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Commentary: Beathard deserves a start

BY CODY GOODWIN | SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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PITTSBURGH — Let’s hold off on the coronation for a moment. Let’s take a step back, take a deep breath, and figure out what we’re really dealing with here. Brash decisions aren’t always smart in college football, so let’s talk this one out.

Backup quarterback C.J. Beathard played the entire second half of Iowa’s 24-20 victory over Pittsburgh in Heinz Field on Sept. 20. He played well, completing 7-of-8 passes for 98 yards. He engineered three-consecutive scoring drives, and provided a spark to an otherwise stale Hawkeye offense.

“C.J. came out and played an unbelievable game,” running back Mark Weisman said. “He made some huge plays for us.”

Beathard was not the sole reason Iowa came back to beat Pittsburgh, of course. The Hawkeyes stepped up defensively and contained James Conner, the Panther’s lethal running back, in the second half. Weisman ran hard and likely established himself as Iowa’s featured back for the rest of the season.

But Beathard, just a sophomore, played a huge role in the victory. He was poised. He made good, smart passes, delivering the ball with a certain zip at times. He commanded the huddle as if he’d been calling the shots all season.

And for his performance, he should be named Iowa’s starter for Saturday’s game against Purdue.

“I have no idea,” he said when asked if he should start. “You’ll have to ask Coach about that.”

This is not to say Beathard is the new hero of the Black and Gold kingdom. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz shouldn’t just hand him the keys to the offense after one solid half of football.

Instead, Ferentz should let Beathard test drive it. Let him take it for a spin. A solid half of football is nice, but most of us — coaches included, I’m sure — are really interested in seeing what Beathard can do as the guy for a full game.

What you and I saw from Beathard against the Panthers was both refreshing and, to a degree, surprising. On his first pass, a third-and-3 from Iowa’s 13-yard line, Beathard stood in the pocket amid pressure and delivered a great pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley for a first down — and took a pretty good hit afterwards, too.

And then there was the 62-yard bomb to Damond Powell, the one that made the top 10 on “SportsCenter” and caused Twitter to explode. Powell cracked the highlights with his one-handed catch, but Beathard put the pass right on the money.

Look, starting quarterback Jake Rudock hasn’t done anything to lose his job. He won eight games last year and was largely the reason Iowa won its first two games this season.

But after seeing Rudock play 16 and ½ games in an Iowa uniform, it’s hard to say he offers a skill set that’s better than Beathard’s.

Beathard’s talents have always been enticing and mysterious. His ceiling remains unknown, which is perhaps why the fans clamor for him. His arm strength and quick release are skills you can’t teach, which meant it was a matter of learning to control them. He said after the game he’s been working on better decision making rather than just “chucking it in the air and seeing what will happen.”

That maturity manifested on the field against Pittsburgh. The only glaring setback came when Beathard used two time-outs in a little over 30 seconds in the fourth quarter because he appeared confused either about the play or because of what the defense was showing.

But learning to adjust at the line of scrimmage comes with experience. Beathard got his first real taste of live action this past weekend and proved he might have a bigger upside than previously thought.

The only way Ferentz will truly know what he has in Beathard is if he plays him more, and a good place to begin is in West Lafayette on Saturday, where Beathard should be Iowa’s starting quarterback.

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa football team.


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