Iowa Football

Iowa football #PaintedTower mailbag: Avoiding the self-inflicted is where Nate Stanley should start

What would Iowa look like under backup QB Peyton Mansell? It probably wouldn't include traditional RPOs

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley drops back to pass against Penn State last Saturday at Beaver Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley drops back to pass against Penn State last Saturday at Beaver Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports)

We’re up to #PaintedTower mailbag No. 9. Let’s make it count.

I’m going to turn up the The Drive-By Truckers and write like the wind.

Something about the wrinkle in your forehead tells me there’s a fit ‘bout to get thrown ...

 

Yes, yes and yes.

I think quarterback Nate Stanley’s struggles at the beginning of the season had more to do with game plan than anything else. The variables were starting offensive tackles suspended for game 1, and a tough home game against Iowa State in game 2. The defense kept ISU down, so there was no reason to jump the sharks and go over the handlebars on offense.

Then, Stanley took off. Against Wisconsin, at Minnesota and at Indiana, he put up numbers that said he was among the best QBs in the Big Ten.

Maryland was purely a weather game, I think we all can agree on that. Those were 25 mph winds out of the north. That’s football ... weather in the Big Ten (I didn’t leave you hanging).

And Penn State was pretty much Wisconsin 2017 for Stanley. It was a stinky sweat sock sandwich and everyone had some on their plate.

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The Hawkeyes allowed 19 QB hurries at Penn State. Everyone scores that a little differently. I score it if a rusher gets within a yard, and I round up, so that is a lot. And it was a lot. Iowa had allowed just six sacks all season. Penn State got three to go along with the hurries and three other QB hits.

Last week wasn’t the O-line’s best, but Penn State has extraordinary pass-rush personnel and a terrific D-line.

Stanley is inconsistent, especially against pressure. Yes, that is every quarterback. With Stanley, the drop in the graph is severe, like a 20 percent drop in completion percentage between plays with no pressure and plays with pressure.

Pressure is pressure. Everyone has to deal. I’m sure the major coaching point for Stanley the rest of the season is to avoid the self-inflicted. The interception on the goal line, that was the definition of self-inflicted.

Missing wide-open TD passes are self-inflicted, too. Stanley has started 21 games and the inconsistency persists. Focus on the self-inflicted mistakes and take it from there, I guess.

 

And there is the chance Stanley is out this week. That would not be a good thing for Iowa.

Outside of those who are able to watch practice, we have no idea what Peyton Mansell is as a QB. He had the one play last week. Looked like he had tight end T.J. Hockenson open. It looked like Stanley, also on the field in the formation, was trying to line up for a double-pass. Mansell took off and got tackled. Penn State made it 3 points.

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Outside of that unfortunate play, the only thing you know about Mansell is six career attempts. Beyond that, it’s just the buzz and clip of the plaintive cry for the backup QB.

Does Iowa have RPOs? They do, but the decision is made pre-snap, it doesn’t happen after the snap. I asked Brian Ferentz in the spring how the offense has stood the test of time and if he was tempted by trying something like, I dunno, an RPO.

“I think you’re tempted all the time,” he said. “That’s the trick to doing anything offensively. I’d like to think at the end of the day, that’s the difference between professionals and amateurs.”

OK. There was more. This is just on RPOs. You guys asked.

“When you talk about RPOs, the run pass option, that’s been around as long as football has been around, and there’s a million different variations of that,” Brian Ferentz said. “Would I love to do some of that, would we love to do some of that? Yeah, probably, but now you’re talking about time on task and getting things done.

“When you’re talking about an RPO, we RPO — I’d say probably 50 percent of our run game involves an RPO. The difference between us and the Philadelphia Eagles, we’re doing it pre-snap because that’s just how we’re going to operate. We’re going to go play under center. If we want to do post-snap, now all of a sudden we’re in the gun and there’s an exchange involved. If you post-snap read something and there’s an exchange involved, that’s not as simple as just putting somebody in the gun and saying, hey, we’re going to read this guy post-snap. That’s a lot of work. That’s individual time, that’s team time.”

What was the second thing you said, Mike? A more conservative game plan? If it’s Mansell this week, that’s going to be it.

 

I completely disagree with No. 2, FWIW. No. 1 is just common sense.

I think we saw the answer last week. PSU QB Trace McSorley is the Big Ten’s Baker Mayfield. McSorley is actually a better runner and Mayfield the better passer, but they’re similar. Mobile attack launch units that leave defensive coordinators and their play sheets in tatters.

Maybe OLB Nick Niemann reinjured his knee when he returned against Maryland. He played just one snap last week, with safety Amani Hooker going the whole way in the “star” position (it’s not the same as Niemann’s outside linebacker) and Geno Stone coming in at strong safety.

Purdue runs a lot of 11 personnel. It has a tight end who is Fant-Hockenson-esque in Brycen Hopkins, who’s averaged 18.04 yards on 26 receptions this season. If there’s a linebacker in coverage, that’s probably where he goes, and that might be a lot to ask. Obviously, Hopkins can stretch a field. Purdue also has wide receiver Isaac Zico (10th in the league at 61.9 yards a game). And you know about Rondale Moore, who’s the No. 2 receiver in the Big Ten with 100.3 yards a game.

I don’t see Iowa doing any special packaging to defend Moore. Too many weapons and QB David Blough is in a groove. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker prefers not to blitz because it opens a door to something else. I think that’s where he is, for the most part, with the “spy” thing, too.

Last week, Michigan State had success covering Moore with safety Kahri Willis, an all-conference caliber player. If Iowa tries to copycat that, maybe it’s Amani Hooker in front of Moore.

I think Iowa is in nickel mode on defense for the rest of the year. If Iowa is stubborn enough to leave a linebacker on the field for Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm to target, Moore might be the Big Ten offensive player of the week.

But let’s face it, he might be anyway.

 

They’re indicative of Iowa being ... get ready ... Iowa.

Do you know what Hayden Fry’s record at Iowa was against ranked teams? He was 18-44-1 (.294)

I’m sorry but it’s too late for this cognitive dissonance. You’ve bought the car. You’ve driven it for 20 years. It’s your damn car.

Iowa is going to lose more blue blood games than it’s going to win. Forever and always. From Hayden to Kirk to Mike McCarthy (kidding, c’mon, lighten up). Iowa isn’t a blue blood. If you’re waiting for it to become one, the bitterness will set in first and you’ll become a lonesome howler out on the plains.

Iowa is Iowa. There’s not a coach who can transcend that. No coach has transcended that. Evy was closest maybe. Ferentz has held serve and inched the machine forward in the age of the internet, an expanded Big Ten and a Big Ten championship game that 8-4 teams can’t sniff.

Iowa is a special season every four or five years. That’s a pattern because it happens in sequence almost always. It’s been like that for a while, right? Trying to remember the string of Big Ten titles that would make me question KF’s trajectory at Iowa. Nope, not recalling that.

I do side with you guys on the short stays at the top. The 2002-04 run you could sink your teeth into. The 2009 and 2015 seasons were memorable, but they also were rest stops in the history of the program.

I’m not going to pound my fist on the table and scream for better. There’s a certain sect of journo who believes that is their cause on earth. I call them “blowhards.” When something really looks out of place, I will hammer away. Right now, Iowa looks a lot like Iowa always has to me. I’m really sorry about that for the “why can’t we be Ohio State” crowd. (I’m not throwing you in there, Jonny. I do feel like you want to say something here about the overall Ferentz, and that’s why I answered. It’s a fair thought. The answer, at least to me, is elementary. A lot of Iowa being Iowa is that Iowa is Iowa and has been Iowa for a long time.)

 

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I think you’d probably be surprised how quickly the Rose Bowl would pick Michigan. Ohio State? It probably would take the Buckeyes over Iowa, too, but let’s see where OSU lands. And let’s try to remember the scandal under which OSU started the season.

If Iowa gets to the Big Ten title game, it probably gets a “good story” bump come bowl time.

That said, I picked Iowa to go 10-2 and picked it to go to the Citrus Bowl. That still stands.

 

Great pull, Cody.

Well, 2014 wasn’t a great year, but this team is much better than that team. Still, this isn’t a great Iowa rushing offense.

I do think it’s weird, and I’m kind of with you, I’m not sure how much it matters. I remember asking Scott Dochterman on the pod if this was the year Iowa had better skill players than O-linemen. I think it kind of is. Now, the skills, mainly QB, have been inconsistent. And I’ll say this, the O-line has been much better than I thought it would be. A year of growth and Keegan Render settling in at center and sending out a businesslike senior vibe has moved this group along.

I think Mekhi Sargent, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young have given them a serviceable running back group. Playcalling has gone the way of the passing group, at least it feels that way (situationally more so than raw balance).

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I’ve kind of been waiting for a “hot hand” to emerge. Maybe that happened with Sargent last week. I think maybe.

 

Wisconsin was 4-4 when it won the first Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil in 2012, destroying Nebraska’s bathroom with a 70-31 victory. That was the year Ohio State was ineligible. The Badgers also had two league losses when they won the 2011 title.

Before that you have to go all the way back to 2000, when Purdue and Northwestern tied for the league title with 6-2 records. Drew Brees took the Boilers to the Rose Bowl.

 

I can’t imagine Stanley doing that. Let’s go with ... I don’t know, fullback Brady Ross. He’s mean. No, he probably wouldn’t play if he ripped up ISU’s logo. First, you remember Mark Weisman, right? He might be stronger now than when he played running back for the Hawkeyes. He’s an assistant strength coach. My guess is he’d horsecollar whomever off the logo.

Yes on the Durkin thing. And if he wasn’t fired, I’d make every news conference a painful reminder of the life lost under his watch.

Almost every Iowa fan I talk with (I do this at Thew Brewing in CR occasionally, you’re all invited) has Iowa’s conduct way up on the list of expectations. Ferentz is in legacy mode. He’s not going to take a chance on some recruit tearing that up with some heinous act.

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Everyone is going to have something, but I do think you’re right about the expectations on the program’s overall behavior. You guys don’t want scumbag central going down in Iowa City.

 

Such different settings, not sure you can draw any comparisons.

I’m going to reach for the old sportswriter trope, “stand-up guy.” Yeah, it’s tired, but with Stanley, it’s true.

Last year after Wisconsin, Stanley was the first one on the stage taking bullets for 66 yards of total offense. After Saturday night’s drama — and with a thumb that probably hurt like heck — he talked about his struggles. He came out again Tuesday. He said he didn’t want to revisit much of the specifics at Penn State. That’s fair. Frankly, that’s on the writer to diagnose. Hey, they’re not going to fill in blanks for you.

They really aren’t.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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