We’re going to start up our position previews with quarterback; for a litany of reasons it seems more pronounced than ever that Iowa’s success this year will hinge on the play of its signal caller.
Can the stars align this year for our man? There’s already hype around him as a legitimate NFL QB going into the season. The tools are there to believe the smoke. Now I wanna see the fire.
Nate The Great (?)
In my decadeish of being an Iowa fan, the Hawkeyes have had two other quarterbacks with a pedigree similar to the one Nathan Stanley is currently enjoying leading into a season.
There was Ricky Stanzi, fresh off an Orange Bowl win, who put together a mind-blowing senior season on paper, but 2010 never materialized into anything spectacular. CJ Beathard was the architect of Iowa’s 12-0 run in 2015, but 2016 kinda sucked in comparison, due to no fault of his own.
The last time Iowa was poised to field a QB for his third year as a starter was the aforementioned Stanzi, but Ricky had to wrangle the starting job away from Jake Christensen early on in 2008, and only his senior-year production comes close to mirroring what Stanley has already done in two seasons.
And despite this being his third year as a starter, Stanley comes into this season with perhaps the greatest set of challenges he’s ever had to face. He has no security blanket do-all running back like Akrum Wadley in 2017. He loses all three of his leading receivers from 2018 (and ‘17 for that matter) in Noah Fant, TJ Hockenson and Nick Easley. Iowa’s most accomplished pass-catcher going into this season is probably a toss-up between Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, two guys who have combined for 927 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2 seasons of action.
But Stanley has the luxury of two NFL offensive tackles on the roster. It’s Iowa, so whoever winds up being on the interior line will likely get NFL looks down the road. Iowa’s rushing attack was historically bad last year, but I don’t think it’s unfair to assume that will improve despite Iowa’s backfield remaining virtually unchanged outside the addition of some true freshmen.
And then there’s the tight end thing. They aren’t gonna be the two guys from a year ago, but Shaun Beyer, Drew Cook, Nate Wieting et al. aren’t gonna be a waste of space, either.
So here Iowa sits, staring down the barrel of a schedule that includes road games at Iowa State, Michigan and Nebraska and a home slate that commands Penn State and Purdue. We have to highlight the Purdue game now, I guess.
And then let’s talk about Nate Stanley. He’s thrown for 26 touchdowns each of the past two seasons; I’m banking on him breaking Chuck Long’s record and throwing for 28 this year.
In his two seasons as a starter he’s got 5,289 passing yards, 52 touchdowns and completion percentage that hovers around 57.5. He has the ability to make just about every throw asked of him, and can do stuff like this:
Unfortunately, he’s proven to be incredibly human, and has been known to do stuff like this from time to time:
That Penn State game SUCKED!
So, what kind of Nate Stanley are we gonna get this year? With his top targets no longer in the picture, he has the ability to form this passing attack in his image, or whatever image Kirk, Brian and Ken O’Keefe are signaling to him. I might liken it to a shooter having the green light in basketball, but unfortunately at times it seems like the Iowa football team still uses a traffic director while the stoplights are being repaired in perpetuity.
This year, Nate Stanley is going to be Iowa’s guy. We need him to make throws and read defenses and hunt vampires and score points. We can safely rely on the defense to do its job. We can safely rely on some head-scratching coaching decisions from time to time with this staff. But if we can safely rely on Nate Stanley to make plays while leaving the mistakes behind at Summit, little else matters.
Redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell saw action for when Stanley was resting or had to miss a couple snaps last year. He’s Iowa’s most mobile quarterback on the roster (maybe the only QB with any sort of mobility) and seems to flash CJ Beathard’s OUTLAW GUNSLINGER quarterbacking tendencies with the ball in his hands.
Spencer Petras got some run in a couple blowouts last year as a true freshman, and the media talks about him as though he has the best arm for an Iowa QB ever. The quarterback race for 2020 is in full swing, and we’re going to see it play out this year as the staff toys with who it puts in to replace Stanley for when he needs a breather, gets hurt, or just totally mollywhopping Minnesota.
My heart tells me Mansell is currently Iowa’s No. 2 and eventual No. 1, but my brain thinks Petras is the quarterback of the future.
After those two it’s Alex Padilla, a highly-decorated true freshman out of Denver. I’d assume he redshirts this year, and works himself into the conversation sometime around 2021. (Or 2020 after the loser of the Mansell-Petras competition transfers).
We have Ryan Schmidt and Connor Kapisak on the roster as walk-ons at QB. Iowa’s only breaking that glass in case of emergency.
It seems reductionist to spend 1,000 words saying that Iowa’s success in 2019 hinges on the play of its most experienced player at the most important position on the field, but it’s true. AND I was able to do it in 965 words anyway, so there.