C.J. Beathard is off to a fast start and the Heisman Trophy may not be completely unrealistic
Just a couple of weeks ago the discussion of whether Desmond King is a legitimate Heisman hopeful was in full swing. The cornerback is coming off a school-record eight interceptions but decided to stay at Iowa for his senior season. Although, through the first two weeks, it’s evident that teams don’t want to challenge King.
Teams try to throw and run to the opposite side King is on. It’s a testament to the greatness of Desmond King, however it forces him to have a special season on special teams if he wants to be in the Heisman discussion. Just like in the past, the inability to control when opposing teams want to challenge you has seemingly taken the All-American cornerback out of the running for the Heisman Trophy as a senior.
All hope may not be lost for Iowa Hawkeyes fans, though. Quarterback C.J. Beathard is off to a fast start following his performance against Iowa State. Beathard threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns, adding another one on the ground. With the Hawkeyes in line for another big year, and the senior quarterback playing a bigger role in 2016, many believe that Beathard has a legitimate shot at being at least a Heisman finalist.
Based on position alone, Beathard has a better shot than Desmond King. Charles Woodson is the only primary defensive player to ever take home the award, with it historically going to running backs and quarterbacks.
Marcus Mariota in 2014 and Jameis Winston in 2013 are the last two quarterbacks to win the award. They each passed for over 4,000 yards, scored at least 40 touchdowns and Mariota only threw four interceptions compared to Winston’s 10. Still, neither were turnover prone and each led their respective team to the Championship Game, with Winston and Florida State winning it all.
While Iowa may have to catch a few breaks and pull off an upset or two, making the College Football Playoff is not completely out of their reach. They’ve proven over their first two games that their offense is much more explosive this year, which is why many believe Beathard has a chance at the Heisman, and they still have a stifling defense. Not to mention being ranked #13 in the AP Poll gives them a much easier climb to the top than last year.
Plus, the Hawkeyes now have two top-10 teams remaining on their schedule. Granted Wisconsin has a tough three-game stretch right before the Hawkeyes that could drop them down the rankings, but it would still be a quality win in the eyes of voters. Therefore, if the Hawkeyes were able to run the table or make the Big Ten Championship game, again, there would be no denying that Beathard was the leader of one of the best teams in the nation.
That being said, C.J. Beathard still needs to stay healthy and put up big numbers. The aspect of Beathard’s game that’s on his side is his smart decision-making. He threw just five interceptions last season during his first full season as a starter, and this year he has made very few bad plays.
A throw will get away from him here or there, however Kirk Ferentz trusts that he won’t have a costly turnover late in games. Part of his low turnover rate is due to the Hawkeyes ground and pound mentality.
Kirk Ferentz has been dedicated to the run since becoming the Hawkeyes head coach in 1999. He has shied away from using a full back this year and let Beathard throw more than usual against Iowa State. While Beathard thrived, the Hawkeyes know their bread and butter is with their running back duo of LeShun Daniels Jr and Akrum Wadley.
Despite Beathard throwing 28 times against the Cyclones, it likely won’t be a common occurrence. He only reached that mark four times last year, and once was in the Rose Bowl when the Hawkeyes were playing from behind the entire game.
In big games Ferentz will want to control the tempo of the game and force teams to play a defensive-minded, grind it out game that the Hawkeyes thrive in. Because, in the end, Ferentz is worried about getting wins, not getting C.J. Beathard the Heisman.
With Beathard only averaging 7.8 yards per pass attempt last season, it’s evident that he’ll need more passes than other quarterbacks to rack up huge yards, even with his very good 66.7 completion percentage. He’ll need more pass attempts because when the Hawkeyes do turn to Beathard, they’re usually shorter passes to Matt VandeBerg or George Kittle. Iowa did have a couple of big plays last weekend due to blown coverages, though.
Even if Beathard were to throw for 235 yards in each of his last 10 games, the amount he threw for against Iowa State, he would only record 2,777 yards on the season. That’s a far cry from the 4,454 yards Mariota threw and 3,907 yards Winston threw during their Heisman seasons. Not to mention that Beathard was only able to reach that mark three times in 2015.
In a hypothetical world, it’s possible that a major injury to Daniels or Wadley forces Ferentz to change his offensive game plan and Beathard becomes an elite passer during his senior season. He would still need to become a better runner, as well. Beathard has rushed for -29 yards on the season thus far.
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Beathard is not immobile by any stretch of the imagination, however, he’s also not a quarterback you can run an option offense with or turn to in the red zone to pick up important chunks of yards. We witnessed that last weekend when the Hawkeyes called a designed run for Beathard and he went nowhere. Beathard was met at the line. He was too slow which allowed the Cyclones to easily dissect what was happening.
When it comes down to it, the Hawkeyes offense isn’t designed to make quarterbacks Heisman winners. Iowa’s offensive goal is to beat down opponents with their running game, and occasionally beat them with a deep pass when the run game opens up the field.
C.J. Beathard is perfect in his leadership role with the Hawkeyes. He doesn’t make mistakes, knows the offense well, and delivers dimes to his receivers when called upon.
Despite the C.J. Beathard that we’ve come to know and love, the C.J. Beathard who has led Iowa to a Rose Bowl and 14 straight regular season wins, he won’t be in the Heisman running. The quarterbacks who win the Heisman Trophy are all dual-threats who thrive in a high-tempo offense.
It’s fun to dream of another Heisman winner joining Nile Kinnick, but it’s nothing more than a dream. The Hawkeyes don’t need him to be Mariota, Winston or Johnny Manziel, they just need him to continue playing smart and racking up wins for a football team with high aspirations this season.