IOWA CITY, Iowa — One awkward flop that sort of passed for a headfirst dive showed Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard that he needed a summer course in the fundamentals of sliding.
Hobbled with a sore groin muscle that later required surgery, Beathard clinched the Hawkeyes’ 35-27 win at Indiana last November with an 11-yard bootleg run. The quarterback turned left and galloped toward the first-down marker on second-and-9. Once he reached his destination, Beathard dropped, bounced for 2 yards and sealed the win.
“There were definitely times when I should have gone feet first when I went headfirst,” Beathard admitted. “Indiana was definitely one, the last one there.”
No player in Iowa, the Big Ten West Division, heck, even the entire league, is more of a cowboy than the freewheeling Beathard. Brett Favre and Ken Stabler comparisons are apt and persistent. Beathard has a trigger release — see an 85-yard touchdown pass that traveled 57 yards in the air against Michigan State — and a devil-may-care playmaking ability.
That’s where sliding comes in. Beathard, a senior, received guidance and offseason homework from offensive coordinator Greg Davis on hitting the plastic grass and rubber filament a little more gracefully. Beathard took to the extra work like a 9-year-old enjoys his vegetables with the expected scowl.
“I don’t even like doing the drills,” Beathard said, “because in baseball in high school I slid in high school when I was young, maybe even before high school, I slid and broke my hip. So ever since then I was a headfirst slider until I got here. Now I have to be a feet-first slider again. But it’s been getting better.”
“He’s got some of the ugliest slides I’ve seen since I’ve gotten into coaching, that’s for sure,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
But Beathard’s nature is the opposite of giving up and leaving his feet, even on a play. His running playlist rivals the length and scope of any on iTunes. Most involve fighting for extra yards and taking on defenders. Here’s a sample:
- In the 2015 opener against Illinois State, Beathard ran a draw up the middle, challenged a linebacker at the goal line and scored the season’s first touchdown.
- While rolling right in the back of his own end zone at Iowa State, Beathard tucked the ball down and ran. He shed five tacklers on a 44-yard scamper that culminated in a game-tying touchdown drive.
- In a play that caused his lingering groin issue, Beathard scrambled right, absorbed a hit near the goal line and dove for a 9-yard touchdown against Pittsburgh. He later set up the game-winning field goal with an 8-yard rush and headfirst dive with 2 seconds left.
- Beathard ran inside the 5-yard line against Illinois and tried to cut back when he was drilled by defensive lineman Jihad Ward. Beathard soared past the sideline with his shoulders hitting the ground before his legs in what he later called “a wake-up call.”
There are dozens of others, from a helicopter dive for a score at Indiana to a late-half 26-yard dash against Minnesota. Running and diving and an occasional accidental flop is part of his makeup. To curtail it would neuter his effectiveness.
“If it’s critical and we need to get the extra yards, you know I’m going to go and get those extra yards,” Beathard said.
“When he does come out of the pocket, we’re not going to discourage him from that,” Ferentz said. “That’s one of the reasons he’s a good player. Not only can he run or will run, but he’ll also break the pocket and throw the ball, too, which is really tough to defend. We’re not going to try to control that.
“We’re hopeful. We’re hopeful that he slides a little bit better and protects himself, just use a little better judgment.”