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Matchup to Watch: Nate Stanley vs. Everybody

It’s now or never for the Hawkeye senior

NCAA Football: Purdue at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The best quarterbacks the Iowa Hawkeyes have had under Kirk Ferentz have made their own luck. Since 1999, Iowa has never had the best playcallers or a cadre of elite skill guys so the person who most defines a Hawkeye season is the one under center. It ultimately comes down to one question:

Does everyone in the stadium believe you can make the play when the game is on the line?

In 2015, C.J. Beathard showed he could early with two scrambles against Iowa State and led that comeback. The 2015 team played most of it from ahead but part of the reason MSU felt so compelled to run the clock as close to 0:00 as possible is because they had already been snakebitten once and refused to do so again. “12-0” lives on.

Just over 10 years ago, Ricky Stanzi completed a slant pass which will go down in infamy. Despite his mediocre stats and legendary Rick Sixes in 2009, there was an eerie calm about him with the game on the line, culminating in an Orange Bowl.

2004 (Iowa’s last conference championship) was the ultimate Hawkeye team who could build a lead and sit on the opponent like an older brother a sibling but Drew Tate had moxie despite his small frame. Though they lost the tiebreaker to Michigan, preventing a trip to Pasadena, the season ended on as memorable a victory as any in my lifetime.

And of course, 2002. Brad Banks and his Heisman runner-up season. It started pretty bumpy! But after an overtime victory at Penn State and a comeback win against Purdue, he had the Hawkeye offense humming its way to 37.2 points/game (still a Ferentz high) and Iowa’s first conference championship under Ferentz.

The next four games will define whether past Stanley moments are remembered fondly or with an aura of “what if” surrounding them.

This is not to say Nate Stanley hasn’t had a good career as a Hawkeye. He’s undoubtedly done that. Barring a repeat of 2017’s performance in Madison, he’ll leave Wisconsin as the #3 passer in Iowa history. Despite an underwhelming statistical accumulation his senior year, he’s still just 12 TDs shy of tying Chuck Long’s record. He’s on pace for the third best season from a passing yardage perspective in Hawkeye history (#1 in the non-Chuck division).

Yet, he hasn’t cemented his status as a truly great Hawkeye. That can only come with some semblance of a regular season championship. But he has shown flashes in pressure situations.

Against OSU in 2017, he was phenomenal and got the ball to his playmakers en route to 5 TDs. He performed calmly and cooly in last season’s Outback Bowl. In both games at Iowa State, he’s made high-level throws on the way to comeback victories.

But his quote-unquote moments end there. Nothing has transcended each game at hand into a larger indicator of who he is.

Time and again, he has had the opportunity away from Iowa City against the cream of the Big Ten crop and he has performed... erratically:

  • 2017 @ Wisconsin: 8/24, 41 yards, 1 INT
  • 2018 @ Penn State: 18/49, 205 yards, 2 INT
  • 2019 @ Michigan: 23/42, 260 yards, 3 INT

Yes, these teams are better so it’s going to be more difficult for him (and others) to perform well. But there is something eminently unique about the quarterback position: he can write his own legacy.

With four games left and no losses left to give, closing out the season 4-0 - and making the plays when it counts more than ever - will etch Stanley’s name into Hawkeye lore.