Entering his first season as Iowa’s starting quarterback, Nate Stanley figured to be regularly tested by opposing defenses.
“Obviously it being my first year playing, defensive coordinators are going to try to make me a little nervous or try to get me to make a mistake,” Stanley said. “We saw a lot of looks.”
Stanley’s performance over Iowa’s first eight games has been similarly varied. In the face of heavy blitzes and other schemes designed to push the sophomore out of his comfort zone, he has been spectacular by some measures, merely adequate in others.
“He’s doing an awful lot of good things, and I’ve felt like that” for weeks, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said recently. “There are some things that we have to get ironed out, but he has really worked hard.”
Stanley enters Saturday’s game against Ohio State ranked second in the Big Ten with 17 touchdown passes, well behind the 25 thrown by OSU’s J.T. Barrett. His 17-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio also ranks second, to Barrett’s 25-to-1.
“For me, he’s very mature for where he’s at,” Iowa defensive tackle Nathan Bazata said. “I feel like he’s playing more like a fourth-year guy than a second-year guy.”
That was especially true early in the season. Stanley passed for 12 touchdowns in the Hawkeyes’ first four games, becoming the first Iowa quarterback to throw 12 TD passes in his first four starts.
Stanley’s best game was on Sept. 9 against Iowa State, now ranked 15th in the College Football Playoff rankings. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 333 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in Iowa’s 44-41 overtime win.
“I go against him every day,” said Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson, who leads the Big Ten with 17 passes defended. “I think he’s a great quarterback, has a great arm. He’s really smart.”
In five Big Ten games, however, Iowa’s offense under Stanley’s hand has flirted with consistency only a few times. The running attack has stalled, and its passing game has fluctuated between good and average.
Like most teams, Iowa seeks a balanced offense guided by a power running game. But the Hawkeyes rank 99th among 129 teams in Football Bowl Subdivision with 130.8 yards per game and are 103rd in total offense at 345.9 yards per game.
Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
“It’s not for lack of trying,” Ferentz said this week.
In its past two games — a loss to Northwestern and a win over Minnesota by identical 17-10 scores — Iowa has 27 total points on 25 possessions, not counting drives in which the Hawkeyes took a knee to end a half. Fourteen of those possessions ended with a Hawkeyes turnover or a three-and-out.
“That’s the difference between a team that’s in sync and a team that isn’t quite there yet,” Ferentz said. “That’s the race we are running right now. We’ve just got to keep pushing as hard as we can to get up and over.”
In that quest, Iowa players and coaches say, Stanley is the right player to be in charge. His teammates admire the positive vibe he brings to the huddle, as well as the physical tools inherent in a 6-foot-5, 212-pound quarterback.
“He does all the little things right that a quarterback has to do,” linebacker Ben Niemann said.
Ferentz recognizes that in Stanley he has a keeper, for his mental approach as much as how the quarterback reads the field and throws the deep ball.
“To me, that has been his strength. He has handled the things that haven’t gone so well,” Ferentz said. “He seems to be unaffected by it. I’m sure he is. But he goes back to work and keeps playing. I think that makes us feel good that there is a chance here for him to continue to grow.”