Sept. 16, 2015
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By CHRIS BREWER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis knew he would have a handful of new toys to play with and new buttons to push prior to the 2015 season.
The Hawkeye offense opened the year without its leading returner in passing yards and rushing yards. It graduated the school’s all-time leader in receptions, and its two starting offensive tackles from a year ago? They’re now playing on Sundays.
Iowa experienced an overhaul in offensive personnel during the offseason, and through two games — both Iowa wins — Davis sees reason for optimism.
“You come out of camp and you feel like you have an idea of what you’re going to see,” Davis said after practice Wednesday prior to Saturday night’s game against Pittsburgh, “but until you put them out there with the lights on and the fans in the stands, you’re not sure. Two weeks in we still have a lot of work to do but we’re encouraged by the way the guys are playing.”
In 2014, Davis was drawing plays for one offense led by two signal callers. This year there is undeniably one man steering the ship. Quarterback C.J. Beathard has led the Iowa offense to eight touchdowns and two field goals on 21 drives through two games.
Those 10 scoring drives could be 12 if it weren’t for Marshall Koehn‘s 25 yards rushing. Either way, the Hawkeyes have been in position to score points on more than half of their possessions, and they’re doing it with big plays. Beathard is the only player in the Big Ten with two carries of 40 yards or longer, and his 48-yard pass to Matt VandeBerg in the fourth quarter at Iowa State dramatically swung field position in a tie ballgame.
“I see a guy (Beathard) that is really comfortable at this point,” Davis said. “The biggest difference between this time and last year is he is the guy, so his leadership has risen. His confidence, his ability to get us into new plays, I see a guy that is comfortable with the game play.”
Beathard, who shared Big Ten Player of the Week honors following Iowa’s win at Iowa State, has proven early on to be the leader of the team, but it’s not a solo act. First-year starter LeShun Daniels, Jr., leads the team in rushing yards. Fifth-year senior Jordan Canzeri led Iowa with a career best 90 yards receiving Week 1, and then turned in a team-high 124 yards rushing in Week 2. And Matt VandeBerg, suddenly a household name in Hawkeye country, leads the Big Ten with 15 receptions.
That complete set of weapons is one reason Davis hasn’t put Beathard in shotgun for 60 plays a game and cut him loose. Iowa threw the ball just 25 times in both Week 1 and Week 2. Rushing plays from the first week to the second numbered 44-45. And the points scored from the first two games? 31-31.
It has been a model of consistency and success, but it’s not written in stone.
“Every game plan is different and depends on what we’re seeing,” Davis said. “We’re not afraid to have C.J. throw it 35 times, but at the same time, play-action and bootlegs, and we ran a lot of bootlegs against Iowa State, those things are a product of being able to run the ball.”
Iowa faces Pitt for the second time in as many seasons Saturday, but this year’s Panthers’ team is under new leadership. Former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi brings a 2-0 team to Kinnick Stadium for a 7:12 p.m. (CT) kickoff.
“We’re seeing a lot of the same things Narduzzi did at Michigan State, which is extremely solid, work hard to take the run away, not afraid to play man-to-man, nice third-down package. We expect to see that kind of look,” Davis said. “It’s a night game at Kinnick. We’re excited about that, I think it should it be rocking.”