EVANSTON, Ill. – Kirk Ferentz reached back 50 years for a reference describing his quarterback’s play on Saturday. Westerns were popular TV shows then.
The cowboys of the Iowa head coach’s youth impressed him with their toughness. C.J. Beathard accomplished the same thing, playing hurt, hobbling around in a 40-10 victory at Northwestern.
"Talk about resiliency, he optimizes it. He embodies every bit of that," Ferentz said here at Ryan Field. "He didn’t do a lot this week. He was walking like Amos McCoy back on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. You guys have to look that up.
"But he got a little bit better as the week went on and that was just pure guts (Saturday) on his part."
The Real McCoys, a program that ran from 1957-63, featured actor Walter Brennan as crotchety Grandpa Amos McCoy. While it was a comedy, it was set in the west at the time when cowboy dramas Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Maverick, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Rawhide and other shows were popular.
Beathard plays the part of gunslinger as we like to figuratively reference quarterbacks who approach the position in a decisive, aggressive manner. They boast a big arm and excellent improvisational skills.
An example of the junior’s ad-lib ability came at the start of the fourth quarter Saturday. Leading 30-10 and facing a third and five from the Northwestern 35, Beathard sidestepped pressure on his injured legs. He kept the play alive lone enough to find running back Derrick Mitchell Jr. with a dump-off pass that went for a 23-yard gain.
"We don’t teach that," Ferentz said. "I’d like to say we do. There’s a lot of things we’d love to take credit for. That’s just a good player keeping a play alive. Good players do that. It’s certainly fair to call him a good player."
Beathard completed 15 of 25 passes for 176 yards Saturday. The Tennessean threw one interception without a touchdown.
If one only looked at statistics, you’d say his contributions lagged behind the rest of his teammates. That would be underplaying his ability to come through in clutch situations and make something out of what appears to be nothing throughout the game.
Beathard’s willingness to play hurt and pop back up after every big hit inspires teammates. That leadership galvanizes a team. This one is 7-0 and ranked No. 13 in the country.
"We started talking about C.J. after that second ballgame (at Iowa State). The two words I used were poise and toughness and I think he exhibited both of those things and continues to do so. He’s just a tough-minded guy who wants to compete. But he’s very poised out there," Ferentz said.
"He has a very good awareness of what’s going on when he’s under duress, when he gets knocked around, which he has been this year. Right now, he’s fighting some injuries and what have you but he just keeps his focus where it has to be and he’s done a great job leading us."
Beathard absorbed some hard hits in the Hawkeyes’ 31-17 win in Ames on Sept. 12 but his two long runs proved to be key plays in the game. The next week, in a 27-24 victory against Pittsburgh, the 6-foot-2, 209-pounder injured his hip and it’s lingered. During a 29-20 triumph last week versus Illinois, he hurt his leg causing him to miss most of the pre-game prep for Northwestern.
"It was kind of tough," Beathard said of holding up against the Wildcats. "I couldn’t do many bootlegs or nudes or stuff like. It was a little limited what I could do running wise. But once my adrenaline got going it was hard to feel it."
Beathard became the first Iowa quarterback to win the first eight starts of his career. As one would expect from a team leader, he dismissed the personal accomplishment Saturday.
"All I’m worried about is we’re 7-0 right now, this team. I’m excited about that," he said.
For the season, Beathard has completed 114 of 187 passes (61.0 percent) for 1,415 yards and nine touchdowns with three interceptions. He’s also rushed 49 times for 194 yards and three scores. Those numbers look even better when you consider he’s lost 88 yards on the ground mostly resulting from sacks. He’s been sacked 12 times.
Leading 33-10 early in the fourth quarter, Northwestern Safety Godwin Igwebuike nailed Beathard on an incomplete, third-down pass to fullback Macon Plewa. Iowa’s quarterback rose slowly to his feet and hobbled to the sideline looking like Fred Sanford, the lead character on Sanford and Son (1972-77) played by Redd Foxx
"I got landed on weird and it was the same type of injury I’ve been dealing with this week," Beathard said. "I hurt something in my leg and I felt it there pretty bad. We had a good, comfortable lead and they thought no point in putting me back out there. (Back-up QB Tyler) Wiegers did a good job."
The Wildcats scored the last 10 points of the first half Saturday to trim Iowa’s lead to 16-10 at the break. After Northwestern came up empty to begin the third quarter, Beathard led the Hawkeyes on a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took 6:24 off the clock. They went on to score another 17 unanswered points to win going away.
"I felt like we could do what we wanted to do offensively," Beathard said. "It was just a matter of we were inches off on certain plays. That’s kind of how football is sometimes. We kind of got with it in the second half and we did a good job."
Beathard’s resiliency Saturday was magnified by how limited he was in practice this week. He downplayed the achievements accomplished with little on-field preparation.
"Quarterback is such a mental game it’s all about mental reps and watching film. Thats kind of how it was," he said.