IOWA CITY, Iowa — On the road, in a stadium where the noise seemed to hover like a thunderstorm, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard faced the most significant on-field adversity of his college career.
More than 60,000 fans mostly clad in cardinal red stood in unison and cheered so loudly in Jack Trice Stadium that even the band was inaudible. That moment met Beathard on Sept. 12, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. The Hawkeyes trailed Iowa State 10-3 midway through the second quarter and were being outplayed.
This is where the moment stares a quarterback in the face. Either he blinks or the moment dissipates. Backed up near the goal line, Beathard met the moment.
And he punched it in the face.
First down and 10 at Iowa’s 7, 8:34 left, second quarter; Iowa trails 10-3 …
Iowa lined up in a base 21 grouping (two receivers, one tight end, one fullback, one running back). Beathard faked to running back LeShun Daniels and dropped seven steps. The right-handed quarterback bounced forward and slightly tilted his left shoulder upward as if he planned to throw deep. Iowa State right defensive end Dale Pierson bull-rushed inside, then spun around Iowa left tackle Boone Myers. Pierson dove into Beathard’s upper left leg 2 yards into the end zone.
The hit knocked Beathard off balance. He planted his left hand into the end zone grass and held the football above his head with his right arm. Beathard twisted backward, kept the ball in his hand and arched his back across the goal line to avoid the safety.
“Obviously you’d like to have more time back there, especially backed up like that,” Beathard said. “We were going to take a shot down the field. But protection broke down and a guy came free. So I just knew I couldn’t take a safety in that situation, especially at that point in the game, backed up like that. So I did I everything I could to get across the line, and it ended up working out.”
Myers, who now plays left guard, had one thought on his mind when Pierson twirled past him.
“Oh no,” Myers said. “(Beathard) did a tremendous job of getting out of there and not going down. That’s pretty much all him. Whenever I watch that I pretty much say, ‘My bad. That’s all on me.’ He made me right.”
Second and 16 at Iowa’s 1, 7:55 left, second quarter …
Backed up on the doorstep of its own end zone, Iowa retained the same 21 personnel grouping and lined up in an I-formation. With the crowd whipped into a frenzy, Beathard faked again to Daniels on the left side, turned and rolled right near the back of the end zone. Beathard first glanced to the flat where tight end Henry Krieger Coble was covered. Beathard took two steps forward, looked once more at his receivers and tucked the ball away for good.
“It was just kind of a bootleg play and I looked downfield and it didn’t look like anybody was open,” Beathard said. “I didn’t think I was going to get much out of it, maybe a few yards.”
Beathard crossed the goal line and juked defensive back Jomal Wiltz at the 4. Beathard stepped left then veered right as he headed upfield. At the 11, Iowa State safety Kamari Cotton-Moya overran Beathard and nearly collided with defensive lineman Bobby Leath. Both whiffed on Beathard.
Receiver Matt VandeBerg blocked cornerback Brian Peavy at the 17-yard line, and Peavy’s late attempt at an arm tackle only tapped the quarterback’s foot. Beathard shook off cornerback Nigel Tribune at the 27, crossed over linebacker Luke Knott and kept running. Finally, Pierson and linebacker Willie Harvey caught up to Beathard, who clutched the ball with both hands as he fell to the ground at the Iowa 45.
The play, which officially covered 44 yards, stunned the crowd, his opponents, his teammates, everyone.
“In that game, you’re playing in a really hostile environment,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s a tough place for us to play, every time we go. Some of the plays he made, you don’t bank on those. You hope he’s going to play well but some of those plays, we would like to say we coach them but we don’t.”
“We’ve seen it a little bit in practice but not to that magnitude,” Myers said. “He just wove his way down the field. It was crazy. We’ve never seen C.J. move like that. … He was breathing pretty hard. He’s not used to running that far.”
“I remember watching a play where he scrambled out of the end zone, picked maybe 30 to 40 yards off that play,” Iowa cornerback Desmond King said. “That showed what kind of quarterback C.J. is. He’s a dual-threat quarterback to me.”
“He’s a great quarterback and great quarterbacks can do a little bit of both,” Cotton-Moya said of running and passing.
— Chris Ruth (@ChrisRuthIOWA) June 18, 2016
First and 10 at Iowa’s 45, 7:22 left, second quarter …
Iowa switched personnel to 12 (two tight ends, two receivers, one running back) but kept the pressure on the Cyclones defense. Beathard dropped straight back. Defensive end Trent Taylor beat Iowa right tackle Ike Boettger on the edge and forced Beathard to step up in the pocket. Beathard pulled down the ball and turned right. As he was chased, Beathard untucked the ball and flicked it toward running back Jordan Canzeri, who broke out of Harvey’s grasp. Canzeri caught the ball near his feet and turned upfield. He sprinted along the sideline for 19 yards before running out of bounds.
Knott shoved Beathard as he released the ball. Beathard hiked up to his knees and watched Canzeri finished the play.
“I was dead after that (run),” Beathard said. “I flipped it to (Canzeri) and got hit. I was just laying there for a second like just like taking a couple seconds rest on the field. I was tired but in times like that guys have got to make plays.”
Iowa had gained only 51 yards in its first 19 plays before this drive. In this series, the Hawkeyes already gained 57 yards.
First and 10 at Iowa State’s 36, 6:45 left, second quarter …
Beathard finally got a breather and handed off to Canzeri twice. The first run gained 9 yards, the second lost a yard. The Hawkeyes went heavy on third-and-2 from Iowa State’s 28 with two tight ends and a fullback. Daniels showed good feet in running to the Cyclones’ 15.
First and 10 at Iowa State’s 15, 5:18 left, second quarter …
Daniels ran left for a yard. On second down, Beathard changed the play at the line of scrimmage and targeted Krieger Coble. Three defenders crowded the tight end, and Beathard launched the ball past the sideline.
Third and 9 at Iowa State’s 14, 4:30 left, second quarter …
Down by a touchdown and the ball on the left hashmark, Iowa brought in three wide receivers. Beathard eyed the defense from the shotgun. Beathard shuffled back a few steps after the snap and looked to his right where VandeBerg cut to the flat and Krieger Coble sat down 5 yards into his route. Beathard quickly turned his head left and immediately fired a high, hard strike at split end Tevaun Smith, who was one-on-one with Peavy. The ball glanced off Peavy’s right hand but not enough to change direction. About 6 yards in the end zone, Smith contorted his body parallel with the left sideline, caught the ball with both hands and planted down both feet.
“C.J. put it in a spot where only I could get it,” said Smith, now on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad, earlier this summer to HawkeyeSports.com. “The corner actually tipped it a little bit, but I ended up still catching it.”
“You can’t coach that,” Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said. “It’s a matter of him wanting to go out and just perform at a high level. That’s what makes C.J. one of the great players that he is. Just by going out and doing his job to a whole other level.”
“What I love about Beathard is he’s one of these throwback kind of old-school swag type of guys,” said former Colorado broadcaster Joel Klatt, who called the game that day for Fox. “He’s got a quiet confidence about him that oozes throughout the team. When he goes out there, it’s not always the prettiest, he’s not mechanically one of the prettiest quarterbacks that you’re going to see, but he just gets the job done. He’s gritty, he’s smart, he understands how to operate the game and yet he also makes big plays.”
Iowa knotted the game at 10-10 with the extra point. Iowa State pulled ahead again with a touchdown on its next possession. But the momentum stayed with Iowa, which scored three second-half touchdowns. Beathard tossed the game-winner to Riley McCarron with 2:14 left in the game.
Beathard was named the Big Ten’s offensive player of the week. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 215 yards, three scores and no interceptions. He also rushed 10 times for 77 yards. The Hawkeyes reclaimed the CyHawk Trophy, the first of four hardware revenge victories. Iowa won all 12 regular-season games, advanced to the Big Ten championship game and earned a Rose Bowl bid for the first time in 25 years. Beathard was named second-team all-Big Ten and made dozens of plays like in the above series. But few were as meaningful, especially because he largely was unproven entering the game.
“I know for a lot of people outside our state playing Iowa State is not that big of a deal,” Ferentz said. “But anyone, as all of us have, you’ve experienced that series, that rivalry and you’re out there on the field and you’ve got the students yelling at you and all those things, you can’t duplicate that in practice. Not until a guy gets out on the game field you’re really not sure what’s going to be the reaction. He did a nice job in game one but in game two, it was like, ‘Boy, this guy has a chance to be really be pretty good.’ That’s pretty exciting. Those are just rare things.”
“Last year we didn’t know what to expect because last year was his first year as a starter,” Cotton-Moya said. “Now we know what to expect. He’s a great player. We don’t underestimate them or overestimate them. We know what to expect a little bit.”
Beathard turned that moment into a memory. Now it’s about staring down his next challenge.
“I can stay in control of myself, I like getting a little nervous but once that first couple of plays happen on the field, they all go away and it’s all football from there,” Beathard said.