How The Iowa Hawkeyes Have Come Through In The Clutch

Iowa has had the knack to come up with the big play this year.

There's a number of factors to point to when trying to find the reasons behind all the Iowa success as the Hawkeyes have won their first 11 games. When that happens, everyone wants explanations why. There's never one all-consuming answer. It is always a combination of a variety of things coming together all at once.

One story has been their ability to finish ball games. The players discussed at media day before the season started that one of the focuses was how they would close games out because of all the ways they managed to find to lose during last year's campaign. They were win a number of ball games but never could manage to snatch away a victory. That has all changed this year.

It's been that clutch factor. They are making the plays when they need it the most, whether it is a crucial third down conversion, a fourth down conversion, a sensational punt to flip the field, a defensive goal line stop, a blocked punt, or a turnover. It is all coming together. They have that knack of pulling through at just the right time.

"We just go out there and compete for every yard," tight end Henry Krieger Coble said. "It's all we know. We don't expect to get a first down on every third down but we know we have a heck of a chance with C.J. (Beathard) under center."

C.J. Beathard took the reins as the starting quarterback back in January which prompted Jake Rudock to transfer to Michigan to play for Jim Harbaugh. That decision seemed to kickstart things. 

His numbers will not blow anyone away but when watching the game it is easy to see why he's so valuable to this team's effort. It may not be sensational play after sensational play but it his timeliness in the plays he does make and his understanding of what is needed in what situatons.

"No, I don't (have a secret yardage device)," Beathard responded in a laughing manner following the win over Purdue. "It's just kind of a feel I guess. On third down there's certain plays we have called that just get past the sticks to convert first downs. When I run the ball I know where the sticks are going to be."

Not only is it the key third down runs by Beathard that end up in a first down but it's his awareness and his football intelligence. Those parts of his game have come a long way this season and it was on display front and center once again against the Boilermakers this past Saturday.

The Iowa offense was scuffling and the Purdue front seven was dominating the line of scrimmage. The Hawkeyes were faced with a crucial third down, ahead only 20-13 in the third quarter. They did not blink an eye as Beathard audibled out of a run play to find tight end George Kittle for a 35 yard touchdown pass to regain momentum and sail away with the victory.

"They brought an all-out blitz," Beathard described about what he saw before the snap. "I felt like we got into a good check at practice when I saw that blitz. I made the check this time and George (Kittle) slipped out the backdoor. The line did a good job of giving me time to get the ball off. It was a good play."

Those are the types of plays that is allowing the Hawkeyes to continue their winning ways. Those are the kinds of decisions made on the field that you see from special teams. Iowa is building up to that kind of squad.

Beathard's teammates took notice of the impact that the touchdown to Kittle had and what those plays have meant to them all season.

"It's just our whole offense," center Austin Blythe shared. "Understanding that we need to go get ours. We know that we're in that valley (and struggling), and it just speaks to the kind of football team we have and the mentality we have to be able to handle that, bounce back, and finish strong."

The touchdowns are big but so are the third down conversions that they are executing at a high clip. The Hawkeyes are second in the Big Ten in third down conversion percentage at 46.8, trailing only Michigan State. They are 72-154 on the season, an impressive number. 

Not only are they so successful in those situations, they're versatile in how they are finding that success. They're getting it done on the ground and through the air. Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels can plow through behind their big offensive line for first downs or C.J. Beathard can air it out.

The junior signal caller was finding wideout Matt VandeBerg early in the season when pressed in third and longs but opposing defenses have taken that away. How does Iowa respond? Find another reliable target. Tight end Henry Krieger Coble has taken that role over coming up with big third down reception after big third down reception. He doesn't have a ton of receptions but they're all coming at the right time.

"I'm just trying to go out there and run my routes," Krieger Coble commented about his success. "I'm not doing anything besides my job. I'm giving C.J. (Beathard) a chance to find me because he will find the open man. He's proved it time after time this year. As far as that, I'm just trying to do my job because I know C.J. will do his."

"I guess," he added about his increasing role on third downs. I'm getting those looks and getting some man to man coverage. I'm finding the soft spots in the defense. I just credit it all to doing my job. It's all about the plays we run."

Everything they call is working and everyone continues to do their job. That's Iowa football in 2015. They'll hope that doesn't run out in Lincoln on Friday when they travel to take on the Cornhuskers on 'Black Friday' to finish off an undefeated regular season.

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