Harty: C.J. Beathard is just what Kirk Ferentz’s legacy needed
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A month ago, I had my doubts about Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard.
I didn’t like the circumstances under which he became the starting quarterback, and I felt that he still was mostly unproven after having started just one game before this season.
Four games later, Beathard has done a lot to change my opinion about him as a quarterback. I still think his promotion over Jake Rudock was handled poorly by Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, but I’m tired of fighting that fight. And really, what’s the point at this stage?
It now appears that Rudock being benched and then transferring to Michigan was the best thing that could’ve happened to Rudock, Beathard, Ferentz, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and fans from both schools.
Iowa and Michigan have a combined record of 7-1 heading into Big Ten play, the only loss being Michigan’s 24-17 setback against Utah in the season opener on Sept. 3 in Salt Lake City. That’s the same Utah team that just demolished Oregon 62-20 this past Saturday in Eugene, Ore.
Beathard has been spectacular in leading Iowa to its first 4-0 start since 2009, while Rudock has been steadily improving for a Michigan team that is now ranked under Harbaugh.
So maybe this will prove to be a story where they all live happily ever after. Imagine the drama if Iowa and Michigan were to meet in the Big Ten Championship game. It’s a longshot, but stranger things have happened.
Beathard just seems to have the It Factor. That’s not me saying that, but rather former Iowa quarterback Chuck Hartlieb who said it.
Last Friday, Hartlieb was a guest on our allhawkeyes.com podcast and raved about Beathard’s poise and playmaking ability. He said Beathard showed signs of having the It Factor.
Former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long also had high praise for Beathard on a recent allhawkeyes.com podcast. Long said Beathard is more talented than Rudock and we’re seeing the results from that on the field.
That’s a strong endorsement from two of the greatest Hawkeye quarterbacks of all time, if not the greatest in Long’s case.
Beathard’s teammates also seem convinced that he’s special.
“He’s just playing amazing football right now,” said junior tight end George Kittle. “He’s just playing amazing and we just want him to keep playing that way.”
Beathard has far exceeded my expectations, although, they weren’t extremely high in the first place. I wasn’t sure about his accuracy before the season, but I am now, considering Beathard has completed 68 percent of his passes (75-of-110) for 962 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. He completed his first 15 passes in last Saturday’s 62-16 victory over North Texas and finished with just three incompletions in 21 attempts.
I figured Beathard would be a step up from where Rudock was at the end of last season, but that wasn’t saying much because Rudock had regressed during the 2014 season, partly due to injuries. Rudock was at his best during the first half of the 2013 season, before a knee injury limited his mobility.
He just didn’t get any better, nor did the circumstances around him.
The circumstances have improved for Beathard, but his presence behind center is a big reason for that.
“I think that like a lot of players, now he knows it’s his team, his turn and I think he’s playing confident, said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, whose team is preparing to face Beathard and the Hawkeyes on Saturday in the Big Ten opener in Madison, Wis. “It looks like he’s playing confident.
“He’s certainly very talented, and I think he’s – I don’t want to say a big part because I think they have a lot of parts working for them, but certainly a big contributor in their success to this point.”
Chryst was the head coach for Pittsburgh last season when Beathard replaced an injured Rudock for the second half and then led Iowa to a 24-20 in Pittsburgh. Beathard completed 7-of-8 passes for 98 yards and led Iowa to three consecutive scoring drives to begin the second half.
“Actually, last year he was in a game where he came in and I think he made the difference in it,” Chryst said Monday.
Iowa fans knew that Beathard had a powerful arm and a willingness to take chances by throwing down field because they already had seen that from him in limited playing time.
What we hadn’t seen from Beathard before this season is his knack for knowing when to tuck the football and run.
Marshall Koehn was the hero against Pittsburgh by making a 57-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. But Beathard made the milestone moment possible by gaining key yards on three running plays during the game-winning drive.
Beathard also shifted field position in the victory at Iowa State with runs of 44 and 57 yards. He started from his own end zone on the 44-yard scamper and eluded several defenders along the way.
If you combine his victory over Purdue last season, Beathard is the first Iowa quarterback since Matt Sherman to win his first five starts. Sherman won seven games in a row during a stretch from 1994 to 1995.
But that statistic is also a reminder that the jury still is out on Beathard. Most of his legacy still has to be written.
His performance in the first four games has been an inspiration, but it also came against four opponents that have combined for just one victory against an FBS team, that being Pittsburgh’s 24-7 victory over Akron on Sept. 12 in Akron, Ohio.
And let’s hope for goodness sake that the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Beathard stays healthy because an injury could ruin any feel-good story and he isn’t afraid to take chances with his body.
In carving his own legacy, Beathard will have a huge impact on Ferentz’s legacy because they’re forever linked.
Ferentz put his legacy on the line when he promoted Beathard under unusual circumstances. It was unusual because the promotion came in January and shortly after a season in which Beathard had played sparingly when Rudock was healthy.
Ferentz also made the switch after Beathard’s father, Casey Beathard, said in a newspaper article last December that his son would know more about his status as an Iowa quarterback after the TaxSlayer Bowl. Tennessee crushed the Hawkeyes 45-28, but C.J. Beathard took a majority of the snaps after not starting the game.
He was then named the starter over Rudock barely two weeks later, giving the perception that Ferentz caved to threats that Beathard would transfer if he wasn’t promoted.
I thought that for a while, until I heard Casey Beathard give his side of the story on a recent allhawkeyes.com podcast. Casey said his quotes were misinterpreted and what he really meant is that C.J. Beathard would know where he stood based on the role he played in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
In fairness to Ferentz, maybe it’s a case where the light finally turned on for Beathard near the end of last season and by that time he was better than Rudock. Maybe the timing of his father’s interview was a coincidence and that the switch at quarterback was strictly a case of Beathard finally earning Ferentz’s trust that he was a better option than Rudock.
It really doesn’t matter what you believe now because the quarterback controversy is old news. Ferentz made a decision that is paying dividends for everyone impacted by that decision except for maybe Michigan backup quarterback Shane Morris.