The call can come at any time, and C.J. Beathard always has to be ready for it.
Given the option, though, it is a little bit easier when the Iowa backup quarterback has a halftime to prepare.
Beathard used that advance notice last weekend at Pittsburgh to receive some instructions from the coaching staff, chat with teammates who made it clear they had faith in him to relieve an injured Jake Rudock and then to get loose with a bit more time than he might normally have.
And once Beathard took the field and took over the offense, it was clear that he had done everything possible to provide an answer when the Hawkeyes needed him.
“I think that did help, for sure,” Beathard said. “Rather than just putting on the helmet and having to jump in there, I kind of got to think about it a little bit in the locker room.
“Guys talked to me, everybody was real confident in me, said they had my back and trusted in me. That was a good thing to have, too.”
The time, the faith and Beathard’s commitment to preparing as if he’s the starter each week all paid off in the second half against the Panthers, with the sophomore coming off the bench to spark a comeback and give the Hawkeyes a bounce-back victory heading into Big Ten play this week against Purdue.
Beathard wasn’t all that flashy in completing 7 of 8 attempts for 98 yards, but Iowa showed signs of coming to life on offense down the stretch that it had largely been unable to sustain in the season's first three weeks. That strong half, though, doesn’t guarantee that he’ll become the full-time starter in the long run.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has been pretty consistent in expressing a desire to play both quarterbacks, though Beathard had only appeared in one of the previous three games this season before the trip to Pittsburgh. But there’s fresh evidence that Beathard can deliver now to consider, though it might not really be relevant on Saturday if Rudock isn’t healthy enough to play anyway.
“I think right now C.J. is definitely our starter today because Jake won’t be practicing,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “We’ll just see how the week plays out. ... I feel good about both guys. Most of those axioms are true that everybody loves the No. 2 guy, and I do, too.
“Again, it’s a really unusual situation. The good news is now that when we have both healthy, we have a really good situation. As of today, we’re not in the best of situations, but hopefully it will get better as the week goes on.”
When Rudock does get fully healthy, that’s when things could get interesting for Ferentz as he tries to juggle the two quarterbacks.
Beathard seems to have the stronger arm, which he showed off on a deep strike to Damond Powell for 62 yards on his opening drive against Pitt. Rudock is widely praised for his intelligence and knowledge of the playbook, and he’s also shown a bit of mobility at times this season by averaging 4 yards per carry.
No matter how it shakes out for Iowa down the road, it’s looking like Beathard will again have the benefit of some advance warning to get himself ready. And he’s already proven how dangerous he can be when he knows the call is coming.
“You just have to go into each week preparing as if you’re the starter,” Beathard said. “That’s just what you have to do as a backup quarterback, because you never know when your time is going to come. You’re a play away from going in each game.
“That’s the mindset you have to have each week in practice. Prepare hard, prepare as if you’re the guy because you never know when it’s going to come.”
But it never hurts to get a little heads-up.