Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley eager to move on Penn State outing: 'He'll bounce back'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nate Stanley wasn’t particularly interested Tuesday in revisiting one of the worst football games of his life, but the Iowa quarterback did make one revealing comment when asked what he learned from Saturday’s 30-24 loss at Penn State.

“No matter the situation, no matter the environment, just fall back on your fundamentals,” Stanley said. “Do everything you can to play calm; be collected the whole game and not let the situation kind of dictate how your emotions should be.”

The implication was that Stanley struggled to keep his poise on an afternoon that saw him throw a career-high 29 incomplete passes. Two others wound up in the hands of Nittany Lion defenders. Three times Stanley found himself on his back courtesy of a fierce Penn State pass rush.

The Iowa offense never reached the end zone.

Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley (4) drops back in the pocket during the second quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium.

It was a forgettable performance, but Stanley also acknowledged that it’s not always easy for a competitor to forget — not when there are seven days between games.

“Maybe your mind wanders back to something that you wish you could have done,” Stanley said. “But I think it requires a lot of mental toughness and focus on the task at hand to continue to prepare for the week.”

That will be the next test for Stanley, as the No. 18 Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten Conference) head back on the road for a 2:30 p.m. Saturday matchup at Purdue (4-4, 3-2). Iowa's biggest storyline will be how Stanley responds after the kind of game that can dent the confidence of a quarterback. That's, of course, assuming his bang-up thumb does not keep him out.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that he'd had a discussion with his junior quarterback Sunday, telling him every good athlete struggles at some point. Those struggles are magnified when the athlete plays quarterback.

Ferentz relayed a baseball reference once made by former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll after his quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, had an inglorious afternoon. Noll compared Bradshaw to Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.

“The distance to the plate never changes. The ball is perfectly round, and if you get a scuff on a baseball, they put a new one in there. Somebody sneezes on one, they give you a new one, and you've got all the time you want in between pitches. Nobody is going to hit you in the face when you deliver the ball,” Ferentz said. “(Ryan) threw no-hitters. He also got knocked out in the first inning. To think a quarterback is going to go out with a ball that's not real symmetrical and in conditions that are very, very tough and challenging — to think quarterbacks aren't going to have struggles at some point — that's probably not realistic.

“That's how I look at it — and we don't have a better guy on our football team. Nobody works harder (or is) more invested, so he'll bounce back.”

That’s quite the vote of confidence for a quarterback who has made 21 career starts and has played well in many of them, exceptionally well in a handful. Stanley’s 16 touchdown passes rank second in the Big Ten Conference.

Stanley has the full backing of his favorite receiver, tight end Noah Fant, who has 31 catches.

“If he makes a bad throw or anything like that, obviously, he’s not doing it on purpose. And everybody’s going to make mistakes,” Fant said. “I know he’s going to come out and compete as hard as he can.”

Stanley will be facing a Boilermakers pass defense that ranks last in the Big Ten by allowing 293 yards per game. However, it’s the same Purdue squad that came into Kinnick Stadium a year ago and held Stanley to a 16-of-33 line for 176 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Iowa lost that game 24-15.

“They try to disguise and confuse the offense as much as they can and they move people around a lot,” Stanley said. “So just being able to know who’s who in certain situations is a big thing for us this week.”

While Stanley is figuring out who’s who on the Boilermakers' defense, he’ll also be revealing who exactly he is — the quarterback who scorched Indiana for six touchdown passes three weeks ago, or the one who lost his bearings at Penn State.

“Obviously, I would like to have played better, but you can’t do anything about it now,” Stanley said when asked for a third time what went wrong Saturday. “So just trying to move on to Purdue.”