Iowa Football

Iowa QB Nate Stanley's maturity is in good hands - his hands

Instead of a chance to have a little fun with a freshman, the junior quarterback sees leadership opportunities

Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley touches the helmet on the Nile Kinnick statue as he arrives with the team before their football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley touches the helmet on the Nile Kinnick statue as he arrives with the team before their football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Nate Stanley’s maturation is in good hands. Sure, he’s only 20, but the Iowa quarterback has an operating system that scans pretty much everything put in front of him for what it can do to push the agenda forward.

And it’s not a personal agenda for Stanley. He wants to quarterback the Hawkeyes to victories. Every time out.

“Study the playbook, study the video, he can draw it all up, and now he’s teaching it to the other guys in the room,” Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said. “If you’re able to take those four steps in that order, he’s got a great chance of mastering what we want him to do.”

This spring was a perfect case study. Stanley is now a junior with a resume. He threw for 26 TDs (tied for second most in Iowa history) and just six interceptions.

You knew Iowa had something when in Week 2 at Iowa State, Stanley brought the Hawkeyes back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit with 333 yards and five TDs with no interceptions. Against Ohio State, it was another five TDs and no interceptions from Stanley.

So, he probably didn’t have to be paying attention this spring when freshman quarterback Spencer Petras arrived from California as an early enrollee. For Petras at Marin Catholic, it was all spread offense and nothing under center.

Iowa starts the QB under center more often than it doesn’t. Petras had never done this. There was a chance for high comedy.

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Why would the reigning superhero in the QB room not want to get in on some of the pain and agony of a freshman’s first snaps under center, like ever? Share some laughs with teammates, Petras picks it up and everyone moves on.

Stanley saw another way to go.

“In all seriousness, it’s an opportunity to be a leader,” Stanley said. “Just being able to step in and give him some tips on how to do something, especially if that person has no idea or hasn’t done it before.

“I think it gives rise to great opportunities to be a leader.”

Yes, that made the hair on Kirk Ferentz’s arms stand up. Probably should for yours, too.

Stanley’s maturity is in good hands. It’s in his hands.

“We put a lot on our quarterback,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “ ... We ask them to think. We don’t just have everybody turn and look to the sideline and we hold up some supercool poster board. We don’t do that.

“We feel like our quarterback has the best seat in the house. He can see things better than any of us, and when he gets that mastery where now he can run the show and he can drive the bus from where he’s sitting, then I think we have a chance to be a little better.”

That’s coach-speak for “We can become a scoreboard-clicking, ass-kicking machine.” Still, it is the theory of progression right now.

Stanley is a year older, so Stanley should be a year better. Obviously, yes, it should work that way, but we all know it’s not automatic. And you certainly don’t have to tell that to a football player who’s willing to be coached, who sees what coaches are saying and who knows how to make that knowledge work for him.

Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek came up with a really great analogy that, when Iowa football is working right, really stands out.

“Can you take advantage of the system and make it work for you or are you just teaching through the notes and teaching through what you learned in one year from a couple of coaches?” Polasek said. “Now, we’re in there and we’re able to problem solve faster.”

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Big part of “making the system work for you” is knowing the system. In that regard, Stanley is there. He might be a second-year starter, but he’s a Ph.D. football thinker.

All college football staffs have a system of checks and balances for gauging what their players “know,” as far as the playbook goes.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker briefly touched on it this spring. Yes, he’d rather see it demonstrated on the field, but there’s value to seeing, thinking and talking through scheme, technique, principles.

“I’m not a big believer in tests and stuff like that, just like you go out on the field, that’s your test, and you can always tell,” Parker said. “But we’ve done a lot more of quizzing these guys, and nowadays you can get online and we can make up a test, a 10-question quiz, and we can tell when they start, when they finish, what time they started, and can shoot it out just like that.

“We know if a kid opened it up and was on there for an hour and a half, the kid must be struggling. He’s on there for five minutes and he gets a perfect grade, he knows what he’s doing.”

This spring, O’Keefe had Stanley diagraming plays in the room with the other QBs, which includes redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell and Petras, who’s brand new.

And you know what? It wasn’t a big deal. When Stanley was a junior and senior at Menomonie (Wis.) High School, Stanley did the “plays on a whiteboard” thing with his dad.

“Coach O’Keefe would have you come up to the board and draw a route concept and protection against a certain defense, whatever he comes up with or is in his head,” Stanley said. “It shows mastery of the offense. There’s always room to build on that, though.”

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It leaked out in the last couple of weeks that the Iowa coaching staff took a visit out to New England. That in and of itself is nothing new. Brian Ferentz coached there. Kirk Ferentz once was Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s offensive line coach.

Can’t let Stanley get away without asking him about that.

“They’re (the coaches) trying to get better every day, just like us,” Stanley said. “They learn every single day.”

Having a general knowledge of the Patriots’ offense, what would Stanley be interested in seeing coaches bring back?

All the different formations (which isn’t a different offense and, oftentimes, isn’t even a different play)? The changing of tempo?

Basically, the things it takes to create indecisiveness and uncertainty on defense. Would the Iowa quarterback love to see some of that walk through the door?

Well, it’s already happening. Iowa is a year into this Iowa Patriots thing.

“I think coach Brian has done a good job of bringing it into the offense already,” Stanley said.

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

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