Nate Stanley has grown up fast.
One week before Iowa opened its season against Wyoming, Kirk Ferentz hadn’t settled on a starting quarterback. Stanley and Tyler Wiegers were “neck-and-neck,” and neither created any separation in the battle for the No. 1 spot.
Saturday, it looked like the starting job was never in question.
Stanley threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Hawkeyes to a 44-41 overtime win over rival Iowa State. The sophomore was the first Iowa quarterback to post a stat line that impressive in 30 years.
That’s a pretty good outing for a kid who was still fighting for the job in late August.
Iowa’s passing attack was suppose to be held together with duct tape and gorilla glue this season. The Hawkeyes weren’t particularly good through the air last season (13th in the B1G) and lost C.J. Beathard and three of the top four receiving leaders. The ability to move the ball through the air was a real concern coming into the year.
Brian Ferentz’s use of Stanley in Week 1 seemed like it would define the sophomore’s role in Iowa’s offense. Stanley handed the ball off to Akrum Wadley and James Butler 34 times against Wyoming and threw just 15 passes in the 24-3 victory. He finished the day with eight completions, 125 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Stanley was a game manager, for lack of a better term. That’s how it looked like Iowa would prefer to use its quarterback for the season.
Then Saturday happened. Stanley was thrown into the fire, playing a rival opponent on the road in just the second start of his career. But the sophomore was unfazed by the situation and delivered one of the best performances of any recent Hawkeye quarterback.
He faced a few high-pressure situation in Ames. With Iowa trailing 10 midway through the fourth quarter, Stanley fired a perfect ball aimed at Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the back of the end zone.
Go get that ball, Ihmir Smith-Marsette!!!! pic.twitter.com/qK3xTVreze
— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) September 9, 2017
In overtime, needing a touchdown to win the game, Stanley found Smith-Marsette in the end zone again to claim the Cy-Hawk Trophy for a third-straight year. It was quite an afternoon for the first-year starter.
So much for duct tape and gorilla glue.
Beating Iowa State with a formidable passing attack doesn’t mean the Hawkeyes need to restructure their offensive mindset. With Wadley and Butler in the backfield, running the ball is still the offense’s greatest strength. It should make Ferentz rethink Stanley’s role, however.
Stanley doesn’t have to be the guy who hands the ball off every time he’s under center, only dropping back on essential passing downs. Iowa’s offense can evolve out of that “three yards and a cloud of dust mentality.” Obviously that won’t change drastically (it hasn’t in Kirk Ferentz’s reign), but the Hawkeyes can throw a few more wrinkles into a plan that was suppose to be all about the run game.
After Saturday, Iowa’s offense seems a little more dangerous than it did a few weeks ago. Wadley and Butler have a nice complement under center. That’s a benefit for the Hawkeyes as the B1G schedule creeps closer.
Stanley’s quick development has paid off for the Hawkeyes. He proved he can be a reliable playmaker when called upon. It’s already resulted in a victory for Iowa.
That’s lightning-quick progression for a quarterback who needed all of fall camp to claim the starting job.