Can C.J. Beathard defy odds and throw for an uncharacteristic amount of touchdowns for Iowa this season?
2011 was the last time an Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback threw for 20 touchdowns in a season. James Vandenberg threw 25 touchdowns for the Hawkeyes as he led them to a 7-6 record. Jake Rudock in 2013 was the closest quarterback since to hit the 20 passing touchdowns mark when he threw for 18.
Now, coming off his first season as the Hawkeyes starter, C.J. Beathard has a chance to be considered one of the best quarterbacks to ever play for the Iowa Hawkeyes. After throwing for 17 touchdowns in 2015, Beathard’s current career total sits at 23. Heading into his final season, Beathard is tied for the 11th most passing touchdowns in school history, and needs just 18 to tie Matt Rodgers for fifth all-time.
Assuming the Hawkeyes offense doesn’t take a huge step back and Beathard stays healthy, he should be able to reach that mark easily. Although, can he do something that only three quarterbacks have been able to do since Kirk Ferentz took over, and throw 25 touchdowns this season?
It’s no secret that Ferentz loves to pound the ball. He’s never been a coach who wants to air it out, and his running attack won’t change in 2016. With that being said, Beathard’s mobility and ability as a passer is a skill set that is not seen in every quarterback, and why many regard Beathard as the second best quarterback in the Big Ten behind J.T. Barrett.
After Beathard admitted that he wasn’t 100 percent for most of the season, health will be the biggest concern for him. While he still managed to play all 14 games last season, there’s no telling how much of an impact minor or nagging injuries had on his success throughout the season. For a quarterback as mobile as Beathard, and one who likes to get out of the pocket from time-to-time, even a small injury could be detrimental on any given week.
When it comes down to it, though, the emergence of LeShun Daniels Jr will be the key to how Ferentz runs the offense. He knows what to expect from Beathard, but if Daniels can stay healthy then Iowa should have a consistent running attack, as well. Akrum Wadley is projected as a solid backup to Daniels, who has had problems staying healthy throughout his career, but Wadley saw just 83 carries last season.
Therefore, while Wadley is far from a bad option to backup Daniels, the uncertainty surrounding him as a starter could lead Iowa to rely on Beathard and the passing game more if Daniels were to miss any time. Of course, a balanced attack will be more beneficial for Iowa, even if it means fewer scoring opportunities for Beathard. Although, with Iowa’s thin wide receiver core, Daniels health is even more important for the Hawkeyes.
While Beathard does return top receiver Matt VandeBerg, Tevaun Smith graduated after recording 563 yards and three touchdowns last season. Not to mention Iowa will also need to replace tight end Henry Krieger-Coble following his breakout senior season.
Tight ends and running backs – Jordan Canzeri recorded 20 catches – were important parts to the Hawkeyes passing game. Luckily, now starting tight end George Kittle had a team-high six touchdowns last season, but Daniels will need to become a more integral part to the passing game.
While Beathard does return his top weapon from a season ago, another target will have to develop at some point this season. If not, the Hawkeyes passing game could take a serious and detrimental step back.
Luckily, Iowa will face a couple of easier secondaries to start the season. Three of their first four opponents are at home and had losing records last season, and North Dakota State is a FCS school. Not to mention that each ranked outside of the top-75 in passing yards allowed last season.
The chances for Beathard to mesh with his new core in-game will be there, as well as him passing for multiple touchdowns, depending on how long Ferentz keeps him in the game. Beating up on weaker opponents at the start of the season is how a lot of stars pad their stats. Dominating and blowing out teams is necessary for the Hawkeyes as they’ll try to impress the committee, and having Beathard air it out some will help accomplish that goal.
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In the end, though, C.J. Beathard isn’t a gunslinger like J.T. Barrett or Deshaun Watson. He’s not someone you’re going to hand the offense to and let them run the show. Although, that’s not what Iowa is looking for. They need him to be a game manager and covert when asked to. Still, after his impressive junior season, it’s hard to imagine that Kirk Ferentz won’t give him more responsibility.
Beathard has the tools around him and as a player to put together a special season, however he has to show more consistency. Maybe it was the injuries but last season he had four games in which he didn’t record a passing touchdown. Even if Iowa didn’t make the Big Ten Championship game, they will still have 13 games on the schedule, assuming they make a bowl game. Throwing for two touchdowns a game isn’t out of Beathard’s reach.
Unlike what some people may believe, Beathard gets chances to throw, but it’s not always deep down field like other quarterbacks. Converting in the red zone and having a couple of big plays will be needed for Beathard to attain this goal.
Even though Iowa won’t change their style of play, I’d expect a heavier passing offense and a healthier, more confident Beathard to take more chances down field. It’s uncharacteristic for an Iowa quarterback but 25 passing touchdowns is realistic and attainable. Either way, he should at least reach 25 total touchdowns with ease – 23 total touchdowns last season.