TAMPA, Fla. — After throwing his second interception, C.J. Beathard tried to run down Florida’s Chauncey Gardner. Only he stumbled and limped off, a bruised and battered competitor unable to continue giving chase.
This isn’t how Iowa wanted the Outback Bowl to go.
This isn’t the Kodak moment Beathard was after in his final game.
This isn’t the ending the quarterback central to Iowa’s recent success deserved.
But it’s the way Beathard closed out his career. His body couldn’t do what he wanted in a 30-3 one-sided loss to No. 17 Florida on Monday.
“Frustrating is a good word to say how the day went,” Beathard said. “I thought we started off well and there were a few plays here or there that changed the game drastically. Once those happened we couldn’t get out from under the bus.”
It was more like the bus kept running over Beathard.
A Florida defensive line that racked up 30 sacks in the regular season kept hitting Beathard, repeatedly going after him the way Conor McGregor attacks an opponent.
The blow that changed the game came on the kind of play that Beathard made time and again. Without a receiver open, Beathard scrambled for the end zone on a third-and-goal from the 7-yard line. He tried to twist away from the Florida defenders, using a second-effort to try to score a touchdown.
The were two problems. Florida’s Marcell Harris stopped him a yard short and he injured his hamstring on the play.
Beathard wouldn’t be the same. Neither, really, would the offense. He couldn’t run bootleg passes. Beathard became a pocket passer, a stationary target for the Florida defense. He finished 7 of 23 for 55 passing yards and 3 interceptions.
“It’s tough,” Beathard said, “especially as a senior, it being your last game with so many expectations, us as a group felt that we were going to come out and win the game.”
There is a certain tragic, albeit poetic, justice to it all. He led the Hawkeyes to 20 wins the last two seasons and secured a place in Iowa lore by making plays with his feet and arm.
But if you ask his teammates and coaches, his biggest strength is his toughness. It was on full display for four quarters as he tried to will the Hawkeyes to something that just wasn’t there against the Gators.
“We’ve had a lot of tough guys come through the University of Iowa and play football at least in my 27 years, and he’s right up there at the top,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They don’t come any tougher.”
Monday served as one final reminder.
“He gave it his all today,” wide receiver Riley McCarron said. “He gave us everything he has this past four and a half years. It’s just kind of the epitome of C.J.”
The Hawkeyes knew Beathard would go down swinging. It’s who he is.
A massage from the medical staff could only do so much. He wasn’t the same player who almost single-handedly tried to carry the passing game once receiver Matt VandeBerg was lost for the season.
Ferentz could have pulled — and probably should have pulled — Beathard in the second half. He was likely doing more harm than good, both to himself and the team.
Man… C.J. Beathard is just getting killed out there. Another interception. Not sure why he's still in there.
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) January 2, 2017
But the medical staff said he could play. Beathard certainly wasn’t going to voluntarily stay on the sideline, and Ferentz didn’t think it was the right move, not with everything Beathard meant to the program.
“We certainly owe it to him,’ Ferentz said. “He’s had a tremendous career and laid it out there for us game in and game out.”
So Beathard continued on his Don Quixote-like quest to lead Iowa on a touchdown drive on a day it just wasn’t going to happen. Finally, Ferentz pulled him in the fourth quarter.
As the seconds ticked away on his college career, Beathard stood on the sideline. He hugged McCarron, the two saying they’ll miss playing with each other. Despite the ending, this was how he wanted to go out, making one last memory with a friend.
“I will not remember the third-and-8 when this happened,” Beathard said. “I will remember that feeling after we won that (big) game in the locker room or the week leading up to it and practice.”
In the coming years, his mind won’t wander to the Outback Bowl when thinking about his Iowa days. There is no need to, even if it sums up what made him so good.