Leistikow's Final Thoughts: Is Iowa QB Nate Stanley's thumb truly 'fine' for Purdue game?
IOWA CITY, Ia. — As he participated in nearly 30 minutes of interviews Tuesday, Nate Stanley’s right hand never left the pocket of his black sweatshirt.
The left hand came out, from time to time, as he gestured while answering questions. The right hand stayed put.
Or is the Iowa quarterback’s status against Purdue really in question?
“I’m just going with the flow,” Stanley responded with a smile, when asked why he hadn’t shown his right hand. “I don’t know.”
Stanley banged his right (throwing) thumb against the helmet belonging to center Keegan Render early in the fourth quarter at Penn State. He shook the thumb as the game wore on and had it taped up during the Hawkeyes’ attempted rally in a 30-24 loss.
Stanley, who is 14-7 as a starter, said he practiced Tuesday. Asked if he could play in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game against the Boilermakers, he responded: “That’s the goal. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”
Head coach Kirk Ferentz was more definitive, but a bit cagey.
Will Stanley start?
"I hope so."
How's his thumb?
"Fine. He's fine. He threw the ball well today. I think he's good to go."
The chances of this being something are higher than it being nothing. But it sure sounds like Stanley is on track to make his 22nd consecutive start. How limited might he be? Coaches might not have that answer until the game gets going.
If redshirt freshman backup Peyton Mansell had to run the offense?
"He made a big jump from spring ball to August," Ferentz said. "But that's the next step, is getting on the field."
As you might imagine, Noah Fant would like to be more involved in the offense.
The preseason all-American tight end's five catches for 56 yards at Penn State all came in the fourth quarter. Iowa's leading receiver didn't have a first-half target. He was curiously only on the field for two of the Iowa offense's seven snaps within 10 yards of the end zone.
The lone Hawkeye touchdown in three red-zone trips Saturday came on a fake field goal.
"I would love to be in the red zone," said Fant, who owns the school's career record for tight-end touchdowns with 18. "That’s a great place to be at. You’re close to the end zone. That’s where I make a lot of my touchdowns at. Again, that’s one of those things where our coaches went with what they thought would get us there."
Fant also said he was healthy for Iowa's final play of the game, from Penn State's 44-yard line, but Iowa instead went with four other receivers, including tight end T.J. Hockenson.
It seems like an oversight to leave a speedy, 6-foot-5 player with a 42-inch vertical jump off the field in a Hail Mary situation.
"Obviously I would like to be involved all the time, but that’s not really in my control," Fant said. "I can control if I catch the ball. I can control what I do with the ball when I catch it."
Simulating dynamic Purdue freshman Rondale Moore isn’t easy.
But at least two Hawkeyes are trying. Linebacker Djimon Colbert said junior defensive back Devonte Young (a converted receiver) and freshman wide receiver Calvin Lockett are impersonating Moore on the scout team.
Moore leads the Big Ten by a commanding margin in all-purpose yardage, at 179.1 per game. He averages 8.5 catches (best in the Big Ten) and 110.3 receiving yards (second) per game.
“There’s not that many guys that can give us the same types of looks he gives us in a game,” Colbert said, “but as long as we get something similar to that, getting to the ball every play is going to be key for us this week.”
There are injury updates worth mentioning. Ferentz said No. 1 running back Ivory Kelly-Martin, who was limited to five carries at Penn State because of an ankle injury, is “a little sore right now, but we'll see. I think he'll play (at Purdue).”
Even if he’s limited, Mekhi Sargent proved he could be a capable lead back after rushing for career-highs of 16 carries and 91 yards in Happy Valley. My opinion: It was the best performance by an Iowa running back this season. Sargent also had an electric 15-yard reception on third-and-10 that looked like something out of the Akrum Wadley highlight reel.
Ferentz agreed it was Sargent’s best game, but added: “He blew a couple plays, but that's to be expected at this point of his career.”
Also on the injury front, fullback Brady Ross is likely out another two games, Ferentz said. And tight end/special-teamer Shaun Beyer is out this week after suffering a non-contact injury in Monday’s practice.
It’s slightly amusing to see that 328-pound right tackle Tristan Wirfs leads Iowa at 15.0 yards per carry. The circumstances that led to the sophomore’s game-ending 15-yard run as Stanley was about to get sacked weren’t a laughing matter to Wirfs. He got beat in pass protection.
“It was cool getting my hands on the ball and everything, but it was a bittersweet play,” Wirfs said. “It was my fault that Nate got hit and had to pitch it to me in the first place.”
It sounds like two freshmen have taken over for suspended cornerback Matt Hankins.
D.J. Johnson, a true freshman from Indianapolis who saw his first game action on special teams at Penn State, and redshirt Josh Turner are the next men in with Hankins out this week after being cited for a loud house party early Sunday morning.
“We’re trying to get those younger guys up to speed on things," free safety Jake Gervase said, "but I think they’ve been doing a really good job throughout the year and are ready for that opportunity."
Julius Brents, Riley Moss and Michael Ojemudia remain the top three corners.