NEW YORK ? As the Hawkeyes progressed in 2017, sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley developed from nervousness in week 1 to Iowa?s best skill position player not named Akrum Wadley.
Stanley should be a huge advantage for the Hawkeyes (7-5) in Wednesday?s Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (7-5) at Yankee Stadium. With two touchdown passes, Stanley can tie Chuck Long?s season record of 27. He had an incredible September, with 12 TD passes to just one interception (thrown in the comeback at Iowa State). And then he finished strong with eight TDs and just two picks in November.
?First of all, just let me say this, Nate Stanley has a cannon for an arm,? Boston College defensive coordinator Jim Reid said. ?I think he has 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. That?s ridiculous, that?s tremendous.?
And that should be an advantage against Boston College. The Eagles had to replace redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown after he suffered a torn ACL on Nov. 13 at North Carolina State. Senior Darius Wade had led BC to victories in both of his starts, including a 248-yard effort in the finale against Syracuse. Still, Wade has been a backup for four seasons and has never completed more than 16 passes in a game.
This sets up to be an advantage for Iowa, but can Iowa keep Stanley off the Yankee Stadium turf?
Tuesday, BC head coach Steve Addazio said defensive end Harold Landry will miss the Pinstripe with an ankle injury. After leading the nation with 16.5 sacks last season, Landry was held to five this year and missed the final four games of the regular season.
So, advantage Iowa. But ...
As you already know, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Alaric Jackson has been suspended for the Pinstripe because of a violation of an unspecified team rule. Sophomore Levi Paulsen is getting the start (huge opportunity to put in a performance and try to climb up an offensive tackle depth chart that has a pair of freshmen at the top).
So, the Landry-Jackson thing is a push and this game is back to Stanley doing what he?s done a lot of this season, facing down a consistent pass rush, taking a hit and moving on to the next play.
Stanley was asked during bowl prep if any of the hits he took this season stood out.
?Not really,? Stanley said. ?You?ve just got to live with it and move on.?
This also is where being big helps. Stanley is 6-5 and more than 230 pounds. You see big, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz sees asset.
?I think quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes, but when you?re a guy like him, you?ve got to use your size,? said Ferentz, who?s finishing his first year as Iowa?s offensive coordinator. ?He does a nice job of being able to stand tall back there and deliver a lot of balls. ... He uses his size to his advantage. He?s not the most nimble guy in the world, but he?s continued to learn to have a little bit of pocket presence. I think overall athletic ability and the ability to move within the pocket are two very different things.
?I think the growth we?re looking for from him as he gets a little bit older is learning how to navigate that pocket a little better, continue to extend plays the way he has and that will only help the passing game.
?We?re excited about the future with him, he has a long way to go, but his size is a huge asset for him.?
Certainly, quarterbacks love to take the hit and still make the play. That?s a point-of-pride thing for QBs and Stanley earned that checkmark this season.
?One of the best feelings is being able to make a play when you have someone free coming at you,? Stanley said. ?Just being able to recognize that someone is going to hit you and you still make the play, it?s a pretty good feeling.?
So, how much has Stanley been hit this season? Sacks are one read on this. Iowa allowed 22 sacks this season, which is an improvement. In 2015 and 2016, the Hawkeyes allowed 30.0 sacks and ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten. The 22 allowed this year is fifth in the league.
Sacks aren?t the only measure for QB pressures. According to Pro Football Focus, Stanley was pressured on 40 percent of his dropback throws and took hits on 16 percent of dropbacks.
So, if you wanted to make a flag for the 2017 Iowa football season, the picture probably is Stanley with Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard, who is considering making the leap to the NFL a year early, wrapped around his feet like Stanley was a Christmas tree and then Stanley throwing a laser to tight end T.J. Hockenson for a 10-yard TD.
?You have to do everything you can to help your teammates out,? Stanley said. ?Not everyone is going to make a perfect block or do everything perfectly, so to be able to do your job when it really counts is satisfying.?
Hey, Stanley did play some safety at Menomonie (Wis.) High School.
?I think I could (hit), but some of my friends gave me crap in high school about it,? Stanley said.
Between that Ohio State play and the fact that Stanley is 6-5, 230 pounds, some Ben Roethlisberger comparisons have started to fly.
?I hope he takes fewer shots moving forward, but his size certainly helps,? Brian Ferentz said. ?You look at the Ohio State game, down there on the goal line, we have the end come free, he thinks he?s got him wrapped up and goes low on him and then Nate hung on and delivered the ball.
?He?s had plays like that. He?s done a nice job in the pocket. Really does a good job climbing the pocket and has continued to get better in that regard.?
The tamping down of expectations for Stanley in 2018 should be fun for everyone.