Leistikow: In saying little about Nate Stanley, Kirk Ferentz says a lot about Iowa football QB derby
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Throughout August, Kirk Ferentz has carefully chosen his words when discussing his Iowa football program’s quarterback decision.
Even Tuesday, a day after the university's quiet QB reveal — via depth chart on Page 20 (of 20) of online game notes — that Nate Stanley was ahead of Tyler Wiegers for Saturday’s season opener against Wyoming, there was no rousing endorsement from the head coach.
On what tipped the scales in making Stanley, the true sophomore, Iowa’s Week 1 starter?
“We said it a week ago: We had confidence in both,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “We still do. They’re both really good players.
“It was never clear-cut.”
Ferentz came on our Hawk Central radio show Wednesday night and said of the QB race that he wasn’t playing coy — that there was no decision yet. By Thursday, Stanley was told by quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe that he had won the camp battle.
What changed in those 12 to 18 hours?
“We had to do something, in my mind, by the end of the week,” Ferentz said. “We had a practice Friday morning and wanted to get that ball rolling a little bit before the weekend came around. As much as anything, that was a soft line in the sand.”
Hardly a statement that would get much hype. But it’s the calculated and consistent way that Ferentz has handled this quarterback race all along.
If we are to take him at his word — and we should — then here was the thought process from Ferentz and his staff:
They wanted one of the two quarterbacks to separate himself in the competition in August.
Nobody clearly did.
So here we are.
If Ferentz wanted to keep expectations for Stanley tempered, to keep Wiegers engaged and to continue to push Iowa's quarterback position forward, then this is exactly how he should have handled it.
Even Stanley has done his part to keep his anointment low-key. He kept the decision under tight public wraps for four days, though the first call he made Thursday was to his father, Jay, after getting the good word.
As for why he won the job, Stanley said, “I’ll keep that to myself and the coaches and Tyler. I guess it’s their decision, so they thought I did a little bit better in camp.”
After 19 years, you know that, with Ferentz, it’s about the steak — not the sizzle that you see from other programs. He prefers to let on-field play do the talking.
Among Stanley's teammates, however, there was no tepid endorsement. They're all on board.
With his work ethic and his maturity.
“I would have never guessed he’s a second-year player,” graduate-transfer running back James Butler said, “with how he carries himself.”
With his physical skills packed in a 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame.
“He can chuck the ball pretty well,” senior linebacker Josey Jewell said. “He’s got legs, too.”
With his quiet confidence.
“He doesn’t like to talk too much,” Jewell added. “When he does, it’s something to listen to, because it’s going to be something wise.”
And with his gamesmanship.
You may remember Stanley coolly stepped into a chaotic situation last year against North Dakota State, after starter C.J. Beathard went down briefly with a shoulder injury.
On Stanley’s first play from scrimmage in a tense moment, he looped a perfectly-placed 37-yard pass to George Kittle for a first down.
“When he gets in the game,” receiver Devonte Young said, “you can tell he’s ready to play.”
Stanley admitted he’s more nervous this week than he was against North Dakota State, because of the anticipation surrounding his first college start.
But given the amount of preparation he’s put into winning this job, it sounds like he's as ready as a guy who turned 20 on Saturday can be.
As a true freshman, Stanley rose to the No. 2 spot with his skill set and by quickly understanding Greg Davis’ offensive scheme.
As a true sophomore, he had to start all over again and learn the also-complex offense of new coordinator Brian Ferentz.
“It feels like our camp binders were almost 1,000 pages,” Stanley said in maybe only a slight exaggeration. “There’s a lot. It’s not like you’re going to learn it all in one day. It’s the same as the physical aspect — you’ve got to take little steps at a time and continually build on it and try to get better at it.”
Now, to get inside the coaches' heads a little bit: If Stanley can show that kind of rapid growth in a few months, what can he be with three years as Iowa's starting quarterback?
That's a prospect to get excited about.
“It’s almost like learning a new language, to some extent. Once you learn it, it comes a lot quicker,” Stanley said. “Like, for me, saying plays in the huddle at first was, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s a long play.’ But as you learn it, as you game plan, sometimes you almost know what the play’s going to be right when the signal comes in.”
Get excited about Stanley.
And while you’re getting to know him, call him Nate.
“I always feel like I’m in trouble by my mom when I get called 'Nathan,'” he said.
But don’t forget about Wiegers along the way.
Both Stanley and Wiegers were elected to the team’s 2017 Leadership Group, which was announced last week.
Ferentz said Wiegers “was great” after hearing the news that he finished runner-up in the most high-profile battle of fall camp, and that “he’s practiced really well since that time, and his demeanor has been tremendous.”
It's Week 1, and Iowa has two quarterbacks it feels good about.
Not a bad place to start.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.