Iowa quarterbacks coach on Nate Stanley: 'He's capable of moving his feet and improvising'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

The Iowa offensive philosophy isn’t exactly shrouded in mystery.

“We like what we do. We want to be able to run the ball, throw the ball accurately, use the play-action,” Hawkeyes quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said in an interview on the HawkCentral radio program on KXnO on Wednesday.

But sometimes, a quarterback needs to re-write the script. That’s what Nate Stanley did in the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, when he eluded the pass rush, sidestepped back and to his left and heaved the football to tight end T.J. Hockenson for a 46-yard gain on a third-and-9 from the Iowa 34. Iowa scored the tying touchdown moments later before falling to the Badgers 28-17.

“He’s capable of moving his feet and improvising,” O’Keefe said of his junior starting quarterback. “I think all quarterbacks, in order to be able to help their teams, are going to have to get out of that pocket from time to time and make plays that are going to sort of be things that you usually see on the playground or in your backyard or in the streets. And most of those guys have dreamed of making those plays their whole lives.

“If you can make a play or two or three during the course of the game, it really slows that defense down and makes them play more honest.”


Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe during Iowa football media day on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Iowa City.

Stanley has made his share of them the past two weeks, following up a 300-yard outing against Northern Iowa with 256 yards and a pair of scores against Wisconsin. He even had one completion to Ihmir Smith-Marsette that he threw sidearm to get it past an onrushing Badger.

“You’ve got to be able to fit the ball here and there, especially when you’re on the move, to get it where it needs to go,” O’Keefe noted with approval.

O’Keefe is in his second season working with Stanley, and he said he’s pleased with the progress being made by the second-year starter.

More highlights from O’Keefe’s interview, which can be heard in its entirety at


Backups are beneficiaries of bye week

The Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten Conference) are on a bye this week, and that means backup quarterbacks Peyton Mansell and Spencer Petras are getting a chance to show what they’ve learned.

“I don’t care if you’re at the high school level, the college level or in the NFL, the backups never get the same number of reps that the starters do,” said O’Keefe, who has coached at all three levels.

Mansell, a redshirt freshman, had the chance to work with the starting offense during a two-minute drill Wednesday, O’Keefe said. That’s just one example of the extra work he got this week that there isn’t time for during normal game weeks.

“We’re going to make sure that the backup gets ‘X’ number of reps every week. The percentage of reps varies from time to time, but you’ve got to make sure he’s ready to run the offense the best he’s capable of,” O’Keefe said.

For Petras, a true freshman, the bye week meant participating in seven-on-seven drills.

“He gets to see what it’s like in that pocket again,” O’Keefe said.

“The guy down the line gets less. He may get a few repeat plays here and there. We’re always encouraging him to take mental reps behind the huddle, which Spencer’s been great at. There’s even times in the camera when he fits in the picture and we can tell if he’s getting the ball off on time or not.”

Why he likes being on the sideline

O’Keefe was Iowa’s offensive coordinator in his first tenure at the school from 1999-2011. Now, that job belongs to Brian Ferentz, who has decided to call plays from the sideline this season after being in the press box a year ago.

“I think he was kind of lonely and missed everybody else,” O’Keefe quipped.

O’Keefe said he always wanted to be on the field, which is where he’s stationed during games these days. He was in the press box during his time as a wide receivers coach with the Miami Dolphins.

 “You can look the quarterback in the eye and have a real conversation,” O’Keefe said of the benefits of standing on the sideline.

“Having been up in the box for my time in the NFL, it’s kind of a sterile environment as well. It’s not like a video game necessarily, but at times it gives you that feel.”