Iowa City, Iowa — The game clock was set to expire, and Iowa desperately needed to get near field-goal range.
Once again, quarterback C.J. Beathard made the play that needed to be made, scrambling out of the pocket and, with his eyes glued to the clock, hitting the ground with just two seconds left.
Those extra seconds and yards were just enough for Marshall Koehn, whose 57-yard field goal gave Iowa a thrilling 27-24 win over Pittsburgh last weekend.
Heads-up plays like that have become common for Beathard, who has used his arm and legs to push the Hawkeyes to their first 3-0 start in six years. Iowa closes out non-conference play Saturday against North Texas (0-2).
“If anything, I’ve been impressed with — and I think I can speak for our staff — his poise and his judgment over three games,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s been really impressive.”
Beathard’s overall passing numbers — a 64 percent completion rate, 684 yards and four touchdowns — rank near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Nonetheless, his leadership and knack for key plays have lifted the Hawkeyes again and again.
Beathard, a junior, set the tone for the offense on the second possession of the season, leading Iowa on its first 99-yard touchdown drive in 13 years.
In a road win at Iowa State, Beathard reeled off first-half runs of 44 and 57 yards that kept the Hawkeyes in a game that was threatening to get away from them. Beathard later broke a 17-all tie with just 2:14 left on a gorgeous 25-yard scoring pass to Riley McCarron. Iowa went on to win 31-17.
Beathard credits much of his success to the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about losing his starting spot after two seasons spent backing up Jake Rudock.
Rudock bolted for Michigan after Ferentz named Beathard the starter in January.
“That plays a big part of it, and also to get the reps that I’ve been getting. I feel more comfortable,” Beathard said. “The longer I’m here, the more comfortable I get.”
Beathard made his first major mistake against Pitt, throwing a pick that set up a Panthers touchdown. But stuck at the 30-yard line with 39 seconds left, Beathard single-handedly set up one of the best kicks in school history.
Despite being battered repeatedly by Pitt’s physical defense, Beathard had enough left to pick up consecutive first downs with his legs.
With no time left to try and force the ball to a covered receiver, Beathard took what was available — which proved to be enough for the strong-legged Koehn.
“A lot of it is instinct. I don’t think we had any designed quarterback run play when we played Pitt. A lot of those were just scrambles, and I saw a hole or the protection was breaking down and I thought I could make a play with my feet,” Beathard said.
Beathard, who leads the Big Ten in both rushing yards (143) and touchdowns (3) by a quarterback, might be Iowa’s most mobile signal-caller since Brad Banks nearly won the Heisman Trophy in 2002. He might also have the best arm Iowa has seen since Ricky Stanzi, who led Iowa to 11 wins in 2009.
Beathard is 4-0 as a starter, including a win at Purdue in 2014, and he has won all three of his starts against Power Five opponents.
“Having C.J., who’s a great leader and can make amazing plays, is obviously a huge positive for our offense,” running back Jordan Canzeri said.