Iowa Hawkeyes will call on a bunch of Jack Trice Stadium newcomers to score points
AMES, Ia. — Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley will hop off the team bus Saturday morning with his headphones cranked as loud as they’ll go, listening to whatever country music song his Pandora Internet radio has landed on.
He’ll walk the gauntlet of raucous Iowa State fans and try to settle the nerves that come with his first road start.
The goals in Week 2 of the sophomore’s journey as Hawkeye signal-caller: Hang on to the football, and hang on to his composure.
“If your emotions get out of hand, then the game can get away pretty quick,” Stanley said. “I think having a good mindset throughout the whole game will definitely be a key to being able to play well.”
This Cy-Hawk Saturday marks Stanley’s first trip to Jack Trice Stadium, where an Iowa State team still feeling the sting of last year’s 42-3 loss will be eager to give him a rude initiation to the rivalry.
But Stanley is not the only Hawkeye unfamiliar with what lies within Jack Trice, from tricky winds to super-charged fans. On a fairly veteran Iowa team, it’s remarkable how few of the skill position players have ever seen the field in Ames. Senior wideout Matt VandeBerg is the exception — his best career game came here in a 31-17 Iowa win two years ago. Otherwise, from quarterback to kicker, the Hawkeyes will be looking for a scoring boost from these seven Jack Trice newcomers:
It starts with Stanley, of course. The Wisconsin native got off to a bumpy start last week against Wyoming, but steadied himself to throw three touchdowns in a 24-3 win. But he also threw an interception and lost two fumbles in his own territory. A repeat of that performance in a hostile environment will get Iowa beat.
Stanley knows it. It was the theme of the week for him, his coaches hammering the message home.
“We have a ball security circuit that we work on in practice, and really just focusing in on that and doing the best I can at that,” Stanley said. “There’s a lot more to get better at than maybe the fan might realize. Just being able to make decisions quicker.”
Stanley drew praise from his teammates and coaches alike for how little he let his turnovers affect him. He comes across as a seasoned veteran, but acknowledged that he’s not immune to nerves.
“Playing in this series, this game: Everybody’s going to have a tremendous amount of care and effort put into the game,” Stanley said. “Yeah, I get nervous, but just being able to fall back on your teammates, on your fundamentals, knowing that your teammates trust you and that you’re prepared, helps calm them a little bit.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t mince words when asked about the challenge ahead for Stanley.
“It's about as tough as it's going to get for him,” Ferentz said about playing at Jack Trice. “The good thing is, he went through some adversity (last) Saturday and responded well. Certainly encouraging, and his teammates supported him well and that helps, too. I'm sure he'll be in those situations again this weekend, and hopefully we can push through it and find something good.”
It’s hard to believe, since senior Akrum Wadley needs only 121 rushing yards Saturday to reach 2,000 for his Hawkeye career, but he wasn’t part of the gameplan here two years ago. Wadley never saw the field that day.
He’s Iowa’s best offensive player now, though, and Wadley will need to keep chewing through opposing defenses for the Hawkeyes to sustain drives. His 116 rushing yards against Wyoming — on 24 tough carries — proved that he is much more than a flashy ankle-breaker.
“That’s a win for the backs if we can get four” yards on first down, Wadley said this week. His career average is a gaudy 6.1 per carry.
Wadley responded to back-to-back queries about whether he’ll be used more in the screen-passing game, or lined up more in the slot, the same way:
“I’m not sure, man. That’s a coach question.”
That coach is first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and look for him to find new ways to feature Wadley.
“He always talks about getting his playmakers the ball. He’s really eager. We walk through a bunch of times,” Wadley said. “And we believe in him.”
While Wadley shows his versatility, newcomer James Butler figures to get more chances to play the traditional tailback role in Iowa’s offense. Butler carried 10 times for 47 yards last week in his Hawkeye debut after transferring from Nevada. He’s a thumper who can find seams or create his own against an unproven Cyclone defensive line.
It’s also possible that redshirt freshman Toren Young will get his first career action Saturday. Somewhere among that trio, the Hawkeyes will be looking to control things on the ground, hoping for their first rushing scores of the season.
Nick Easley nearly walked on at Iowa State, before the Hawkeyes swooped in last December with their own offer to the former Iowa Western Community College star. Easley grew up in Newton as an Iowa fan, so he jumped at that chance instead and sure made it look like destiny last week.
Easley caught four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, forming an early connection with Stanley that they’ll hope to build on Saturday.
The Cyclone secondary, though, is much better than Wyoming’s. And it’s likely that Iowa will need to get catches from more than two wide receivers — VandeBerg had two against Wyoming — in order to keep Iowa State from loading up the line of scrimmage and overplaying the run.
Sophomore Devonte Young, freshman Brandon Smith and New Mexico transfer Matt Quarells would all love to get their first Hawkeye receptions Saturday.
As for Easley: “I’m excited to be a part of it,” he said of a rivalry game he grew up watching. “That was always my goal, always my dream.”
The Hawkeyes hope he’s a big part of it.
Sophomore Noah Fant caught two passes last week. Both were touchdowns. There’s no way to top that, is there?
“I really just envision me helping in whatever I can do. It doesn’t have to be a touchdown,” Fant said. “If I can block for a running back to get a touchdown, that’s great, too.”
Fant figures to be much more than a blocker in Iowa’s gameplan again. But Iowa State knows that as well.
So perhaps this is where his counterpart, redshirt freshman T.J. Hockenson, makes his 6-foot-5, 243-pound presence felt.
Hockenson played more snaps (47) than any Iowa skill player against Wyoming. He was only targeted with one pass, but was terrific as a blocker. It was easy to forget that was his first college game.
But catching passes is what got Hockenson noticed at Chariton High School. It’s undoubtedly why Brian Ferentz has paired him with Fant as a pair of athletic starting tight ends, players that can operate effectively at the line of scrimmage or create mismatches downfield.
“I think both those guys did a good job,” Kirk Ferentz said. “The exciting part is those guys are going to improve a lot week-to-week-to-week, as long as they are working at it right and thinking right, which we assume they will do that.”
Junior Miguel Recinos was the surprise winner of Iowa’s place-kicking battle this summer, edging incumbent Keith Duncan. He quickly showed why Saturday, getting great lift on his kickoffs, converting all three extra points and blasting a 44-yard field goal to culminate the scoring.
The Mason City native will spend his pregame testing Jack Trice Stadium’s notoriously fickle winds. But Recinos said he spent the entire offseason in self-reflection and “honing my mental game.”
The result was a simplified approach to what is essentially a simple act: kicking a football high and straight.
That was tested on Recinos’ first extra point last Saturday. He had inadvertently nodded his head slightly to holder Colten Rastetter, who took that as a signal that it was time to snap the football.
It wasn’t. Recinos was still looking at the uprights to get his bearings when he saw a Wyoming defender on the move out of the corner of his eye.
“You can imagine my surprise,” Recinos deadpanned this week. “I looked up, snap came in, I saw the corner come in, flung my arms forward to try to get some momentum and just kicked it as hard as I could. … Yeah, that was exciting.”
There will be more excitement ahead, especially if Recinos is called on for a crucial field goal Saturday.
IOWA (1-0) AT IOWA STATE (1-0)
WHERE: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames
TIME/TV: 11:01 a.m., ESPN2 (announcers: Jason Benetti, Kelly Stouffer, Julie Stewart-Binks)
LINE: Hawkeyes by 2 ½
WEATHER: 79 degrees and partly cloudy; winds from east-southeast at 10-15 mph