IOWA CITY, Iowa — A loss to a FCS team never looks good. Not even when it’s to North Dakota State, the perennial national champion.
But this isn’t a worst case scenario. Quarterback C.J. Beathard did only miss five plays after all.
In a day where not much went right for Iowa after halftime in a 23-21 loss to North Dakota State, a potential larger issue came to the forefront. The Hawkeyes can’t let Beathard get hit again like he did on Saturday.
Beathard took a pounding. The Bison treated him the way Conor McGregor does a sparring partner. North Dakota State only recorded two sacks, but that doesn’t tell the true story of how much they kept hitting Beathard. The pressure never let up.
“Nothing that we shouldn’t be able to handle,” Beathard said.
Those are eight words Iowa fans don’t want to hear. Not on a day where Kinnick Stadium went silent after Beathard took a vicious shot on a third quarter run.
It looked like a potential concussion. The training staff examined his left shoulder. Beathard said there was concern over his collarbone. He’d come back and throw a touchdown pass later in the series.
The only thing Iowa avoided on Saturday was a significant Beathard injury. The Hawkeyes can’t afford to keep letting Beathard get drilled like that. There is a reason the coaching staff tried to limit how much Beathard ran the ball in the first three games.
Iowa needs Beathard if it’s to achieve its goals. If he keeps getting treated like a pinata it will hard for him to stay on the field.
“They get after the quarterback,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They can do it with four guys and then they’ll bring extra pressure.”
Beathard isn’t your typical Hawkeye quarterback. He isn’t part of an offensive machine that is controlled by the line. Beathard makes the Hawkeyes go. He’s the most important piece to this offensive puzzle.
Take him away and Iowa isn’t the same. Winning the Big Ten West title, claiming the conference championship and getting to a second straight big-time bowl game will be harder to come by than second-half rushing yards.
Backup Nathan Stanley looked good when he replaced Beathard. He threw a nice ball on the 37-yard pass to tight end Greg Kittle. But the Hawkeyes don’t want to rely on a true freshman, no matter how impressive he’s looked.
The preseason expectations were taller than Adam Woodbury. The pieces are there, though it didn’t look like it on Saturday. A loss to the Bison doesn’t impact the Big Ten standings.
Iowa needs Beathard if anything memorable is to follow.
It’s also going to need the offensive line. There is no way to sugar-coat it. This was a poor performance, one that cuts straight to the soul of a program that prides itself with its play in the trenches.
“We’ve seen most everything they brought,” Iowa offensive guard Keegan Render said. “It’s kind of us being off today a little bit and being late on some reads and not knowing who to block on some plays.”
That’s not a quote that will inspire confidence. The Hawkeyes knew what was coming and couldn’t stop it. It’s why Beathard’s response to any question about a specific hit sounded the same.
“It should have been picked up,” Beathard said. “For some reason or another, it wasn’t.”
This is a guarantee game. Iowa didn’t hand North Dakota State a $500,000 check for the coach to say “they’re the better team.”
Or for the quarterback to answer for the hits he took.
Or for the offensive line to explain what kept going wrong.
“It wasn’t anything they did differently,” Iowa center Lucas LeGrand said. “Credit to them. They did it and we didn’t react and do what we were supposed to.”
There were plenty of offensive problems. Third downs weren’t converted. Dropped passes spread through the skill players like a virus. The ground game was nothing more than a concept with the Hawkeyes limited to 34 rushing yards.
Most of the issues tied back into the offensive line. Iowa played without two starters, James Daniels and Sean Welsh. The problems up front went beyond their replacements.
“We didn’t measure up,” Ferentz said.
Iowa lost a game on Saturday. It could lose something more valuable unless things change.