Leistikow's final thoughts: New leader at backup QB; Oliver Martin case nears finish line
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Going into Iowa’s 2016 football season, there was a senior starting quarterback in C.J. Beathard and a neck-and-neck competition to be his backup between the more experienced guy (Tyler Wiegers) and the newer guy (true freshman Nate Stanley).
Head coach Kirk Ferentz was non-committal about his backup before that year’s opener against Miami of Ohio. Then, during the fourth quarter of a blowout, the newer guy got the No. 2 snaps.
You know the rest of the story. Stanley has become a three-year starter; Wiegers eventually transferred.
Flash forward three years, and we’re practically in a carbon-copy situation. Now, Stanley is the senior, and it looks like the newer guy (Spencer Petras) might be nudging ahead of the more experienced guy (Peyton Mansell) entering Saturday’s game against … you guessed it.
In his opening remarks at Tuesday’s game-week press conference, Ferentz acknowledged for the first time that Petras had inched ahead of Mansell. But it's hardly a wide lead.
“If we were playing tomorrow, which we’re not, Petras would be the next guy in the game, with Mansell third,” Ferentz said. “But we’ll play the week out (in practice) and see how that goes. That competition, as you can read between the lines, has been pretty close.”
Using history as a guide, this could serve as an early vote of confidence for Petras — a big (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) redshirt freshman from San Rafael, California — from Iowa’s coaching staff.
Mansell, a redshirt sophomore, attempted eight passes as last year’s backup.
The backup quarterback spot is always an important one. If the starting quarterback’s helmet comes off, somebody’s got to go into the game for a snap. If Stanley gets hurt for a series or longer, someone has to run the show. At this point, Petras — who was a standout in the Kids Day scrimmage Aug. 10 by (unofficially) completing 18 of 25 passes for 208 yards — has earned the coaches’ trust.
And we may look back on this decision as shaping the race for Iowa’s quarterback of the future.
We just need to wait a little longer on the Oliver Martin verdict.
The process is near the finish line, and Ferentz was hopeful to get a final decision this week on whether the wide-receiver transfer from Michigan will be eligible to play this season. The NCAA, Big Ten Conference, Iowa's compliance office and Martin's attorney have been involved in the waiver request.
If a good word comes before Saturday, Ferentz said Martin would play against Miami.
“If we get the green light, he’ll be in there, playing at some point,” Ferentz said. “Absolutely.”
What gives Ferentz comfort about the ruling is that Iowa’s wide-receiver room isn’t desperate for an immediate answer. The Hawkeyes love their top four of Brandon Smith, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy Jr. If Martin is good to go, he’d give Iowa a more formidable top five.
“Just the way our depth is right now, it doesn’t really impact us,” Ferentz said. “If he’s able to play, we’d love to get him in there and get him going.”
Stay patient. Stay cautiously optimistic. Stay tuned.
There’s a feel-good story just waiting to unfold this season.
His name is Nate Wieting, and the fifth-year senior and former walk-on has the daunting task of going from Iowa’s No. 3 tight end to No. 1. He's replacing two first-round NFL Draft picks, as you know, in T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant.
But Wieting, as I wrote last week, has been a combination of solid and dazzling in the lead-up to Saturday’s 6:40 p.m. season opener. He’s not going to make you completely forget Hockenson, but he has a chance to be that type of every-down fixture that the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 draft was.
“The challenge now turns into focusing on your details, your assignment, your alignment on every snap, no matter how tired you are,” Wieting said Tuesday. “We might have a 12-play drive where, hopefully I’m in on eight or nine plays. And with those eight or nine plays, I have to be able to execute every time.”
Just being in this position is a victory for Wieting. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder battled (and even played through) health issues his first several years at Iowa. First, a foot surgery. Then a major shoulder injury that required surgery. A scope to repair chronic knee pain. Then another foot surgery.
Wieting, with three career catches, seems ready for liftoff. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has thrown out the comparison to Henry Krieger-Coble, the 2015 team’s No. 1 tight end who was a reliable cog and enjoyed a 35-catch senior season.
“I feel good, I feel great,” Wieting said. “This is probably the best I’ve ever felt in my career. And I’m excited for it.”
Who’s excited for rotating placekickers?
If Iowa scores a lot of points Saturday, it’ll help sort out the tight kicking competition between walk-ons Keith Duncan and Caleb Shudak. Both have had similar numbers during fall camp, and Ferentz indicated that both would play against Miami. (Shudak will handle kickoffs, he revealed.)
"I looked at the stats the other day. You can almost flip a coin,” Ferentz said. “So, it might be fair to say we'll let both guys play and see what happens. And they both did a good job (Tuesday) in practice, which is certainly encouraging."
Nothing wrong with this approach. Sometimes, it's best to see who performs best under the gameday pressure at one of football's most mentally fragile positions.
There might not be as many true freshmen playing as we initially thought.
Coordinators Brian Ferentz and Phil Parker were pretty bullish on this freshman class last week. But Kirk Ferentz actually threw a curveball Tuesday by saying that he didn’t anticipate any rookie defensive players seeing action Saturday — even on special teams.
On offense, Ferentz does see an opportunity for "a couple" of freshmen to play. Running backs Shadrick Byrd (from Alabama) and Tyler Goodson (from Georgia) have received rave reviews in camp; it would make sense to try to get each guy acclimated, at minimum, with the NCAA's four-game rule.
“Really pleased with both guys, and I think they both have opportunities,” Ferentz said. “They're guys that we're definitely considering playing, both offensively and special teams. We'll keep talking about when we do or don't do that, but they're both in the picture right now.”
Don’t be surprised to see Iowa unfurl a freshman tight end, too, knowing it has limited future depth at that position.
Parker’s defense is preparing for multiple quarterbacks Saturday.
The RedHawks list three possible starters for Saturday’s game under the lights at Kinnick Stadium, and none of sophomore Jackson Williamson, freshman A.J. Mayer and freshman Brett Gabbert has taken a college snap.
“The challenge the whole first week is you don’t know what they’re going to run,” strong safety Geno Stone said. “You never know, they could change their offense just for that game. Just going out there and reading your keys is going to be the big thing.”
Stone said the first half will be all about adjustments. Iowa is a 21½-point favorite.