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Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz has 143 wins under his belt at the University of Iowa, one away from the all-time record.

The Gazette will count down each win, as ranked by writer Marc Morehouse.

60

The Natural (Brandon Scherff or C.J. Beathard, pick one)

Iowa 24, Pittsburgh 20 | Sept. 20, 2014

Iowa offensive linesman Brandon Scherff removes his helmet as he leaves the field after a win over Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Penn., on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (The Gazette)
Iowa offensive linesman Brandon Scherff removes his helmet as he leaves the field after a win over Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Penn., on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (The Gazette)
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Three cool ideas:

1. Was this C.J. Beathard’s launch? Probably could argue it, but no. Kirk Ferentz slid the keys across the table officially as the calendar turned from 2014 to 2015.

So strange that seemingly and immediately Iowa shed “That’s football” and a horrible loss at Minnesota and a tease against Wisconsin and then the absolute unrest after coughing one up at home to a meh Nebraska team that was about to fire its coach.

This was the first bus ride to greatness in 2015, the changing of the guard at QB.

Beathard was from Nashville and has the kind of laid-back drawl you’d expect. When he got the call at halftime in this one, that’s kind of how he jumped in.

Totally laid back. He pushed his long, curly hair back and put his helmet on.

“Coach (Greg) Davis came in and said, ‘Hey, you’re up,’” Beathard said. “I honestly was in a little bit of shock. I was excited to get in the game. I was a little nervous, but more excited than nervous.”

His first pass was a 7-yarder to Kevonte Martin-Manley in the left flat. It was a modest beginning.

“I came in here as a young quarterback who didn’t know much about checking the ball down,” said Beathard, who finished 7 of 8 for 98 yards. “That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to work on, checking the ball down, and not just chucking it in the air and seeing what will happen.

“Sometimes you’ve got to take those shots and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

“Sometimes” came on the next play.

Wide receiver Damond Powell streaked past cornerback Avonte Maddox. The pass Beathard threw pulled Powell ahead just enough for the senior receiver to make a spectacular one-handed catch and set up Iowa’s second touchdown.

“We were down 10 points and we had to get something going,” Beathard said. “I just tried to be calm about it, not make a big deal out of it. Just have confidence in myself and confidence in my team.

“It’s just kind of a natural thing,” Beathard said.

It sure was.

2. Sometimes, I see things coming. I got to my longform Brandon Scherff piece (see below) because I didn’t think there would be a senior year.

OK, sometimes I think I see things coming.

3. For sure, Rudock’s trajectory at Iowa changed after this game. Ferentz got sick of the question and eventually started stopping the question before you could get it out of your mouth.

Fortunes started to move after this. No question.

Quote: “Jake has done a good job this year. He still is our starter, but, obviously, when C.J. has had the opportunity, he’s gone in and played very well. He played very well at Pittsburgh and did a good job last week for us on the road. It’s the first time I’ve really been involved in a situation like this where we’ve got two guys who we think are really good players. They both deserve to play. We’ll just have to figure that out as we go along.” — Kirk Ferentz

Note: Iowa finished that nice, little four-game series with Pitt at 3-1. I’m not going to get into Iowa playing two Power Five schools in its nonconference. That would be stupid for Iowa to do. Iowa State is the premier nonconference game. Let’s see what the landscape is in 2023.

Why No. 60? — The 2014 season is 2011, kind of. Better than 2007 and 2012, but not much better.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME

Game story from 2014

PITTSBURGH — The last time Iowa stopped in at Heinz Field, Coach Kirk Ferentz used the term “gut thing” to describe quarterback substitutions.

This time, the word was a “strain.” Not so much the quarterback play, but strain is what shaped everything for the Hawkeyes in a 24-20 victory over Pitt before 48,895 fans Saturday.

From a lower-body injury to starting QB Jake Rudock to wide receiver Damond Powell reaching to catch a one-handed 62-yarder from backup QB C.J. Beathard to a defense that paraded 21 players into the lineup, it was a strain.

“Strain” is the word.

Iowa ran just five plays in the second quarter and fell behind 17-7 at halftime. During one of those five plays, Rudock was sandwiched by a pair of Pitt defenders and suffered a lower-body injury (maybe a hip).

“I don’t think it’s anything devastating, but we’ll probably know more tomorrow,” said Ferentz, whose hair was uncharacteristically disheveled at the postgame podium. “It’s more of a strain, that’s all I know at this point.”

And that’s where quarterback stands with the Hawkeyes (3-1) traveling to Purdue (2-2) next weekend for a Big Ten opener. It’s in a state of strain. Ferentz wouldn’t go one way or the other with Rudock’s health up in the air.

“We have two good quarterbacks,” Ferentz said. “I wish we had that kind of depth everywhere.”

The second quarter was as punked as the Hawkeyes have been in a long time. Behind running back James Conner, Pitt (3-1) held the ball for 12:16 and took a 17-7 lead on Chris Blewitt’s 33-yard field goal two seconds before halftime. Conner had 100 rushing yards at halftime. Quarterback Chad Voytik competed 12 of 14 for 130 yards.

Pittsburgh was the pirates and the Hawkeyes were the pillaged.

“We just got hammered in that first half, that’s the only way I can put it,” Ferentz said. “That was a battering. ... It’s a bad thing when you’re the receiver of a team running the ball down your throats.”

Down 17-7, Iowa’s defense squeezed a punt out of Pitt on the first possession of the third quarter, signaling a resurgence. Conner finished with 155 yards, so Iowa’s defense stemmed the nation’s No. 4 rusher. It also came back and got Voytik, with safety Anthony Gair sealing this one with an interception as time ran out.

With the defense setting the table, Beathard jogged on the field and four plays later it was “The Natural” with scoreboards exploding and everything.

OK, not quite. But an Iowa offense that was caged found life in the 62-yard bomb from Beathard to Powell, whose one-hander was no doubt headed to SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the day.

“Hopefully, I make just the top 10 and not the not top 10,” Powell said with a laugh.

The play moved the Hawkeyes to Pitt’s 18. Three plays later, Mark Weisman burst up the middle for a 10-yard TD and Iowa, which wore Conner cleat marks on its back in the first half, had life.

Beathard gave this offense a spark.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Beathard, whose day went 7 of 8 for 98 yards. “They had the ball the entire second quarter. Guy just came out and played better in the second half.”

Beathard gave this offense, which finished with 311 total yards, a spark.

“He came in and did a great job for us,” offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said.

Beathard gave this offense a spark.

“Yeah, definitely, he made a couple of big plays for us out there,” said Weisman, who had his best game of the season, rushing 22 times for 88 yards and two TDs. “That play to DP (Powell), that connection was unbelievable. That play really sparked us.”

Iowa scored on its first three possessions of the second half. Weisman capped a 13-play drive that took 7:47 off the clock with a 1-yard TD for the 24-20 lead with 6:56 left.

Your unsung play of the game was a 10-yarder to tight end Ray Hamilton on a third-and-7 that kept the drive alive. Beathard waited until the last second, took a shot from a blitzer and put a BB on Hamilton.

“Yeah, I enjoyed that,” Hamilton said laughing. “It was a good read by C.J. We needed a play. C.J. had an opportunity today and he made the most of it. He did a helluva job.”

Beathard gave this offense a spark, and that’s the end of this story.

Brandon Scherff feature from 2013

The Natural

IOWA CITY — Brandon Scherff wanted to play quarterback. He also wanted to run the fast break. He wanted to pitch. He wanted his God-given power in the shot put. He wanted to play tennis like his older brother.

Scherff lived the life in Denison, a town of 8,000 in western Iowa. He played all the sports, hunted all the game and fished all the fish.

The fact that he was a boy-giant didn’t seem to get in the way.

Dave Wiebers was the Denison High School football coach during Scherff’s days. Wiebers went to the Wisconsin game last weekend. His son watched from home and called to inform him that he was a topic during the ABC telecast.

“Some of the commentators asked, ‘Who was the coach who played Brandon Scherff at quarterback?’” Wiebers said with a laugh. “My son got a kick out of that. The truth is he was our best quarterback.”

Then, Scherff was 6-foot-5 and somewhere between 270 and 300 pounds. When he reported to Iowa in the summer of 2010, Scherff said he weighed 324 pounds. As a junior offensive tackle for the Hawkeyes this season, he lines up at 315.

Scherff was a big guy doing little-guy things.

On the basketball court, Scherff averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds his senior year. Of course, he cradled every rebound that went within 10 yards of him, but from there, he wanted to trigger the fast break.

“He was a post player who wanted to be a guard,” said Don Lyons, who was Denison’s basketball coach at the time. “When Brandon got a rebound, sometimes Brandon was going to go coast-to-coast. The biggest problem was if anyone was in his way, they were going to get run over.”

Lyons said Scherff was the second quickest player on his team, second only to the point guard. In the “triple touch” drill, Scherff glided past and around teammates.

Scherff started at quarterback for Denison his sophomore year and threw for 1,200 yards. This is when Iowa started to engage him in recruiting. Iowa assistant coach Reese Morgan then was Iowa’s offensive line coach and handled Scherff’s recruitment. The idea always was offensive line.

“The thing about him, he just kind of morphed in front of our eyes,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We started to get to know him in 10th grade, and every time he would show up here it seemed like he was 10 pounds bigger. He went from being a quarterback, which I’m still not buying that, to a tight end, a big tight end, and then obviously we projected him inside.”

Midway through his junior year, Scherff moved to tight end. He moved to offensive and defensive line his senior year, so, no, Scherff didn’t lose the job to Ricky Torres, who took over at QB for Denison.

When Scherff started to break through into the starting lineup last season as a sophomore, former Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said, “He can throw. He looks like he might be able to pop the ball in his hands.”

Scherff was blessed with the essential and accidental genetics. Colleges started calling and Scherff knew where it was headed.

“My mom’s family is pretty tall,” said Scherff, when asked where his size came from. “My dad’s a big guy, so probably that.”

When asked about the generous, bountiful gift of heredity from parents Cindy and Bob, Scherff said, “I’m not complaining.”

You could argue Scherff was right-sized for baseball. Pitchers are generally big dudes. But even there, Scherff put a twist on appearances. He had a decent 85 mph fastball, but his killer pitch was a curveball that broke a foot (he called it a half curve, half slider).

“You looked at the guy, he’s 6-5, very imposing,” Lyons said. “Everyone thought he’d throw 95 mph because of how big he was, but he made the ball move a foot. He could beat the best.”

Of course, Scherff could hit. Denison played at the Creighton Sports Complex during Scherff’s junior season.

“He hit the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit,” Lyons said. “He hit it dead center over the 400-feet sign. He hit it over that sign. And then there’s a grass area before it gets to the street there, and he landed it on the street. It didn’t even hit the grass.”

Scherff’s older brother, Justin, was a top-flight tennis player who ended up playing at Central College. So, of course, Brandon had to try that, too.

“My freshman year, I went from track to tennis to baseball practice,” said Scherff, who was a state champion in the Class 3A shot put his sophomore year.

Iowa had a lot to work with in Scherff. The reshaping of his body started immediately. The 315 pounds he carries now is solid. The widest part of Scherff’s body is his shoulders. This summer, Scherff set an Iowa weight room record in the hang clean with a lift of 410 pounds (actually, he did it three times).

“There’s no question he’s an athlete,” Iowa center Austin Blythe said. “You see him in the weight room, you see him in the drills that he does. He’s that kind of guy. He’s got the gifts and he’s doing a great job using what he’s got.”

At Denison, Scherff was a big guy doing little-guy things. At Iowa, he has become a big, strong offensive lineman doing what it takes to have his name mentioned by NFL Draft media.

Iowa’s Oct. 26 game against Northwestern was when the NFL winds picked up. The game was broadcast on Big Ten Network. Former Minnesota coach Glen Mason was the color analyst. He raved. Two days later, Scherff’s name showed up on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s “Big Board,” coming in at No. 24.

“He’s particularly special as a run-blocker because he will drive a defensive end to the second level and finish his block,” Kiper wrote. “He’s got that nastiness when he gets a defender locked up and can also move in space and hit a moving target.”

Scherff has a year left at Iowa after this season, his second as a starter at left tackle. He knows the fleeting nature of health in football. Last season, he suffered a broken fibula and dislocated ankle and missed the last five games. He has had pain in the lower leg that has forced him to miss some downs this year.

He knows what’s at stake. He also happens to enjoy the state of Iowa, where he hunts and fishes whenever he can (he netted a 40-pound catfish this summer in Montezuma and can tell you what game is in season without a pause).

Scherff, who’ll be 22 in December, and Ferentz have discussed the NFL topic. Iowa is in week 10 of this season, so Scherff didn’t want to dive into the topic too deeply.

“You really can’t focus on that,” he said. “You have to let the season play out. You have to put that aside and don’t worry about that at all.”

Wiebers said Bob and Cindy Scherff have worked perspective into Brandon’s personality. When he goes home for Christmas or summer break, he works at the high school, mowing and whacking weeds. Last summer, he accidentally backed the mower into the baseball cage and left a giant hole in the tarp.

Oops.

”He just wasn’t driving the tractor too straight,” Lyons said with a laugh. “He has a way of lightening the mood, has a lot of kid in him.”

Do you want to know where performance enhancement comes from in Denison? It comes from hauling trees at the Evergreen Acres Christmas tree Farm, something Scherff did through high school and, as far as Lyons knew, still does on Christmas break.

“It’s kind of like Paul Bunyan,” Lyons said. “When you want your Christmas tree, Brandon is going to bring it in for you.”

It doesn’t get any bigger than that.