The Iowa football team was once again in a funk and needed a spark against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
That spark appeared to happen when C.J. Beathard’s second pass of the second half went for 63 yards to Damond Powell.
Powell hauled in the long pass with one hand and that pass play kick started a big second-half rally for the Hawkeyes, who trailed 17-7 at halftime but won 24-20 at Heinz Field.
It was the second time in as many meetings that Iowa rallied past Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter. The Panthers led the Hawkeyes 24-10 after three quarters in 2011, Iowa rallied for the 31-27 victory.
That game also featured a quarterback change. Kirk Ferentz replaced Jake Christensen with Ricky Stanzi in that game, and Beathard was put in for the injured Jake Rudock on Saturday.
The end result was the same, a Hawkeye victory. And it was the third straight road win for Iowa and the fifth in its last six games.
“We were down 10 points and we had to get something going,” Beathard said of the pass to Powell that started it all. “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.”
Rudock wasn’t bad. He completed 5-of-10 for 80 yards and tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Henry Krieger-Coble in the first half.
But Beathard’s presence and big-play ability appeared to give the Iowa offense a jolt it desperately needed.
Beathard only finished with 98 yards – 63 were on one play – but he was 7-of-8 and helped Iowa’s run game get on track.
“We have two good quarterbacks,” Ferentz said. “I wish we had that kind of depth everywhere.”
Mark Weisman showed flashes of the player Iowa fans have been accustomed to seeing the past two seasons. Weisman finished with 88 yards on 22 carries and he scored twice. He is now the eighth Hawkeye in program history to score at least 20 career rushing touchdowns.
““Yeah, definitely, he made a couple of big plays for us out there,” said Weisman, whose 1-yard touchdown run put the Hawkeyes up for good with just less than 7 minutes to go in the game. “That play to DP (Powell), that connection was unbelievable. That play really sparked us.”
It definitely seemed to have that affect. But Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was not willing to declare a quarterback controversy. He made it seem like Rudock was still the starter and would begin the game under center against Purdue next week.
That may not be popular with the fans. And it doesn’t appear to be the best choice at this point. But the Hawkeyes’ veteran coach doesn’t appear to be giving up on Rudock, who complained of poor mobility at halftime due to a sore hip.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve seen him do good things, I think we have two good quarterbacks,” Ferentz said. “I’m really pleased with how he played. I’m not standing here saying, ‘Gosh, I didn’t see that coming.’ This guy is a good football player.
“I think Rudock is a good football player, too. Usually, if you have two, you don’t have any. But this is a situation where I think we have two.”
Iowa got hammered up front on both sides of the ball in the first half.
Pittsburgh’s star running back James Conner rushed for 155 yards in the game but most of those came in the first two quarters when the Panthers led 17-7 at the break.
Iowa’s defense held Pittsburgh (3-1) to just 53 rushing yards and nine first downs in the second half though. The Hawkeyes were still outgained 435-311 in total yards, recorded seven less first downs and ran 19 less plays.
The Hawkeyes were 3-for-3 on fourth down and scored three touchdowns in its only three red-zone appearances on the day. Pittsburgh’s four red-zone trips ended in two field goals and two touchdowns.
“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.”
Everything changed though when Beathard came into the game. His first pass was a 7-yard completion to Kevonte-Martin Manley on third and five and then he went up to Powell, who hauled in the deep pass with one hand. Beathard started 4-for-4 in the air and that production and the threat of the deep ball opened up the running game for Weisman, who also scored a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter that pulled Iowa within 17-14. That play came on the same drive as the Powell catch and Beathard guided the Hawkeyes 94 yards in just seven plays.
And converting the fourth downs late in the game also was big.
“It’s confidence, that’s for sure, especially on those fourth and inches,” Beathard said. “Those are big plays. You’ve got to get those or else the game might be different. The line ended up getting great push, and we ended up getting those plays.”
Conner needed 29 carries to gain 155 yards. Chad Voytik was 19-for-29 for 250 yards and Tyler Boyd caught 10 of the 19 completions for 153 yards.
Pittsburgh failed to start 4-0 for the first time since 2000.
Iowa (3-1) plays at Purdue (2-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Hawkeyes beat the Boilermakers in West Lafayette 38-14 last year. It will be the 85th meeting between the schools, Iowa’s third-most played series behind Minnesota (107) and Wisconsin (87).
Ten different players caught a pass for Iowa but no one had more than two. … Three of the Hawkeyes’ points came on Marshall Koehn’s 52-yard field goal late in the third quarter that cut Iowa’s deficit to 20-17. … John Lowdermilk finished with a team-high 11 tackles, while Louis Trinca-Pasat had eight and Quinton Alston finished with seven. … Drew Ott had the game’s only sack and Anthony Gair’s interception on Pittsburgh’s final drive of the game secured the Hawkeye win. … Every Iowa game this season has been decided by one possession. That is the first time in school history that the first four games have been decided by eight points or less.