Iowa QB Nate Stanley looks like himself again in solid showing against Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — There was a stretch in the first half of Iowa’s loss to Purdue on Saturday when quarterback Nate Stanley misfired on seven of his eight pass attempts and appeared to be clutching his right thumb in pain.
Shades of the Saturday prior at Penn State?
Stanley rebounded to complete 16 of his final 19 throws in a 38-36 setback at Ross-Ade Stadium, with one touchdown and — most importantly — no interceptions. The junior, coming off a terrible showing in a 30-24 loss to Penn State, gave the Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten Conference) a chance to win against Purdue, even bulldozing in from a yard out for the first rushing touchdown of his career.
Stanley finished the matchup 21 of 32 for 275 yards, a solid bounce-back effort that surprised none of his teammates.
“We didn’t play well as a whole offense (against Penn State), and Nate gets a lot of the brunt of it,” Iowa center Keegan Render said of the criticism directed at Stanley after he completed just 18 of 49 passes with two costly interceptions against the Nittany Lions. “But I think he came out (Saturday) and just kept his confidence going. We weren’t in the best spots sometimes — we were fighting from a deficit — and the moment just never got too big for him.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of noise on Nate, but he did a good job just bouncing back from it and realizing, hey, one game doesn’t define him.”
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Stanley played with the thumb on his throwing hand taped up. A week ago, he banged the thumb on Render’s helmet while following through on a pass completion in the fourth quarter. The week leading up to the Purdue contest was filled with speculation about how healthy Stanley would be, a discussion he helped fuel by keeping his right hand in his pocket throughout media interviews Tuesday.
By the second half Saturday, such talk seemed misplaced.
“I liked the way Nate came back and battled this week,” Iowa tight end Noah Fant said after leading Iowa with 85 receiving yards Saturday. “Especially, he probably won’t tell anybody, but I’m sure that his thumb wasn’t feeling the best. He had it taped up and everything, but he battled through it — delivered some great balls out there. He’s just a competitor, and he’s a great leader for us. I feel like he responded, big time, and put us in a good opportunity to win the game.”
It helped that Iowa’s offensive line offered Stanley much better protection against Purdue. He had been sacked three times, and hurried another seven, by relentless Penn State pressure — especially up the middle.
The Boilermakers upended Stanley just once and were credited with no hurries.
“They brought a lot of … moving pieces, but I think we did a good job just sinking and sorting and just relying on each other that, hey, somebody’s going to make the play here,” Render said.
Sinking and sorting means stepping a yard or two deep from the line of scrimmage and watching the pass-rushers come to you rather than forcing matters, Render explained.
While the line was doing that, Stanley was focused on getting the ball out quicker, rather than trying a lot of deep shots. It worked, for the most part. Iowa had three touchdown drives of 62 yards or more one week after failing to produce a single one.
“Our receivers just did a good job of running good routes,” Stanley said. “Off some of their blitzes, we had some quick passes that we knew we could hit on and just give our receivers an opportunity to catch and run.”
Next up for Stanley and the Hawkeyes is a 2:30 p.m. home game against Northwestern (5-4, 5-1), the front-runner in the Big Ten West Division. The Wildcats have allowed only four passing touchdowns, with six interceptions, in conference play.
Stanley’s thumb has another week to heal. His psyche, if it was shaken at all a week ago, should also be fully restored.
“He’s a rock,” said Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was on the receiving end of Stanley’s 4-yard touchdown throw Saturday. “There’s no high. There’s no lows.
“He’s going to come back. He’s going to compete. That’s who he is.”