Stanley and Company feast on Gopher secondary

Iowa's offense, specifically the passing attack, caught fire and countered when called upon in the Hawkeyes' win over the Gophers on Saturday.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley steps into a throw during Iowa's game against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, October 6, 2018.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

MINNEAPOLIS — On Oct. 2, the Hawkeyes stressed they wanted a fast start against Minnesota. On Oct. 6, that’s just what they got, and it came via the arm of quarterback Nate Stanley in a 48-31 victory.

Iowa marched down the field on its opening possession of the game. The drive ended with Stanley firing a pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson for a touchdown — the Hawkeyes’ first score on an opening drive all season — and that’s just the kind of day it was for the Black and Gold.

“It just showed today much we’ve been working on playing fast and getting out to a fast start,” wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said. “When we get out to a fast start, we can be a dangerous team.”

Stanley carved up the Gopher defense like a Christmas ham (or, a Floyd of Rosedale, if you will), passing 23-of-39 for 314 yards, with 4 touchdowns; his yardage and touchdown totals were season-highs.

Stanley had his share of mistakes, though. In the third quarter, he fumbled the ball after getting sacked, setting Minnesota up with a short field and eventually another short-drive score. Before that, he threw a head-scratching interception on the Hawkeyes’ second-to-last possession before halftime, setting the Gophers up with the first short-drive touchdown.

However, the confidence never wavered.

“I think that’s one thing that our team does a very good job of,” Stanley said, “Everybody has each other’s back, and a lot of guys came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Hey, flush it, we’re going to go right back down the field coming out of the second half.’ ”

Stanley and Company made plays when it counted the most, countering Minnesota’s blows with strikes of their own.

“That was huge,” wide receiver Nick Easley said. “Coming out of situations where they throw a punch, and we got to come out and punch back, and we were able to do that, whether it was just moving the ball down the field or a big scoring drive. We were able to come out and answer those punches.”

And the Hawkeye offense needed to, because the defense looked as shaky as it been all season. Iowa allowed 320 yards of offense (234 through the air and 86 on the ground) in back-and-forth action.

Stanley not only spread the ball around to six different receivers, he also found his wideouts for 14 connections (1 reception shy of tying the most catches by the wide-receiver group as a whole in a single game this season).

Whether it was finding Brandon Smith for a circus catch along the sidelines or stepping up as protection broke down to hit Smith-Marsette in stride for 6 points, Stanley did it all.

On Sept. 29, Maryland exposed Minnesota’s rushing defense, torching the Gophers for 315 yards on the ground. Iowa’s rushing attack barely cracked the century mark (106), and a main reason was the Gophers’ commitment to stopping the run; they didn’t want a repeat of the prior week’s debacle.

“They were coming out in some different front that we thought they wouldn’t do — again, loading the box a lot, playing with their safeties down low … just really trying to take away the run,” Stanley said.

By loading the box, Minnesota left its passing defense vulnerable, and Iowa capitalized, time after time, for the team’s best showing of the season.

Questions surrounded the offense and how it would perform after its bye week, but the answer was evident from the get-go. There was no rust on the passing attack’s gears. Instead, Stanley and his receivers clicked like the proverbial well-oiled Mercedes, and that’s just what Iowa needed in its quest to make up ground in the race for the Big Ten West.

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