June 12, 2016
June 12, 2016
By RICK BROWN
Linebacker Josey Jewell didn’t know what to expect when the 2015 University of Iowa football season kicked off.
“You just hope for the best,” Jewell said. “And you give 100 percent on the field.”
One hundred percent. That matched the Hawkeyes’ regular-season success rate in 2015. Twelve games, a school-record 12 victories.
“Last year was a group of great stories,” said Greg Davis, the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Over the next 12 weeks, leading up to the 2016 season opener against Miami of Ohio on Sept. 3 at Kinnick Stadium, we are taking a game-by-game look back at that historic regular season. With perspective from Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, his staff and players, we hope to give you some insight into a season that will never be forgotten.
Iowa 31, Illinois State 14
Sept. 5, 2015, Kinnick Stadium
Iowa City, Iowa
The announcement was made in early January, 2015. C.J. Beathard was the University of Iowa’s starting quarterback moving forward.
Eight months later, on the eve of the season opener against Illinois State, butterflies had found their way into Beathard’s stomach.
“I was nervous,” admitted Beathard, who had one career start to his name. “But I think I was more excited than anything. It was an opportunity to go out there and be the guy, and actually show it in a game situation.”
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was having no second thoughts about the decision to shuffle signal callers.
“We felt confident in what we had decided to do, and certainly felt confident in C.J.,” Ferentz said. “Plus, he was healthy back then. That was even better.”
In fact, quarterback didn’t rank one or two on Ferentz’s list of concerns heading into his 17th season as Iowa’s head coach.
“My biggest concern in that first game, quite frankly, was just our respect for the opponent,” Ferentz said.
Illinois State returned the core of its 2014 FCS national runner-up team. The Redbirds had finished 13-2, losing to North Dakota State in the title game, 29-27.
Tre Roberson, a run-pass threat at quarterback, was back after racking up 4,250 yards of total offense in 2014. Running back Marshaun Coprich, who had rushed for 2,274 yards and 27 touchdowns, also returned.
Another area of concern was Iowa’s offensive line. Tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger had never started a game. And at an open scrimmage August 15 at Kinnick Stadium, defensive end Drew Ott had his way with Myers.
“I was getting beat by Drew a lot (in practice), and that was in the back of my mind,” Myers said “I was like, ‘Man, are these guys better than Drew?’ I knew Drew was pretty good, but I didn’t know how good until that first game. And then it hit me. Drew is the real deal.”
Ferentz, who was an offensive line coach at Iowa for nine seasons under Hayden Fry, was worried about that position heading into the opener.
“All of us were wondering, ‘OK, what’s this going to look like when we get going here?'” Ferentz said.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker had some concerns as well. Tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat were gone. Safety John Lowdermilk also had to be replaced. And the linebacker position had been shuffled around. Josey Jewell moved to the middle and Ben Niemann to the outside. The third starter, fifth-year senior Cole Fisher, had played very little.
Punting and special-teams play had not distinguished themselves in 2014, and also needed an upgrade.
“There were a lot of concerns,” Ferentz said. “Quarterback not as much as some other spots.”
Greg Davis was concerned, though, and that’s only natural. He’s Iowa’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Some trepidation?
“I think it would be easy to say no,” Davis said. “Obviously, we felt like (Beathard) would do what he did. Because we had spring, fall camp, and had seen his leadership qualities develop. He had been selected a first-game captain, so we all felt he would play well.”
But there was a but. Davis was entering his 41st season as a football coach. If he’s learned anything, it’s to never take anything for granted.
“But after all these years you still don’t know until you get out there, and the band is in the stands, guys are wearing different colored jerseys and all that,” Davis said. “I’m sure there was some trepidation, although we felt very confident (in C.J.).”
That trepidation evaporated into the Kinnick Stadium air just two possessions into the game. The Hawkeyes went 81 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown on their first possession of the season. And Beathard led his team on a 12-play, 99-yard touchdown drive with the second possession.
“You like to get off to a good start,” Davis said. “(Beathard) had such a command of what we wanted to do. And he has the ability to make things happen off schedule. But it was important to get off to a good start.”
Those two drives told Ferentz a lot about his team.
“It sure helped from the inexperienced part,” Ferentz said. “The other thing I was pleased about was just the mindset of our football team. It was pretty clear that they prepared well, had the right attitude, and I thought we played pretty clean for an opening game. They were in the right spot mentally and played cleanly on the field, which is always good to see.”
Iowa’s third possession of the game was a memorable one, too. Facing a fourth-and-10 situation from the Illinois State 30, Ferentz borrowed a page from his inner Hayden Fry and elected to go for a fake field goal. Marshall Koehn came up two yards shy of a first down, but the celebratory crowd noise was unmistakable.
“It didn’t work, but the crowd was louder than after the first two touchdown drives,” Davis said.
Ferentz still gets a chuckle out of that moment.
“Just the reaction is amusing,” Ferentz said. “There are not many times when you have a play that fails and your approval rating is really high. That’s a hard thing to accomplish. I’m not sure we can do that in the future.”
Maybe the most telling statistic of the game was this: Koehn’s eight-yard gain on the fake field goal accounted for more yards than Roberson managed against Iowa’s defense. The Illinois State quarterback finished with 11 carries for a minus 12 yards.
“That’s good for our defense, right there,” Ferentz said.
Coprich managed just 32 yards in 13 carries. Iowa’s defense had five sacks, and 10 tackles for a loss. Iowa’s LeShun Daniels, Jr., ran for 123 yards in 26 carries. Beathard threw for 211 yards and ran for 26 and a pair of touchdowns.
“It was really a good way to start the season,” Ferentz said.
About the Author
Rick Brown is a native of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and a University of Iowa graduate. He covered Iowa athletics for the past four decades for the Des Moines Register prior to his retirement in December.