BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Iowa’s win total wasn’t the only thing that grew on Saturday.
The legend of C.J. Beathard also climbed to a new level thanks to what was arguably his best performance as Iowa’s starting quarterback and without question his most gutsy and courageous perfomance. The junior from Franklin, Tenn., overcame the same nagging injuries that have plagued him for nearly a month to lead 10th-ranked Iowa to a 35-27 victory over Indiana at Memorial Stadium.
“I knew what kind of toughness he had, but he took it to a whole (different) level today," said Iowa senior center Austin Blythe. "He’s playing through some stuff and he’s a competitor and loves to win. And he’s going to do whatever it takes like he showed today.”
Beathard is one victory from leading the 9-0 Hawkeyes where no Iowa football team has gone before. This marks just the second time in school history that Iowa has been 9-0. The other time came in 2009 when the Hawkeyes won their first nine games before losing to Northwestern in the 10th game and finishing 11-2 overall.
Beathard also improved his record to 10-0 as Iowa’s starting quarterback. He won his first game as Iowa’s starting quarterback last season against Purdue. No other Iowa quarterback has won his first 10 games as a starter.
"The number one criteria I think you evaluate a quarterback on is what’s his record and how’s he doing when he’s in charge because it’s a critical position," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. "After that, there’s other things that are important certainly. But he’s pretty good at those, too.
"But the number one thing is can he lead the team and help them be successful?"
It wasn’t just that Beathard won another game on Saturday that made his performance special, but also how he did it. From completing key passes on third down to leaping over defenders for a touchdown, Beathard sort of willed his team to victory.
His 7-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter came on a play in which Beathard leaped high over several defenders to get into the end zone.
"I was just trying to do anything I could to get it into the end zone," Beathard said. "I felt like the only way I could get in was by jumping over the top."
Indiana had seized the momentum and was leading 17-14 when Beathard catapulted himself into the end zone, much to the surprise of his teammates.
“It was supposed to be just a regular quarterback draw, but then all of the sudden I see him run up to the pylon and I’m like, `oh my God, it’s pretty scary,’" Blythe said. "But he’s just a competitor and I knew he was going to get into the end zone. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Beathard’s teammates are inspired by his refuse-to-lose attitude. They’re confident with him leading the way because they know he’ll do anything within his power to win, even if it means sacrificing his battered and bruised body.
“It makes you want to follow him," said senior receiver Jacob Hillyer, who caught four passes for 53 yards on Saturday. "It makes you want to continue to play hard for him. It just shows who he is. Off the field, he’s the same type of guy. He’s a tough, gritty competitor. And he brings it on the field every Saturday.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard his teammates use the word tough on Saturday to describe Beathard. You would’ve thought they were talking about a linebacker or fullback instead of a 6-foot-2, 209-pound quarterback.
“That guy is tough," Blythe said. "He’s an athlete. He’s a competitor. He wants to win just as bad anyone else. And the way he plays in pressure situations isn’t really a surprise."
Football is the ultimate team sport, but so much of what happens during the course of a season is impacted by the quarterback. Some quarterbacks might have stepped out of bounds or allowed themselves to be tackled short of the end zone on the play in which Beathard leaped for a touchdown.
“When he elevated that was something else," junior receiver Matt VandeBerg said of Beathard’s 7-yard touchdown run. "When you see your quarterback do something like that, you know you have to stick behind him because he’s willing to put his body on the line. I was not prepared for him to elevate like that. But I’m happy he did. And I knew with his toughness that he’d be able to bounce back.”
Beathard completed 19-of-31 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown on Saturday. He also had 38 of Iowa’s 234 rushing yards, including a key 11-yard scramble on third down that kept a drive alive in the fourth quarter.
"What can I tell you, he’s a football player," Ferentz said of Beathard. "Some of those throws he made today, some of those third-down conversions that we got, those were super clutch plays. The receivers did a great job, and he certainly did a great job of getting the ball there."
Some Iowa fans probably are wondering what took Ferentz so long to make Beathard his starting quarterback. Beathard barely played in the previous two seasons as the backup behind Jake Rudock.
Ferentz finally made the switch shortly after last season, which saw Iowa lose its final three games to finish 7-6.
The program was in desperate need of a spark after last season’s collapse and that’s what Beathard has provided each Saturday. His statistics won’t blow you away, but statistics hardly tell his story because there is no way to measure a quarterback’s heart or toughness.
"I’m not 100 percent, but when your adrenaline is going it felt pretty good," Beathard said.
Now it’s on to the next challenge and with it a chance to make history. A victory over Minnesota next Saturday at Kinnick Stadium would give Iowa a 10-0 record for the first time ever.
"Every game we’ve won is a team win," Beathard said. "And I think that’s a credit to this team as a whole. We don’t have many individuals on this team who are trying to take the spotlight. We’ve got a lot of team players on this team and that goes back to the offseason. We made it big priority to come together as a team. We wanted to change the culture in this program and I think we’ve done that. And we’re not stopping here. We want to keep winning."
Beathard might not be trying to take the spotlight. But it still seems to find him during games because the light always shines brightest on a winner.
“Having him the huddle is just a great mentality for everybody," Hillyer said.
Those in the opposing huddle probably would disagree.