By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – One of the most telling takeaways from the Iowa football team’s overtime victory on Saturday in Ames besides the performances of Akrum Wadley, Nate Stanley and Ihmir Smith-Marsette was a face on a photograph.
Iowa football posted a photo on Twitter that showed the players celebrating the 44-41 come-from-behind victory over Iowa State in the locker rom.
Heralded freshman defensive end A.J. Epenesa is easy to spot in the middle of the photo with his helmet hoisted high in victory.
But it’s the player next to Epenesa on the right in the photo whose expression stands out the most to me, and for all the right reasons.
The look of joy and excitement on the face of backup quarterback Tyler Wiegers says a lot about his maturity and character, and a lot about the chemistry on the current team, which is 2-0 heading into Saturday's game against North Texas at Kinnick Stadium.
A team that is divided or distracted by a disgruntled quarterback might not have escaped from Ames with a victory on Saturday. Even if the disgruntled quarterback didn’t play in the game.
Wiegers has to be disappointed, and perhaps even frustrated, after losing the quarterback competition to Stanley. Wiegers worked his butt off for nine months and was reportedly even with Stanley throughout the spring and summer, but the coaches finally picked Stanley to start.
The fact that Wiegers is a year ahead of Stanley in eligibility means that Wiegers probably will spend the rest of his college career as a backup.
Stanley could get injured or he could lose the starting job, although, that seems unlikely based on the sophomore's performance against Iowa State, which included 333 passing yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winner to Smith-Marsette.
The last Iowa quarterback to have at least 300 passing yards and five touchdowns in a game was Chuck Hartlieb in 1987.
Wiegers, as a fourth-year junior, also could join a growing trend and transfer to another school where he could play next season as a graduate student.
Jake Rudock chose that route after losing the starting job, which he had held for two seasons, to C.J. Beathard shortly after the 2014 season. Rudock played for Michigan as a graduate student in 2015 and led the Wolverines to a 10-3 record in Jim Harbaugh's first season as head coach.
Former Iowa backup quarterback Cody Sokol also went the graduate-transfer route and performed well as the starter for Louisiana Tech in 2014.
But for now, Wiegers is a Hawkeye.
And judging from his expression in the photo, he is fully invested as a Hawkeye.
Wiegers is either putting on a great act or he truly wants what is best for the Iowa football team. From everything I’ve heard about Wiegers, it’s the latter.
Wiegers had to be envious of Stanley, and maybe even a little jealous, as Stanley etched his name in Hawkeye legend and lore on Saturday.
But as a reader pointed out to me, Wiegers helped to prepare Stanley for the big stage and for the big moments by competing against him in practice. Stanley can't let up or take his starting position for granted if the competition truly is that close because Wiegers is right behind and waiting for his opportunity to shine.
Wiegers probably thinks he could’ve matched Stanley’s performance against Iowa State because every Big Ten quarterback is confident or they wouldn’t have made it this far.
Big Ten quarterbacks all have one thing in common in that they were all successful in high school, and in some cases, junior college. Earning a scholarship as a Big Ten quarterback isn’t easy and the odds are certainly stacked against most quarterback recruits to achieve that level of success.
Wiegers is among the select few because he met all the requirements coming out of Country Day High School in Detroit, Mich.
He combined to throw for over 4,500 yards as a junior and senior in high school and led his team to the state championship game as a junior and to the district championship game as a senior.
He also grew to 6-foot-4 in high school and excelled in academics.
Rutgers offered Wiegers a scholarship early in the recruiting process and he was committed to the Scarlet Knights before switching to Iowa.
Wiegers might be starting at quarterback right now if he had chosen to attend Rutgers.
But there is no turning back in life. You try to make the best out of your decisions and move forward.
Wiegers seemed to be making the best of his decision on Saturday.
Unlike receiver where four or five can play on a regular basis, only one can line up behind center. Quarterback is the most high-profile position in sports, and probably the most glamorous.
Of course, Wiegers wanted to play in Saturday's game and bask in the spotlight, but he accepted his role, hoped and prepared for a victory and then celebrated with his teammates when it happened.
Little things like having a backup quarterback who is locked in and loyal matter in building a successful football team.
And you could argue that Wiegers’ positive approach in the wake of a personal setback is more than just a little thing.
The Iowa coaches, namely head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe, picked Stanley to start because they feel he gives the team its best chance for success.
Some believe that it was always Stanley's job to lose since he also beat out Wiegers for the backup spot last season, and that the Iowa coaches were trying to keep Wiegers engaged by saying the competition was too close to call.
Believe what you want, but one thing seems certain about Wiegers. He gets it. He understands that the team always comes first and that your character defines you more than anything else, especially during tough times.
Wiegers might not like being Iowa's backup quarterback, but judging from the photo, he has unselfishly accepted his role and embraced the team-first mentality.
The importance of that is easy to overlook without the photo.