No passing game, no victory for Iowa

Iowa needed its aerial attack against Penn State. It didn't get it until it was too late.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) walks off the field after throwing an interception during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two weeks ago, quarterback Nate Stanley threw 6 touchdown passes in Iowa’s 42-16 win over Indiana on the road.

Before No. 18  Iowa’s final two possessions of the game against No. 17 Penn State on Oct. 27, Stanley was 11-of-31 passing for 131 yards and a touchdown. The Iowa offense had nothing going for it, until the Black and Gold drove 72 yards, all the way down to the Penn State 3-yard line, before Stanley tossed his second interception of the game.

Iowa had another shot to tie the game and win on an extra point, after Iowa’s defense came up with yet another stop, but Stanley fumbled on Iowa’s last play of the game.

Granted, Iowa’s offense couldn’t do a ton in both the run and pass departments, but the Hawkeyes’ poor play offensively starts with No. 4 behind center.

“[There are] ups and downs, but I need to play better,” Stanley said. “There’s definitely opportunity for me to play better. Learn from it and put it to bed, really.”

Stanley dinged his thumb on the field, but after the game he said it’s no excuse for the throws he missed (head coach Kirk Ferentz said postgame that Stanley is fine).

But Stanley is right.

Even before hurting his thumb, Iowa’s signal caller missed plenty of receivers on passes he should have completed.

“Bottom line is, we didn’t weren’t able to make the plays you need to make to be successful against a good football team,” Ferentz said.

On a third-and-1 situation, Stanley dropped back to pass, and he had T.J. Hockenson wide open (no Nittany Lion in the vicinity). However, Stanley missed the tight end, and Iowa punted.

On another drive, in the fourth quarter, wide receiver Brandon Smith had a step on his defender, but Stanley’s pass was out of reach along the sideline. That would have been a 20-yard gain, possibly even more.

And then there are Stanley’s two interceptions.

His first came in the second quarter, setting up Penn State with perfect field position, and it capitalized with a touchdown to tie the game.

Then, on Iowa’s second-to-last drive of the game, Stanley forced a pass to a running back with time dwindling on the play clock, and, instead of landing in the arms of a Hawkeye, Penn State safety Nick Scott snagged interception No. 2 for the Nittany Lions near the goal line.

“Sometimes, it’s better, if things are all over the place, just take that timeout and settle everything down,” Stanley said.

That interception on first-and-goal for Iowa summed up the Hawkeyes’ effort offensively.

“There was a discombobulation,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s accurate.”

Mekhi Sargent sparked the Hawkeye offense in the fourth quarter, but for the first three quarters, Iowa had just 84 rushing yards (exclude a 23-yard run by Sargent, and the Hawkeyes are looking at 61 rushing yards on 32 carries before the fourth quarter).

But Stanley’s inability to hit receivers in stride resulted in Penn State loading the box, essentially daring Iowa to pass the football. Without Stanley’s hot hand, Iowa didn’t have the balance it had for the past few weeks.

“Getting on track and getting some consistency rolling was the biggest problem we had,” center Keegan Render said. “We did a better job in the second half, but it was a little too late.”

In 2017, Stanley his worst game in a Hawkeye uniform against Wisconsin, throwing for fewer than 50 yards. The passing game never got back on track the rest of the season.

Now, the one question remains: Will Iowa’s offense be able to bounce back next week? The Hawkeyes travel to Purdue on Nov. 4 to take on a dangerous Boilermaker team. The next week, Northwestern (which just beat Wisconsin and now sits in first place in the Big Ten West) heads to Kinnick.

These next two games are critical for Iowa’s hopes of making it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship. But if Stanley plays like he did against Penn State, Iowa’s chances are slim.

Ferentz and Company aren’t too worried, however.

“Nate didn’t have his best game, but he’s one of our strongest leaders,” Ferentz said. “He’ll get back on his feet.”

Now, it’s a matter of proving that against Purdue next week, and for the rest of the season, for that matter.

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