Iowa-Wyoming notebook: Stanley struggles to find rhythm in first start

By Tyler Devine

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Inexperience often leads to inconsistency and that was Nate Stanley to a T during his debut as Iowa’s starting quarterback on Saturday.

Stanley had as many touchdown passes (three) as turnovers during Iowa’s 24-3 victory over Wyoming in the season opener at Kinnick Stadium. He completed 8-of-15 passes for 125 yards, but he also fumbled twice and threw an interception while getting hit during the first quarter.

Nerves were to be expected for someone in Stanley’s position as a first-time starter, but the 6-foot-5, 235-pound sophomore from Menomonie, Wis., refused to use that as an excuse for his turnovers.

“I feel like I’m kind of a perfectionist so I’m a little upset with some stuff that went on with the ball security,” Stanley said. “Like I said, my teammates did a great job of picking me up. They had my back the whole game, the defense did a great job of stopping them on short fields and stuff so I’m just really thankful for my teammates.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was impressed with how Stanley fought through adversity on Saturday. 

“I was really pleased with him,” Ferentz said. “He went through some rough times out there. I mentioned the whole team really responded to the bumps, but I thought he did too. He didn't get rattled. I'm sure he was internally, but he stayed strong, just stayed steady out there, and some of those throws that he made were pretty impressive and the catches as well. 

“But for Nate to make those kinds of throws, I thought that, especially coming off a couple bumps, that says a lot about his makeup.”

After a rough first quarter, Stanley settled down in the second quarter, connecting with sophomore tight end Noah Fant on touchdowns passes from two and 27 yards to give the Hawkeyes a 14-3 lead at halftime.

Fant doubled his touchdown total from last season by catching two on Saturday. 

The 6-foot-5, 232-pound Omaha, Neb., native feels a chemistry building with Stanley that begins on the practice field.

“You can’t develop chemistry without practicing,” Fant said. “I think Nate has a good chemistry with the whole offense. He’s knows the different ways our receivers move and knows those different tracks. He does a really good job with it.

“He ran the offense well. I think he had a really good game. Obviously our offense has things to improve on so we’ll get back to the books.”

Stanley is one of three quarterbacks under Ferentz to throw three touchdowns passes in his first career start. The last quarterback to do it was Ricky Stanzi against Florida Atlantic in 2008. Since 1999, the only other quarterback to throw three or more touchdowns in his first career start under Ferentz was Jon Beutjer at Indiana in 2000.

Stanley thinks Saturday's game will be a valuable learning experience for him and for the offense as whole. He said the mistakes were all correctable and the issues with ball security will be fixed with more practice. 

“Just some miscommunication,” Stanley said. “Definitely, something we’re going to get worked out. We’re going to practice that and we’re just going to take it one day at a time to get better.”

Wadley do next?: Saturday marked the 10th time that Iowa senior running back Akrum Wadley has rushed for at least 100 yards in a game as a Hawkeye.

The New Jersey native led Iowa with 116 rushing yards on 24 carries.

Graduate transfer James Butler complemented Wadley with 47 rushing yards on 10 carries in his Hawkeye debut. Butler played his first three seasons for Nevada, where he rushed for over 3,000 career yards in three seasons.

Wadley and Butler were the only Iowa running backs who had rushing attempts in Saturday's game.

Offensive line shuffling: Sophomore center James Daniels did not play on Saturday because of an injury. His absence led to some major reshuffling up front as Keegan Render shifted from guard to center and junior Ross Reynolds and redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson made their first career starts at left guard and left tackle, respectively. Senior Sean Welsh started at right guard and senior Ike Boettger started at right tackle.

It was Welsh's 36th career start for the Hawkeyes.

"James has been fighting an injury a little bit," Ferentz said. "We didn't know if he'd make it by the end of the week. Looked like early in the week he had a chance, and then a little setback. I don't know what the medical folks would have said, but we all agreed Friday that he wasn't playing. Just felt like you've got to look at the big picture. It's like being a parent sometimes. He was knocking on my door, whatever time it was, 2:30 yesterday, but he wants to play. He wants to do it for the team. But it just wasn't a smart decision.

"So we held him out today, and can't say enough about Keegan jumping in there, his first game at center. That's not easy. And no exchange problems, which believe me, I was worried about that. Boone's been fighting through injury issues during camp, and we were just hoping he could play and play representative. Looks like he did that. When he's in there, he gives us a lot."

Fresh meat: Six true freshmen played for Iowa on Saturday: receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, defensive back Matt Hankins, defensive back Geno Stone, running back Ivory Kelly-Martin, defensive back Noah Clayberg and defensive end A.J. Epenesa. 

The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Epenesa was disruptive when he was in the game, recording his first career sack in the second quarter.

“Great for him to get started,” Ferentz said. “He's still trying to figure it out totally, but, boy, he goes hard and has a great attitude. He's fun to have on the field. And the other guys were tied in with some — a turnover, at least Ihmir was. Same thing about him. He's really got a good spirit to him, and he's a football player. We had every intention of giving the football back to him. If the situation came up again, we weren't going to back off of it. But he'll learn from that. He'll learn from that.

“It was great to get those guys out there. Whether it was those guys or the first year freshmen, the guys on the back end like O.J. (sophomore defensive back Michael Ojemudia), he hadn't really started a game yet either. For those guys to do a good job like that and get this game experience, if we use them right, it will be really helpful for us.”

Linebacker luau: Iowa's three starting senior linebackers combined for 38 tackles on Saturday, led by Josey Jewell with 14. Ben Niemann had a career-high 13 tackles, while Bo Bower matched his career high with 11.

"We've been hurt on the perimeter at times, whether it's running the ball out there or throwing it out there," Kirk Ferentz said. "It all starts with somebody setting the edge out there. Somebody's got to put an end to things there, and we lost it on the quarterback a couple of times. But I thought we did a better job of that today. A lot of it was Ben Niemann, but other guys were involved with it as well."

First timers: Junior cornerback Josh Jackson and sophomore defensive lineman Brady Reiff both recorded their first career interceptions on Saturday.

Fumble factory: Iowa lost three fumbles on Saturday. The Hawkeyes only lost two fumbles in all of 2016, tying Nevada for the NCAA lead.