Five Stars of the Game: Iowa vs. Iowa State

By Jeremy Karll on September 10, 2017 at 3:20 pm
Wadley leaves 'em in the dust.

© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

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Led by standout performances from many new faces in one of the most thrilling Cy-Hawk games in recent memory, Iowa took down Iowa State, 44-41, in overtime. The new face of Iowa's play-calling, Brian Ferentz, also had a stellar game calling plays. The players executed on the field, but Ferentz deserves a lot of credit for calling touchdown drives of 76, 91, 94, 92, and 89 yards in length. 

Iowa's offense also threw five touchdowns in a game for the first time since 2005 when Drew Tate threw four touchdowns and Clinton Solomon threw one. In comparison to last season, C.J. Beathard threw six touchdown passes in his final six career games. Now, to the stars.

Nate Stanley

A first career road start against an in-state rival usually doesn't go well for most young quarterbacks. Nate Stanley is not like most young quarterbacks, though. Stanley showed poise and good decision-making in Iowa's win, allowing him to complete 27-of-41 passes (65.8 percent) for 333 yards and five touchdowns. Iowa State's crowd never seemed like too much to handle for him, and throwing 41 times with no interceptions is hard for any quarterback, let alone one making his first career road start. In fact, Stanley was one of just five quarterbacks in the nation to throw at least five touchdowns with no interceptions in week two, according to Sports-Reference. He also became the first Iowa quarterback to throw for 300+ yards and five touchdowns since Chuck Hartlieb in 1987. Stanley still has room for improvement, most notably his inaccuracy on deep passes. He doesn't need to complete all of them, although that would be nice, but he can't overthrow an open receiver by five yards every time. Iowa will need those big plays later in the season if it wants to pull an upset. Still, in his second career start and first time outside of Kinnick, it's hard to ask much more from him. 

Akrum Wadley

Iowa knew it needed a big game from Akrum Wadley. He answered by gaining 118 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 28 carries, leading the team with 72 receiving yards on four receptions, including a 46-yard receiving touchdown to send the game to overtime, and adding 70 kickoff return yards on three attempts. Wadley's 260 all-purpose yards puts him 16th in the nation in all-purpose yards per game through two weeks, averaging 153 yards. Wadley had an underwhelming first and third quarter, gaining 23 yards on 11 carries in those quarters, but he made big plays in the fourth quarter when it mattered. He gained 63 of Iowa's final 114 yards, including breaking multiple tackles on his touchdown reception. Stars stand out in big games, and that's what Wadley did on Saturday.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette

It wouldn't have been crazy to think that there was a chance Iowa would bench Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a couple of games after he fumbled on his first career touch against Wyoming. Instead, Iowa played him and called upon him to make a couple of big plays late in the game, helping erase the bad memory of his first touch. Smith-Marsette finished with four catches for 36 yards and two spectacular touchdowns in the second half. His first career score, a diving 15-yard grab, brought Iowa within three, 31-28, in the third quarter, and he cemented himself into Cy-Hawk history by catching the game-winning touchdown in overtime. He also ran for seven yards on the same end-around play he fumbled on in week one. Smith-Marsette seems similar to Wadley in that you want to give him the ball because he always seems to make plays happen. He's already one of the Hawkeyes' top playmakers, so hopefully they continue to give him opportunities.

Nick Easley

Stanley threw to seemingly everyone, which made it hard to pinpoint one receiver. That said, Easley led the team with seven receptions for 48 yards and a 10-yard touchdown on a wide receiver screen, becoming the first player during the Kirk Ferentz era with a touchdown in each of his first two career games. Even though Stanley completed a pass to nine different receivers -- Iowa only completed a pass to 13 receivers in 2016, and only nine had at least five receptions -- Easley seemed to be Stanley's security blanket. While his 19.3 yards per reception in week one is more exciting, Easley's 6.9 yards per reception against Iowa State came from dump-off passes when Stanley couldn't find anyone downfield. Having that security blanket, whether it's Easley, Matt VandeBerg or Noah Fant, has helped Stanley not throw interceptions. He also made a key block on Wadley's game-tying touchdown reception.

A.J. Epenesa

Iowa's defense gave up 41 points, including four second half touchdowns, which would usually be enough not to include any defensive players in this rundown. That said, A.J. Epenesa played well when in the game. The problem is, he didn't play enough. In limited playing time, Epenesa had one tackle, 0.5 sacks and a quarterback hurry. For as little pressure as Iowa's defense put on Jacob Park, it seemed to always pick up when Epenesa was in the game. Parker Hesse came up with the only turnover of the game, intercepting Park in the fourth quarter, but it will be hard not to give Epenesa more snaps if he continues to make an immediate impact. He's already been part of two sacks in two games of limited action. It's time to unleash the five-star recruit.

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