Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is asked about a 2015 memory and his assessment of the 2018 Hawkeyes after a 5-1 start. Hawk Central
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The comparisons have been out there, but now they’re on the record.
Iowa’s Nate Stanley. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.
Both wear black and gold on the football field. Both are big, hulking quarterbacks who are deceptively difficult to bring down.
“He reminds us a little of Big Ben,” Hawkeye safety Jake Gervase said after Saturday’s thoroughly dominating 42-16 win at Indiana. “For us, we wouldn’t know — we’re not allowed to touch him in practice. As you can see, he can scramble away. He’s a tough guy to bring down.”
Stanley, at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds, certainly isn’t going to win many sprints. He rarely scrambles forward for yardage. But it was his elusiveness that created the most memorable of his career-high six touchdown passes Saturday.
Stanley spun out of the tackle of blitzing linebacker Marcelino Ball, scrambled to his right — and just before he reached the boundary, he zipped a ball that found Nick Easley in the back of the end zone. The second-quarter touchdown officially covered 12 yards, though the ball traveled nearly 35.
“There’s an easier way to get a completion on that play,” said Stanley, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 320 yards — his third 300-yard game in his last four outings. “I had made a mental mistake … but you have to be able to continue to play. And Nick did a great job continuing to track with me.”
Stanley’s 14 touchdown passes over the past four games tie 1985 Heisman Trophy runner-up Chuck Long for the most in a four-game stretch.
Stanley is far from being NFL-ready, though he’s gotten some NFL buzz as a pro-style quarterback.
“My goodness, we bounced off him like a pinball,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “… I knew him at the Big Ten media days, and I thought he was a big ole' tight end at first.
“He’s a good player. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Even down a man, the running game was good, too. Iowa’s running-back trio of sophomores was relegated to a 1-2 punch Saturday, with Ivory Kelly-Martin not making the trip to Bloomington because of a concussion he suffered last week at Minnesota.
Nonetheless, this was the best the Hawkeye running game looked all year. Iowa’s front five consistently moved Indiana’s defensive line backward in the first half. The Hawkeyes gained 58 yards on their first seven carries — gaining (in order) 9, 11, 3, 7, 6, 16 and 6 yards.
Toren Young (19 carries, 96 yards) and Mekhi Sargent (10 carries, 59 yards) shared the ball-carrying workload; they looked equally good in the passing game, too.
Sargent made a nice catch and pivot to pick up 21 yards to convert a third-and-5 in the second quarter.
Young caught a flare pass out of the backfield and turned it into an 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter, busting a tackle on his way to the end zone.
Both guys were able to spread their wings Saturday, and they looked good doing it. Afterward, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he thought Kelly-Martin would be back for next week's game vs. Maryland.
More good news.
Three years ago, it was C.J. Beathard soaring over an Indiana pile of defenders that became the signature moment of Iowa’s eventual 35-27 win. Saturday, there was another mesmerizing leap by a Hawkeye in Memorial Stadium.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette hurdled 5-foot-11 kicker Jared Smolar at the end of a scintillating 60-yard kickoff return that restored Iowa momentum after the Hoosiers had closed to within 14-10. The play started with Smith-Marsette scooping up a loose ball around his own goal line; he said he lost the ball in the sun, so his plan was to let it bounce, then try to do something with it.
“That’s just how I roll," he said. "I’m not the conservative type.”
It looked like he would be stuffed inside the 10-yard line, but he eluded two defenders before racing into green space up the right sideline.
There is where he finished the play with a flying leap to gain a few extra yards. Another electric play by the sophomore from Newark, New Jersey. Smith-Marsette injured his ankle on the play, but returned later in the game and said he's fine.
Indianapolis native Julius Brents had a successful week. First, the true freshman canvassed his teammates for extra tickets as he headed back to his home state. Second, he was tremendous in pass coverage in starting at cornerback for the second straight week.
“He came through in the ticket department. I know he had a lot of supporters up in the stands,” Gervase said. “He went out and played well. Just his second start, he’s going to keep getting better.”
Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey turned most of his passing attention toward the other cornerback, Riley Moss. Ramsey's 33-yard touchdown pass to Ty Fryfogle went over the top of Moss.
Ferentz said on his pregame radio interview that usual starters Matt Hankins (left wrist) and Michael Ojemudia (hamstring) would play. But Hankins did not play, and Ojemudia’s usage was limited to nickel formations.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.