Nate Stanley looks to get Iowa offense back on track vs. porous Purdue defense
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nate Stanley is completing a career-high 61.1 percent of his passes. He is on pace to become the first Iowa quarterback to gain more than 3,000 yards through the air in a single season since James Vandenberg in 2011.
But Stanley has also thrown four interceptions in his past two games. The Hawkeyes lost both, scoring a meager 15 points in the process.
There’s been plenty of good moments for Stanley in No. 22 Iowa’s 4-2 start, but just enough bad to keep Hawkeye fans grumbling.
The senior quarterback knows all eyes will be on him again at 11 a.m. Saturday when the Hawkeyes host Purdue (2-4, 1-2 Big Ten Conference) in a homecoming game at soldout Kinnick Stadium (ESPN2). It’s not entirely up to Stanley to solve an unimpressive Boilermakers defense. But it certainly starts with him. And that’s how he wants it.
“Whether you like it or not, the quarterback is a leader and I kind of relish that opportunity,” Stanley said. “To be able to be in that position and show my teammates, ‘Hey, no matter what happens, give it your best all the way until the end.’ ”
Stanley was not at his best last Saturday, when he faced constant pressure in a 17-12 home loss to Penn State. He passed for 286 yards and a late touchdown to Brandon Smith.
But he missed Smith on an earlier goal-line chance. And he threw a fourth-quarter interception from his own 21-yard line that led to a Nittany Lions touchdown.
“I need to take better care of the ball,” Stanley said of that pass. “He was open, but I kind of came to it late. From my standpoint … don’t try to make a spectacular play, just play within myself.”
The Boilermakers have been battling injuries all season and are allowing 30 points per game. Only Rutgers has a worse pass defense in the Big Ten. Purdue has been gouged for 278 passing yards per game, with 13 touchdowns allowed.
This is a prime spot for Stanley to resume his climb up Iowa’s record books. His 61 career touchdown passes are tied with Drew Tate for second-most all-time, leaving him 13 behind Chuck Long. His 6,862 passing yards are fourth in program history. He would need 1,431 over his final six (or more) games to surpass Tate for second in that category.
Stanley has lost his previous two starts against Purdue, completing 37 of 65 passes for 451 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Those are so-so numbers. He said the Boilermakers, who struggle to hold up physically on defense, instead try to confuse offenses, particularly on third downs.
A three-year starter, Stanley should be able to see through that now. Purdue has generated only seven turnovers all season. It’s a defense that loses most often when it gambles.
If Iowa can neutralize Purdue freshman defensive end George Karlaftis (9.5 tackles for loss this season), it should have its way Saturday. And that would take away some of the sting of the past two Saturdays, when the interior of the Hawkeye offensive line was unable to handle Michigan and Penn State defensive fronts that featured superior athletes.
“You have to have some patience as a player that not everything is going to be perfect. Sometimes, you’re going to feel like you’re spinning wheels in mud,” Iowa senior tight end Nate Wieting said. “But that’s the time when you’ve really got to focus in, trust your teammates, trust the guy next to you, trust the scheme, trust your fundamentals, and play.”
Stanley has had to deal with shaky offensive line play and also the lack of an effective rushing attack the past two weeks. But he does have a rapidly ascending freshman running back in Tyler Goodson who could make things easier for him.
In the three games since Iowa’s first bye, Goodson has carried 26 times for 147 yards, 5.7 per attempt. He has another nine receptions for 78 yards in that span. Goodson lost his first career fumble vs. Penn State, on a play in which an unblocked PJ Mustipher met him at the moment of handoff. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz defended his rookie this week.
“It was not a smooth-operation play. So he's got some ownership,” Ferentz said. “I'm not putting that on him at all. That was a team effort right there.”
Translation: Goodson still has the trust of his coaches.
He certainly has Stanley’s. The quarterback said it was evident early on during summer seven-on-seven drills that Goodson could be an important asset in the receiving game. Goodson has a knack for making defenders miss tackles in open space.
Stanley went to Goodson after the fumble and told him: “The ball’s not going to stop coming to you. We’re going to keep feeding you. You’re a great player. You deserve to be out on the field.”
That’s leadership. Stanley will be making his 33rd consecutive start Saturday. Iowa is 21-11 in his previous 32.
Coming off a two-game skid? Against this defense?
It’s Stanley’s time to show how much he deserves to be out on the field, as well.
Purdue (2-4, 1-2) at No. 22 Iowa (4-2, 1-2)
Where: Kinnick Stadium
Kickoff: 11:01 a.m. Saturday
TV: ESPN2 (Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht, Rocky Boiman)
Line: Hawkeyes by 17.5
Weather: 54 degrees and a 75 percent chance of rain; winds from the southwest at 6 mph
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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