyes blocked two field goal attempts in the final seconds of that contest to preserve victory for a team that began the season 9-0.
"The most important game we’re playing is this one right here. Nobody in the media wants to hear that, but it’s the truth. If you follow college football, good teams can beat good teams, good teams will beat bad teams certainly, and they’ve got a really good football team," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Illinois State carries an 0-7 record against Big Ten teams into this contest. However, it is coming off its most successful season with many key players returning.
Quarterback Tre Roberson shouldn’t be intimated by Kinnick Stadium after almost posting a 300-yard combined passing and rushing day as an Indiana freshman in 2011. Linebacker Reggie Spearman returns to Iowa City after playing in 21 games the last two seasons with the Hawkeyes.
"Roberson’s a tremendous player," Ferentz said. "We’ve got first-hand experience. We helped him become the first freshman Big Ten Player of the Week that week in his first start. That’s a long time ago. He’s a better player now.
"He’s really a threat running the football. If he breaks contain he can throw it on the run, and he throws it really well from the pocket too. He made some great throws in that championship game. So, you know, he’s a really quality player and the running back (Marshaun Coprich) is a high quality player, too. A lot of people would love to have him on their teams."
In addition to Spearman and Roberson, the Redbirds also roster former Big Ten players David Kenney (Indiana) and David Perkins (Ohio State). Iowa fans may remember Kenney as their first verbal commitment in the ’13 recruiting class before he flipped to the Hoosiers.
The Hawkeye staff also is familiar with ISU Head Coach Brock Spack, who built some impressive defenses at Purdue under Joe Tiller from ’97-’08. Dan Clark, brother of Iowa great Dallas Clark, tutors the offensive line. Former Boilermaker quarterback Billy Dicken coaches receivers.
"(Spack) and his staff have done a great job and they have some outstanding players back from last year starting with the quarterback and running back. But they’ve got a lot of other good players too. They’re very veteran up front on the defensive side, and they’re going to be a really big challenge for us," Ferentz said.
The Redbirds averaged 38.3 points per game a year ago. They did not play a FBS opponent in ’14 and their last contest against a Big Ten foe came in ’10, when Northwestern rolled them, 37-3.
ISU entered this season as the No. 2-ranked FCS team. Top-rated North Dakota State fell at Montana last week but a new poll has yet to be released.
Time, TV, Announcers: 11 a.m. CT on BTN with Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen and Lisa Byington.
The Series: It’s the first meeting between the schools.
Betting Line: No line (will add when posted).
-The over is 5-1-1 in Illinois State’s last seven games.
-The under is 5-0 in Iowa’s last five games in September.
Match-up to Watch: The Iowa defense struggled to contain high-end running backs last season. James Conner, Tevin Coleman, Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah were among the group that ran wild. And that list doesn’t include UNI’s David Johnson, who torched the Hawkeyes as a receiver.
The Black and Gold won’t have to wait to see if they’ve improved against the rush. Illinois State ball carrier Marshaun Coprich is a handful.
The 5-foot-9, 205-pounder from California exploded for 2,274 yards and 27 touchdowns a year ago. He’s picked up the nickname "Baby Bull" for his ability to run between the tackles despite his small stature.
The scouting report on Coprich, however, is that he prefers to rocket off tackle and use his 4.43 speed to get around the edge. If the Hawkeyes pay too much attention to dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson, his running mate could cut loose for a big day.
Take Note: Iowa is 12-0 all-time against FCS opponents. .
Take Note, Take Two: Iowa begins the season without its leader in passing yards (Jake Rudock) rushing yards (Mark Weisman) and receiving yards (Kevonte Martin-Manley) for the first time since ’04. That’s the last time the Hawkeyes won a Big Ten championship.
Non-Sports Related: Bloomington-Normal is home to the most restaurants per capita in the country, mostly due to it having four colleges located there.
Did You Know?: Actors Gary Sinise and John Malkovich attended Illinois State.
Did You Also Know?: In 1923, ISU athletics director Clifford E. "Pop" Horton and Daily Pantagraph sports editor Fred Young collaborated to change the university’s nickname from "Teachers." Horton wanted "Cardinals" because the colors were cardinal and white (set in 1895-96). Young changed the nickname to "Red Birds" to avoid confusion in the headlines with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. It took roughly 10 years for Red Birds to become one word.
Illinois State Wins If… the Hawkeye defense struggles to contain edges.
Iowa Wins If… it controls the clock with its running game.
Overview: You most often can notice the disparity between FBS and FCS opponents in two areas – depth and beef at the line of scrimmage. The former could come into play on a hot day. The latter appears relevant with Iowa offensive line going against the Redbirds’ defensive front.
ISU’s starting tackles are listed at 275 and 255 pounds. They’re sophomores.
While the Hawkeyes are young at offensive tackle, they boast experience inside, led by senior center Austin Blythe and classmate, Jordan Walsh, at right guard. Blythe will be starting his 36th game in a row on Saturday while Walsh will open his 25th college contest.
With veteran fullbacks Macon Plewa and Adam Cox paving the way through a veteran interior line against a green and undersized inside for the Redbirds, Iowa should find running room between the tackles. Once it establishes the run, the downfield passing game will present itself.
That’s the best formula for the home team. Controlling the clock will allow the defense to stay fresher against a very good ISU offensive attack with a big line and dangerous skill players.
Expect the Hawkeyes to rumble for more than 200 yards on the ground with Leshun Daniels exceeding the century mark for the first time in his career. The Iowa defense will allow some big plays but, overall, stiffen up when it counts.
Prediction: IOWA 34, Illinois State 21.