IOWA CITY, Iowa – C.J. Beathard enters the second half of the regular season battered and bruised, but to the relief of Iowa fans, still standing.
His body aches from the physical pounding that comes with being the Iowa football team’s starting quarterback.
But so far, so good.
Iowa is undefeated at 6-0 and 2-0 in the Big Ten heading into Saturday’s game at Northwestern, while Beathard is still healthy, at least healthy enough he says to keep playing.
He squashed a rumor on Tuesday about having a sports hernia and possibly needing surgery, but didn’t hide that was hurting, really for the first time since playing regularly in high school.
“I haven’t experienced it since high school, but even high school some of the pain wasn’t as bad,” Beathard said. “But it’s college football and you’re getting hit by 300-pound guys all the time. It’s painful at times but you can expect it. It’s almost like a good pain, sometimes. You like to get hit because for three years, I really hadn’t gotten hit since high school.”
Only in sports or perhaps in a bar at closing time would you hear somebody describe pain as being good.
For Beathard, the pain he feels almost on a daily basis is like a badge of honor.
“I probably should slide and get down more, but sometimes I don’t and take unnecessary hits,” Beathard said.
The scary thing is it would only take one unnecessary hit to bring Beathard’s season to a screeching halt. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a vicious hit as evidenced by Drew Ott’s season-ending knee injury that occurred last Saturday against Illinois when Iowa’s all-Big Ten senior defensive end appeared to just land awkwardly.
Injuries are as persistent as they are unpredictable. You know they’re coming. You just don’t from where or when or to what extent.
In 2002, Iowa stayed healthy for the most part and finished undefeated in the Big Ten and 11-2 overall. The 2004 team also won a share of the Big Ten title and finished 10-2 overall, but did so while facing a rash of injuries at running back.
Unfortunately, the current season feels more like 2004, although, the injuries are more spread out instead of mostly affecting just one position.
In addition to Ott, Iowa will be without starting offensive tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers, starting receiver Tevaun Smith, starting tight end Jake Duzey and backup running back LeShun Daniels against Northwestern on Saturday.
“There’s not always fairness in life, and there certainly isn’t in sports when it comes to injuries,” Ferentz said. “That part is really hard. All that being said, we all know that. I’m older now, but all of us that have ever played realize there’s a chance you could be injured. So we all sign up for it and we choose to do it.”
With the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Beathard, it’s a delicate balancing act, much like it was with Iowa quarterback Drew Tate in 2004. Tate also was fiercely competitive and often would absorb a vicious hit in order to gain an edge.
Beathard plays the position the same way, sometimes with a reckless abandon that surfaces in the heat of the moment. Why step out of bounds if you can gain two or three more yards?
“We’ve been encouraging that,” Ferentz said of stepping out of bounds. “But he’s got a competitive spirit, too, which sometimes pulls him in the other direction. But you have got to play the way you are, but certainly there are some times — and I think he’s done a better job of that in general terms — this year of getting out-of-bounds or getting down when it’s not necessary to do something else.”
Take away Beathard’s contributions as a runner this season and you could argue that Iowa’s record would be 4-2. He had significant runs against Iowa State and Pittsburgh that kept alive game-winning drives.
Tate also kept drives alive with his ability to scramble and improvise in the pocket. He also stayed healthy throughout the 2004 season, but wasn’t as fortunate in 2005 or 2006 as injuries limited his effectiveness.
I listed 10 things that had to happen this season in order for Iowa to contend for a Big Ten title, and right now the Hawkeyes are meeting the challenge in all but one. The exception is Tevaun Smith having to catch at least 45 passes for 750 yards.
That probably won’t happen because of his knee injury, but other receivers, namely junior Matt VandeBerg and true freshman Jerminic Smith have stepped up.
Beathard staying healthy was No. 1 on my list, but even more so now as he tries to become the first Iowa quarterback to win his first eight starts since at least the early 1920s.
That’s meant as no disrespect to backup Tyler Wiegers, but he has hardly any experience, appearing briefly in just two games this season as a redshirt freshman. The other backups are true freshmen Drew Cook and Ryan Boyle, but the plan is to redshirt both of them.
This is Beathard’s team, and to disrupt that could have devastating consequences.
Beathard has been spectacular at times this season, but not as much in the last two games against Illinois and Wisconsin. His performance was below average against the Badgers and slightly above average against the Illini.
But his impact goes beyond just yards and touchdowns.
Beathard is a stabilizing force on the field. His presence alone inspires his teammates because they believe so strongly in his ability and his leadership. They seemed convinced before the season that Beathard was the best option over previous two-year starter Jake Rudock, and now it’s hard to argue with the results.
Rudock has since transferred to Michigan where he is now leading a resurgence in football as a fifth-year graduate student. He also has stayed healthy to this point.
But that challenge is ongoing, one hit at a time.