Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley completed 18 of 49 passes for 205 yards and had two big interceptions in a 30-24 loss to the Nittany Lions. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the biggest road game of 2017 for Iowa, quarterback Nate Stanley appeared to come unglued and the offense could never stick the ball into the end zone.
A year later, it was the same story.
The No. 18 Hawkeyes lost to Penn State 30-24 Saturday at Beaver Stadium with the special teams and defense providing all of the points. Stanley threw the ball 49 times and completed only 18 of his pass attempts, 10 of those in the fourth quarter.
There were possible touchdown passes that were overthrown. A couple of other passes should have never been thrown. Those ended up in the hands of Penn State defenders. One of them led to an easy Nittany Lions touchdown from 3 yards out. The other deprived Iowa of a possible go-ahead score, also from 3 yards out.
How to explain such shocking regression from a junior quarterback who entered the game completing 61 percent of his passes, with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions?
“Good players hit tough times sometimes,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The good ones bounce back, and he will.”
And that’s the biggest question coming out of this game for Iowa, which had a three-game winning streak snapped and looked lost for the first time since its bye week at the end of September.
Last season, Iowa rode the momentum from its 55-24 home upset of Ohio State all the way to Madison, only to watch Wisconsin swat it away. That final was 38-14 Badgers, with both Iowa scores coming courtesy of pick-sixes by star cornerback Josh Jackson.
Stanley was 8-for-24 in that game, for a paltry 41 yards and one interception. He was a pedestrian quarterback from that point forward, too, throwing for only 467 yards and four touchdowns in Iowa’s final three games.
Saturday was statistically much better for Stanley. But he’s also a year older and Penn State’s defense isn’t nearly as smothering as Wisconsin’s was.
Stanley threw for 205 yards, 120 of them in the final 15 minutes, when Iowa’s offense found a little rhythm for the only time.
“The situation kind of needed it to be that way,” he said. “We needed to press the ball down the field, and we just were able to find some things that were working.”
That was until his final interception, on first-and-goal from the Penn State 3-yard line with three timeouts at his disposal and 3:18 left on the clock. Stanley was trying to check into a different play at the line of scrimmage, but the message didn’t get across to all of his teammates. It didn’t help that the Penn State student section was on top of the action and making life difficult.
Stanley threw a pass he shouldn’t have. Penn State picked it off. Stanley owned up to his mistake afterward.
Stanley’s teammates stood up for their quiet leader, trying to lessen the scrutiny that always falls on the guy playing sport’s most important position.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz defends quarterback Nate Stanley, explains key play calls from Saturday's 30-24 loss in Happy Valley. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
“I saw the (play) clock in between my legs and I wish I would have just held it and taken the delay of game or a timeout,” Iowa center Keegan Render gamely offered when asked about the fourth-quarter interception at the Penn State 3-yard line.
“He probably couldn’t have seen me over the line,” T.J. Hockenson said of Stanley’s most blatant overthrow of the game, which deprived the tight end of what would have been an easy touchdown. “There was a big pile in the middle (of the line) in his sight. That’s how the ball rolls sometimes. You don’t always get every pass.”
The other side of the ball chimed in, too.
“Nobody’s pointing fingers,” Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse said. “Each and every person out there, if you asked them this question, they’re going to say, ’I needed to do more today. I could have been the difference in the game.’”
This is exactly what Stanley wants to hear. There’s no question he had a bad game. There’s also no question that the rest of the team was far from perfect as well. They’re sticking together.
Stanley will have better games ahead. It’s just a matter of how soon those will occur. The Hawkeyes have key Big Ten West division showdowns at Purdue and at home vs. Northwestern on deck. Both of those teams beat Iowa a year ago.
The Hawkeyes won’t avenge those defeats this year if Stanley has another day like Saturday.