Iowa to start sophomore Nathan Stanley: Don’t mistake inexperience for ineffective

IOWA CITY, Iowa — There’s almost an even split between experienced and inexperienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten this season.

Seven starting league quarterbacks have thrown at least 350 passes. Two others have tossed at least 180. The rest have passed fewer than 75 passes. But none are as raw as Iowa’s Nathan Stanley.

Stanley, a sophomore, was named Iowa’s Week 1 starter over junior Tyler Wiegers on Monday. Stanley threw just 9 passes last season in his first year of competition. That’s fewer than every starting quarterback in the Big Ten this year. But inexperience doesn’t mean inept, and that’s what Iowa is counting upon this year.

Four times under Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes either have o pened the season with a sophomore or had one as the primary starter. Three times, Iowa won at least 8 games. The Hawkeyes were bowl eligible in each season and won a share of the Big Ten crown in 2004. 

Drew Tate by far was Iowa’s most successful sophomore starter. Tate didn’t redshirt in 2003 and opened 2004 at quarterback. With a rock-solid defense and a depleted running game, Tate passed for 2,786 yards, 20 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and completed 62.1 percent of his passes. Tate was named first-team all-Big Ten.

The other sophomores dealt with inconsistency. Jake Christensen completed just 53.5 percent of his passes in 2007, but he threw 17 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. He also was sacked 46 times behind a young offensive line.

In 2008, Ricky Stanzi replaced Christensen as the primary starter. With a solidified offensive line and the nation’s top running back in Shonn Greene, Stanzi threw for 1,956 yards, 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while completing 59.1 percent.

Jake Rudock won a three-way competition in 2013 and enjoyed modest success. He was accurate at 59.0 percent, threw 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and totaled 2,383 passing yards. Unlike the others, Rudock incorporated a different system that included more checkdowns and short passes.

Statistics likely won’t define Stanley’s success. As Iowa shifts to a more downfield attack with inexperienced pass catchers, Stanley’s first-year completion percentage probably will fall below 60 percent and his interceptions likely will exceed 12. He may produce more yardage because of his strong arm. But more importantly, Stanley must display the intangibles that lead to team success. That’s a reason why the staff chose Stanley over Wiegers.

“When you get into a live situation, who finds a way to move the ball, keep the offense moving down the field?” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “Whether it’s creating plays with your feet, with your arm, extending something in the pocket, whatever it is, getting us in and out of something. All of those things just kind of tie into who’s getting production when they’re in there with that first group. Ultimately, that’s what you have to make your decision on.”

As a sophomore, Tate displayed all of those characteristics. He was 5-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less. He didn’t commit the big mistake in a 6-4 slugfest win at Penn State. Tate also threw a 56-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play to defeat Nick Saban and defending national champion LSU 30-25 in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.

The others had their moments. Stanzi lost his first three close games but then produced a last-second drive to beat No. 3-ranked Penn State 24-23. That win propelled Iowa to a good run from late 2008 through mid-2010. Rudock threw a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to beat Northwestern 17-10 and ignited a 14-point comeback to ironically beat Michigan 24-21. Rudock later transferred to Michigan in 2015.

Christensen was the quarterback in a 34-27 double-overtime comeback triumph over Michigan State. He struggled statistically — 5-of-15 passing for 53 yards — but he did throw a 23-yard touchdown pass in the first overtime.

Stanley, who turned 19 last Saturday, is bigger than the others, especially at his age. He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 235 pounds. He doesn’t display the fiery leadership style of Tate or Rudock, but Stanley is stoic, contemplative and competitive.

“He’s very humble,” said Joe LaBuda, Stanley’s Menomonie (Wis.) High School football coach. “So I think that’s why he comes off as being somewhat quiet is the fact that he’s not a forceful bragging-type person at all.”

Maybe that’s for the best this year. Iowa has a veteran offensive line with two 1,000-yard running backs in Akrum Wadley and James Butler. The receiving corps is as green as Stanley, so they’ll grow together. It will take time and there will be plenty of mistakes, but Iowa has a precedent for opening with a sophomore quarterback. With Tate and Stanzi especially, the move was beneficial for that season and beyond. Stanley is worth the risk to try it again.

The post Iowa to start sophomore Nathan Stanley: Don’t mistake inexperience for ineffective appeared first on Land of 10.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.