CEDAR RAPIDS - With five of seven matches decided by two goals or less, the late-game stakes have been awfully high this season for the Cedar Rapids Rampage.
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IOWA CITY — Last Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium, budding country music star Tucker Beathard tried to pass the microphone to his brother C.J., who, you know, plays quarterback for the Hawkeyes.
C.J. didn’t want to go on stage. That was a live mic and 50,000 country music fans. A very different world from third down and being in the shotgun.
“I actually was pretty nervous,” C.J. said Tuesday. “I honestly didn’t want to do it.”
This Saturday in Kinnick, the nerves will be born out of energy and Beathard will want to jump on that stage.
Beathard plans to wear the knee brace in Saturday’s season opener against Miami (Ohio). What knee brace? You remember the one from early August, when a stray linebacker fell on his left knee. Beathard missed three practices, but returned for the open scrimmage and had a big, bulky brace on his knee that, yeah, he said he hated.
That knee brace, the one he’ll be wearing Saturday. So, a topic with Beathard on Tuesday was what he could do to preserve his health. It took us into the QB slide thing. Beathard’s not down with that, but his offensive coordinator and head coach are. It was a topic in the offseason.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz was ready with this: “We don’t need him to be the toughest guy on the team.” This was right after Ferentz called Beathard’s slides among the ugliest he’s seen.
Beathard has a sturdy build at 6-2, 215, but he’s not a giant. And with him, it’s always going to boil down to what he said before he took over in 2015. This was during the summer, when none of us really knew a lot about his game. There was that one time, though, against Indiana in 2014 when he ran the read option and took a pop in the hip that kept him out of the Maryland game and everyone kind of wondered where Beathard was when the offense turned in a fairly dreadful performance.
“You’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do to win,” Beathard said. “If running the ball and using my feet is part of that, that’s what I’ll do. If that’s what the defense gives you, that’s what you have to do.”
Whatever it takes to win.
Keith Duncan is from North Carolina. Not many Hawkeye players are from North Carolina. We’re talking all-time.
What made the true freshman kicker come halfway across the country to walk-on at Iowa? (Aside from the fact that former Iowa punter Jason Baker, who played 11 seasons in the NFL including seven with the Carolina Panthers, recommended Duncan and gave him a thumbs up.)
“There were many things that made me choose Iowa,” Duncan told HawkeyeReport.com. “A big one was that they don’t treat kickers like they aren’t a part of the team. The specialists have their own conference room, the workouts are the same, and they are involved in practice.
“Also, it’s hard to say no to Iowa after touring their new football building,” he continued. “The indoor field, locker room, weight room, and team rooms are all top notch.”
It didn’t hurt that Iowa had a job opening. Marshall Koehn graduated and so the kicking job opened. Still, there were no guarantees. The Hawkeyes have a pair of third-year sophomores in Miguel Recinos and Mick Ellis.
For now, Duncan has fought them off and has won the chance to win Iowa’s kicking job. Ferentz said Tuesday the book likely will remain open. He added, too, that there could be a different kicker for long FG situations.
“Seems pretty unflappable at this stage,” Ferentz said. “I really have to compliment him on that. But it wasn’t like he was a guy, superstar recruit or any of that stuff. He’s a really good football player, and we’ll see what happens here in the weeks ahead.”
We know about a few (Duncan counts). Defensive tackle Cedric Lattimore is in. Wide receiver Devonte Young is in. Linebackers Amani Jones and Kristian Welch are in the two deeps. Safety Amani Hooker and corner Manny Rugamba also are in the two deeps.
Senior defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson was surprised by Lattimore’s physicality. Senior cornerback Desmond King said Rugamba reminds him of a young Desmond King.
Ferentz hedged on running backs and tight ends. Of the running backs, Toks Akinribade might have a bit better shot than Toren Young, but both are still in play.
“I wouldn’t rule either of them out right now,” Ferentz said. “Toks probably has the better possibility of getting in, but we’re considering it for sure.”
As for true freshmen tight ends, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson might see time. Beathard has said he’s loved Fant’s athleticism from day 1. Ferentz said Fant, a 6-5, 225-pounder from Omaha, Neb., might get “some reps.” So probably he’s in.
Just on tight end overall, beyond senior George Kittle, camp injuries have clouded the picture and it’s kind of a mystery.
“We’ve looked at a lot of guys there,” Ferentz said. “We’re a little further behind there.”
The weakside linebacker spot belongs to junior Bo Bower right now. He won a regular starting role as a redshirt freshman at the outside linebacker spot in 2014. He was replaced in the TaxSlayer Bowl by Ben Niemann, who’ll go into his second year as the starter.
Bower made the switch last spring and lost a close battle to Cole Fisher. This summer, he’s won, at least for now, a battle with sophomore Aaron Mends and Jones. Ferentz said all three could see time at that spot or in substitution packages.
Wisconsin is opening its season against No. 6 Louisiana State at Lambeau Field. There’s a large percentage of you out there who’d love for the Hawkeyes to spend one of their three non-conference games on one of these mega-games.
Probably don’t hold your breath. Ferentz pointed to the close margins of last season (the Hawkeyes won three games by a TD or less and two others by eight points) and the Big Ten schedule.
“You know, we’ll get plenty of excitement all season long,” he said.
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