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Let’s freak out (or not) over Iowa spring football
IOWA CITY — The brand-new first-team quarterback threw an interception to the second-team safety. It was a bad one, too. He just didn't see the safety and threw the ball right to him.
That didn't freak out Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz during Iowa's spring scrimmage before 8,000 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. What freaked out Ferentz was C.J. Beathard sprinting to the sideline and sticking a shoulder into Brandon Snyder's thigh.
That's the franchise right there. That was the season flashing before the head coach's eyes.
'Yes, I did,' Ferentz said when asked if that play did indeed freak him out. 'It was unnecessary. If I had a whistle, and I've never carried a whistle, I would've blown one if I had one there, for sure. I should've coached him better on that.'
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis had his hand on Beathard's collar and his face in his facemask almost immediately. Beathard is weapon No. 1 for an Iowa offense that will go into fall camp searching for explosive plays, touchdowns, that sort of thing that wins games.
'They were happy I got up and made the tackle,' said Beathard, who, unofficially, completed 17 of 32 for 168 yards. 'I played safety in high school,'
Consider it a major league bullet dodged. Beathard went in for the next series unscathed, and, hey, the offense got off the schneid, scoring its first TD in two public spring appearances, helping the offense squeak one out against the defense, 29-28, in a game that featured four 12-minute quarters and a scoring system.
OK, sure, the system was kind of gamed in the offense's favor. The first-team offense scored the TD against a mix of second-and-third-team defensive players. Senior defensive ends Drew Ott and Nate Meier didn't play much if at all in the second half.
Running backs Akrum Wadley, who finished with 80 yards on 13 carries, and Derrick Mitchell (seven carries for 53 yards) pulled the drive along with combined 54 yards before Wadley's 4-yard TD run.
'No, we did not, we definitely didn't,' senior wide receiver Tevaun Smith said about the possibility of going 0-for-spring games in TDs. 'It was good to get one in there. We tried to establish the run game and it was good to see that.'
Ferentz confirmed the news that senior tight end Jake Duzey suffered a knee injury in practice Wednesday. He didn't rule out the season for Duzey, who will enter the year Iowa's second-leading returning receiver with 58 career catches.
'Based on what I heard, I think it's realistic to think we'll get him back for the season,' Ferentz said. 'It might not be right off the bat, but hopefully, we'll get him back for the season.'
So, what else do you freak out about? The fact that the offense only found success running the ball against reserves might be a red flag. A ton has been said and written about the QB switch between Beathard and senior Jake Rudock, who will graduate and transfer to Michigan, but the success of the Iowa offense in 2015 is hogtied to how far and how quickly a relatively inexperienced offensive line improves.
The difference here is that Ferentz isn't totally freaking out about the O-line, specifically sophomore offensive tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers.
'I think the two guys who are starting right now and Cole Croston have the right attributes it's just a matter of them continuing to grow and understand it's a hard road,' Ferentz said. 'They're getting schooled by two pretty good ends [seniors Drew Ott and Nate Meier] at times. It's good for them. They don't know that, maybe, but it's good for them.'
Ferentz said he's been encouraged by the incremental improvements. Myers, a 6-5, 300-pound former walk-on, is proudly carrying a chip on his shoulder.
'Just going against Drew Ott (who had a sack early against Myers on Saturday), he's a whole other animal compared to what I've seen the last two years,' Myers said. 'He's really good and he's making me better. It's just a big eye-opener when you go against him.'
Punter is another freak out spot. Senior Dillon Kidd holds the job, Ferentz said (Kidd averaged 46 yards on three punts Saturday), but senior Marshall Koehn is in the hunt. Koehn went 3 of 3 in field goals with a long of 44.
Defense? There wasn't anything to freak out about Saturday. Deep down, yes, they hated losing the scrimmage and really didn't like allowing a TD.
'It's effort and hustle and getting to the ball,' free safety Jordan Lomax said. 'We're all trying to attack the ball. The more people who get there, the better chance you have to get the stop.'
One solid measure for this offense vs. this defense came on a third-and-1 at the offense's 49 in the first half. On the first try, running back LeShun Daniels was dropped for no gain by defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. On fourth-and-1, the middle of the O-line got some push and Daniels gained 6 yards.
'They're not there yet,' Ferentz said referring to the O-line, 'but they realistically can be there, should be there and I think they will be there.'
Wide receiver probably goes into the freakout category. Saturday was a tough measure between the pressure Beathard faced and the fact Smith was targeted only a few times. Junior Matt VandeBerg led the offense with six catches for 52 yards. In Duzey's absence, junior tight end George Kittle showed what he might be in that 'move' TE role, catching three passes for 50 yards.
This offense has enough to make its coaches nervous without the QB making a tackle after an interception in an April scrimmage.
'Obviously, I was a little frustrated,' Beathard said. 'It sucks to throw interceptions, but you have to flush it and not let it settle in. You have to move fast and keep going.'
SPRING GAME STATS (UNOFFICIAL)
– Beathard 17-for-32, 168 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT; Wiegers 6-for-18, 66 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT.
– Wadley 13-80, Mitchell 7-53, Hilliard 7-18, Canzeri 3-8, Daniels 5-7, Joly 3-7 (1 lost fumble), Beathard 4-(-13).
– VandeBerg 6-52, Kittle 3-48, Scheel 2-23, Canzeri 2-22, McCarron 2-17, Pekar 1-17, A.Harris 1-12, Kulick 1-10, T.Smith 1-9, Hillyer 1-9, Mitchell 1-7, Wisnieski 1-7, Wadley 1-1.
– Koehn 3-for-3 (made 32, 34, 44); Ellis 0-for-1 (miss 51); Recinos 1-for-1 (made 35).
– Kidd 3-46.0, Koehn 2-40.0, Kornbrath 2-34.5.
– Ott 1, M.Nelson 1, Terlouw 1.
– Fisher 1, Snyder 1.
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