Iowa takeaways: Stanley is the future, Scheel out again

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY — Ten true freshmen played in Iowa’s season opener against Miami of Ohio, none more eyebrow-raising than the one who entered with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining.

For quarterback Nathan Stanley (and the Hawkeyes), the future starts now.

Nathan Stanley (4) entered Saturday's game with Iowa leading, 38-21. The true freshman handed off four times and passed once (incomplete).

By taking the first of his five snaps Saturday, the big-armed prospect from Menomonie, Wis., was no longer a redshirt candidate.

For Iowa to have made that decision means he’s a clear No. 2 — behind C.J. Beathard, of course, and now ahead of Tyler Wiegers.

"It's been nip and tuck with he and Tyler,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said. “At the end of the week, we just made the decision we’d go with Nathan. He's done a good job. Tyler has done a good job. And we'll take it a week at a time, let those guys keep competing.”

More coverage from Saturday's game:

Stanley’s rise up the depth chart is similar to that of Drew Tate before the 2003 season, when Tate as a true freshman rose to No. 2 past Matt Bohnet and Jason Manson in fall camp. Tate then became a three-year starter and led Iowa to its most recent Big Ten Conference championship in 2004.

That three-year Stanley plan seems to be the track that Iowa's coaches are leaning toward: to get Stanley’s feet wet now, thinking he could be their best chance to win in 2017.

“We had a discussion about that before we did it, as a staff,” Ferentz said. “At this juncture, that’s just kind of the decision we made.”

More on true freshmen

On Stanley’s lone drive — five plays, 18 yards after Anthony Nelson’s second forced fumble of the afternoon — he twice handed the ball off to true freshman Toks Akinribade while true freshman Noah Fant was at tight end and true freshman Devonte Young lined up at receiver.

Other rookies who played Saturday: linebackers Amani Jones and Kristian Welch, defensive backs Amani Hooker and Manny Rugamba, defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore and kicker Keith Duncan.

Of the 10, Duncan (6-for-6 PATs and good on his only field-goal attempt, at 22 yards) and Rugamba (in Iowa’s dime coverage and later in place of Greg Mabin) had the biggest contributions to Saturday’s win.

It’s notable that Akinribade was the third running back of the day to get a carry, while presumed No. 3 Derrick Mitchell Jr. went fourth.

“I'm hopeful and encouraged by it,” Ferentz said of the freshmen. “We have seen a lot of improvement this past month, so now the objective is to keep pushing them forward and expedite the process.”

No Jay Scheel, again

The anticipated starting debut of Jay Scheel didn’t happen Saturday. The redshirt sophomore receiver continues to be bothered by nagging injuries, a recurring theme in his three years on campus. He’s still stuck on three career snaps.

Ferentz indicated that holding Scheel out was precautionary. The coach called the injury “health issues” without elaborating. On the pregame show, radio voice Gary Dolphin said it was a quad strain. Scheel had been slowed with a balky hamstring in fall camp, too.

Whatever it is, Iowa needs him back soon, preferably next week against Iowa State.

Without Scheel, the Hawkeyes almost exclusively stuck with their core three wideouts — Matt VandeBerg (four catches, for 99 yards), Jerminic Smith (three catches, for 51 yards) and Riley McCarron (one catch, for 14 yards).

“Hopefully Jay will be ready here next Monday,” Ferentz said, “but it was just kind of a touch-and-go thing until the end of the week.”

Iowa wins a crucial stat

Last year’s top two teams in the Big Ten in turnover margin? Iowa and Michigan State. No coincidence that both teams made the conference title game.

The Hawkeyes are off to a plus-3 start in that category in 2016, thanks in part to two second-year players. Redshirt freshman Nelson forced two fumbles on sacks, and true sophomore Jack Hockaday forced another. The Hawkeyes turned all three turnovers into touchdowns, leaving RedHawks coach Chuck Martin regretful after the 45-21 loss.

Miami outgained Iowa, 424-404.

“It was a close game — should have been closer,” Martin said. “Without the dang turnovers, it’s a really close game.”

Ferentz thought Martin’s team was more impressive on the field than they were on film. Keep an eye on the RedHawks; they’ll probably surprise someone in the Mid-American Conference as the season progresses. The quarterback, sophomore Billy Bahl (19-of-29, for 266 yards), looked much better than he did as a true freshman.

But on this day, Iowa was just better.

“They were tougher and more physical than we were,” Martin said. “They wore us down.”

Some personnel thoughts

Ron Coluzzi looks like a win at punter and as the kickoff guy. The fifth-year senior allowed zero return yards on three punts (41.7 average) and pounded seven of his eight kickoffs for touchbacks.

Whither Aaron Mends? The sophomore who was the starting weak-side linebacker until Bo Bower beat him out late in camp spent most of Saturday on the bench. Hockaday was next man in at middle linebacker, and walk-on Kevin Ward spelled outside linebacker Ben Niemann.

James Daniels looked mostly terrific at center, though he tripped and fell once that caused Beathard to get sacked. Overall, though, the sophomore’s first career start at that position was a success.

Starting defensive end Parker Hesse did not return after his first-quarter fumble return. It looked like a left hamstring injury; Ferentz called it a strain. "Hopefully it's nothing that's going to last too long," he said.

Iowa had zero tight end receptions, though there should’ve been one — George Kittle dropped a sure 5-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and the Hawkeyes settled for a field goal. Nothing to worry about; Iowa played it pretty vanilla on Saturday, and got the win anyway.