Nate Stanley deserves much of the blame for Saturday's loss at Penn State, but not a demotion

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Nate Stanley runs for a first down against Maryland. Photo by Jeff Yoder

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – In the span of about three hours on Saturday, Nate Stanley went from being the beloved and highly respected quarterback for the Iowa football team, who is adored for trying to sleep at least eight hours per night, and for not going downtown to socialize because that’s just not his thing, to a bum who should be benched.

The reaction, or should I say over-reaction, to Iowa’s 30-24 loss at Penn State was filled with bitterness and rage, with most of it directed at Stanley.

I didn’t write this column to make excuses for Stanley’s performance against Penn State because it was dreadful or pitiful or whatever you want to call not connecting on 31 of 49 passes and throwing an interception from the Penn State 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter.

There is no way to spin it. Stanley failed to deliver against Penn State and his team paid the ultimate price.

It would’ve made sense to me if Iowa had given backup quarterback Peyton Mansell a series or two to see if he could’ve provided a spark, and to let Stanley settle down, especially with Stanley dealing with a sore thumb on his right throwing hand.

But right or wrong, that’s just not how Kirk Ferentz handles the quarterback position.

Ferentz waited until the 2014 season was over before replacing Jake Rudock with C.J. Beathard and it took Ferentz until the fifth game of the 2008 season before finally benching Jake Christensen in favor of Ricky Stanzi.

The difference between Rudock and Christensen compared to Stanley is that Rudock and Christensen both had both struggled for an extended period and the offense was regressing with them behind center.

Stanley, on the other hand, was just two weeks removed from having thrown a career-high six touchdown passes during a 42-16 victory at Indiana, and he also had surpassed 300 passing yards in three of the previous five games for a team that entered Saturday’s game ranked 18th by the Associated Press.

Stanley was playing so well just a few weeks ago that he was drawing comparisons to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. 

Some Iowa fans asked me after the Indiana game if I thought the 6-foot-4, 242-pound Stanley would skip his senior season to enter the 2019 NFL Draft.

I hadn’t given it much consideration, even with Stanley ranked as the third best quarterback prospect by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, because that kind of talk seems premature, just like wanting Stanley benched is premature.

What surprised me about the post-game meltdown on Saturday were the number of fans who wanted Stanley replaced as the starter, and not just in Saturday’s game. They apparently feel it is time for a quarterback change, which is ridiculous under the circumstances.

One so-called fan went as far as to call Stanley a bum, which crosses the line in my opinion.

Again, I would’ve had no problem with replacing Stanley on Saturday because he clearly wasn’t himself.

But to assume that Mansell now gives Iowa a better chance to win as a redshirt freshman with hardly any playing experience is just silly.

It's easy to over-react after such a gut-wrenching loss, but even more so when it comes to the quarterback position.

Stanley has earned the right to redeem himself, and it’ll take more than just one horrible performance against Penn State to change that.

Iowa’s next game is Saturday at Purdue, which had its four-game winning streak snapped this past Saturday with a loss at Michigan State. The Big Ten West Division is still up for grabs with Iowa and Wisconsin both trailing Northwestern by one game in the loss column.

Stanley had one of his low points against Purdue last season, completing just 16-of-33 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown during a 24-15 loss at Kinnick Stadium.

But then he bounced back to help lead Iowa to victories over Nebraska in the regular-season finale and against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl, throwing no interceptions in either game.

Saturday’s loss at Penn State was a painful reminder that Stanley still is a work in progress who struggles with consistency.

His job security certainly won’t last forever, even under Ferentz, because a few more performance like Saturday would call for a change.

But we’re just not there yet.

One of the narratives being pushed after Saturday’s loss is that Stanley feasts on mediocre opponents from a statistical standpoint, but struggles against quality competition.

My response to that is how soon they forget.

This is the same Nate Stanley who shredded Iowa State and Ohio State for five touchdown passes during victories last season, and the Iowa State game was played in Ames.

It’s the same Nate Stanley who threw 26 touchdown passes and just six interceptions last season.

And it’s the same Nate Stanley who was named a permanent captain by his teammates because they respect what he represents both on and off the field.

Stanley’s biggest problem is that he is wildly inconsistent. His highs are incredibly high, while his lows are incredibly low.

It is strange that Ferentz refuses to switch quarterbacks during a game because football is a team sport and Ferentz always stresses team first.

But as far as benching Stanley, his body of work still should prevent that from happening.

Moving on from the Stanley debate, one post-game narrative I don’t agree with is that Iowa has given away two sure wins against Wisconsin and Penn State due to its mistakes.

Iowa’s mistakes certainly contributed to both losses, especially against Penn State, because of when and where the mistakes happened on the field.

But Penn State also made numerous mistakes that benefitted Iowa, including two botched snaps on punts that led to two Iowa safeties and a pick six by Iowa defensive back Geno Stone in the fourth quarter.

You can bet that Penn State fans would’ve complained about given the game away if Iowa had prevailed.

As for giving the game away to Wisconsin, that makes no sense because Iowa still led late in the fourth quarter and needed just one defensive stop to secure the victory.

But Iowa’s vaunted defense failed to get that stop in the fourth quarter and were instead shredded by Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook with the game on the line.

The Badgers also rushed for over 200 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry as a team. So to say that Iowa just gave the game away is inaccurate and not fair because the Badgers took it more than Iowa gave it away.