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Steven M. Sipple: Huskers respect shrewd, savvy Beathard

Steven M. Sipple: Huskers respect shrewd, savvy Beathard

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Maliek Collins felt disrespected.

Before his junior season at Center High School in Kansas City, Missouri, Collins noticed that several opponents scheduled his school to be their homecoming foe — you know, thinking Center High couldn't possibly spoil the festivities.

Turns out, the Yellowjackets put a damper on a few homecomings that year, Collins recalled earlier this week.

"I take pride in those type of things," he said.

Now a standout junior defensive lineman at Nebraska, Collins would enjoy reliving those moments Friday, when NU will try to play spoiler against undefeated and fourth-ranked Iowa.

For the Husker defense, that task begins with trying to limit damage by shrewd and savvy Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior is the foremost reason for Iowa's rebound from last season's 7-6 finish. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, in what has proved to be a monumental move, named Beathard the starter in January over two-year starter Jake Rudock, who subsequently transferred to Michigan.

Collins handed Beathard quite a compliment.

"I don't think he's like anybody we've seen this year," Collins said. "He's one of a kind."

Beathard is a good passer (completing 61 percent of his passes), excellent scrambler and "great game manager," Collins said.

"You really just have to keep your eyes on him," Collins said. "You have to play your (offensive lineman) and play your technique, but you have to always keep your eyes on him. He's a very intelligent player."

Intelligent. You hear that word a lot to describe Beathard, grandson of Bobby Beathard, former general manager of successful NFL teams in Washington and San Diego.

C.J. Beathard's intelligence manifests itself in the way he checks — or changes — plays at the line of scrimmage.

"You see big-play results happen when he makes his checks," Collins said. "That's something we have to be prepared for."

Same goes for Beathard's knack for scrambling for first downs.

"It's going to be big for our defensive line to stay in their rush lanes," said Nebraska junior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey. "But I think you can still be aggressive. You have to be. In fact, I think sometimes you can be too conservative. …"

Meaning?

"I think sometimes against some running quarterbacks, you're just sitting there at the line of scrimmage giving him all day to pass," Rose-Ivey said. "But I think we'll have a good day of getting after the quarterback." 

Nebraska coach Mike Riley emphasized the importance of a strong pass rush against Beathard, who moves well in the pocket and therefore extends what initially might look like well-defended plays. The Huskers need to build on their six-sack performance against Rutgers, Riley said.

Said Rose-Ivey: "Beathard's kind of Johnny Manziel-esque — he can make that wild play or extend the play."

Make no mistake, Beathard's effectiveness in play-action and bootleg calls is bolstered by Iowa's consistent run game. The Hawkeyes rank second in the Big Ten in rushing at 208.3 yards per game. They run inside-zone plays and stretch plays — their go-to plays, Riley said.

Said Rose-Ivey: "They have the zone scheme down pat."

Collins agreed. He is impressed by Iowa's attention to detail.

"There are no errors," he said. "It's close to perfect, man. You can tell they're experienced at running their offense and that they've run the same plays throughout their careers.

"They're a disciplined group."

Iowa's four running backs stay fresh and don't fumble much.

Beathard has thrown only three interceptions (against 13 touchdowns).

Rose-Ivey's return at outside linebacker could help Nebraska's cause, although Riley said sophomore Marcus Newby has made "remarkable improvement." Newby is listed ahead of Rose-Ivey on the depth chart.

Bottom line, the Nebraska linebacker corps' improved overall health of late could be crucial against an Iowa team that "runs with power," Riley said.

The Hawkeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) could well be in the midst of a national championship run. Think about that for a second. Virtually nobody saw it coming.

"We want to definitely ruin stuff for those guys, but first and foremost we want to take care of us," Collins said. "We want to go out there and do what we have to do, so we can be bowl-eligible."

Being a spoiler is a good feeling, too, as Collins knows from experience.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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