Positional Awareness is our annual rundown of the Iowa depth chart, from the position where we are most confident in what Kirk Ferentz intends to do to, well, running back.
Having your #1 quarterback established when heading into a new season is one of the greatest luxuries of collegiate football. Iowa has such a luxury, with Nate Stanley once again sitting in the captain’s chair, a year wiser. The big question this season is: Who is his backup? Iowa had a lot of turnover at quarterback during this offseason. The biggest departure was one time 4-star recruit Tyler Wiegers announcing his transfer to Eastern Michigan. Ryan Boyle opted to graduate and transfer, as did Tommy Herion, who transferred as a redshirt freshman to the University of New Hampshire.
Those departures left only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, as Ryan Schmidt is a walk-on. This lack of depth is likely why (and how) the Hawkeyes obtained the commitment of a big time prospect out of California. The greatest question at quarterback this season isn’t who will start in 2018, but who should we be looking for in 2020?
THE BIG UNIT
NATHAN STANLEY (#4, Junior, 6'4", 242 lbs., Menomonie, Menomonie, WI)
Statistically speaking, Nate Stanley had one of the most impressive quarterback performances since James Vandenberg in 2011 or Ricky Stanzi in 2010. His 2,437 yards and 26 touchdowns to 6 interceptions as a true sophomore was arguably better than the sophomore campaign of Drew Tate, who threw for 2,786 yards, 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Stanley is tall, strong, has a good arm, and went 8-5 in his first year as a starter. Those were the positives in year one.
The negatives included his inability to consistently complete deep balls, his lack of decisiveness when the pocket was collapsing and his occasional fumblitis. Stanley’s 55.8% completion percentage ranked 88th in the nation and 10th in the Big Ten. By my count, he was sacked 25 times, including an unbelievable six times against Purdue. He also fumbled the ball seven times, losing five of those fumbles. Were there mitigating circumstances? Absolutely. Stanley’s wide receivers and tight ends had trouble catching the ball and that obviously contributed to his poor completion percentage. The offensive line also had a couple of season ending injuries, so the protection was spotty every once in a while. Finally, Iowa’s overly conservative and predictable playcalling frequently limited Stanley’s ability to make plays.
Positives and negatives out of the way, Iowa is sitting pretty with Stanley as he has the size and skills to succeed. He does need to work on his decisiveness in the pocket by either scrambling and throwing the ball away or actually protecting the ball when he’s facing a sack, but those talents can be developed with experience. What it really boils down to is: Will his receivers and tight ends step up and will Brian Ferentz be more creative in his playcalling? Passing out of shotgun every third and long doesn’t work, Brian. Dropping every pass doesn’t help, Ihmir. Stanley clearly has some kinks that he needs to work through but his teammates and coaches also need to step up and hold their own. If they can do that, Stanley can be one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever seen under Kirk Ferentz.
WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS
RYAN SCHMIDT (#17, Junior, 6'5", 235 lbs., Linn-Mar, Marion, IA)
PEYTON MANSELL (#2, RS Freshman, 6'2", 210 lbs., Belton, Belton, TX)
Kirk Ferentz hyped Mansell, one of the few Texas recruits to stick around, as a possibility at quarterback prior to last season. But, as we’ve been doing this for a while and know that Kirk Ferentz is allergic to freshmen quarterbacks, especially when they’re labeled “dual-threats,” we knew that was coachspeak. Naturally, Mansell redshirted and we never saw him in 2017.
The good news for Mansell was that he was the first guy off the bench to back up Stanley this spring and completed 8 of his 9 first passes during the “spring game.” He also showed some elusiveness, scrambling when protection broke down and even picked up a first down. On Mansell’s progression, Kirk Ferentz said:
“When he really started struggling, it was really interesting, sometimes entertaining,” Ferentz said. “It was entertaining because he was the fourth team at that point. It wouldn’t be right now. He has really progressed. He is a lot closer to being able to go into a game than he was.”
Translation: It looks like Mansell might be your #2 next season.
Hey, we didn’t forget about you, Ryan Schmidt! The walk-on from Linn-Mar walked on in 2015, redshirted, didn’t play in 2016, didn’t play in 2017 and you can probably guess what’s going to happen in 2018. Schmidt was Academic All-Big Ten in 2017 so he’s the type of player who makes his impact off the field.
SPENCER PETRAS (#7, Freshman, 6'5", 227 lbs., Marin Catholic, San Rafael, CA)
If it doesn’t seem like we were talking about Petras too long ago, it’s because he only committed back in December and enrolled at Iowa early. The 6'5", 4-star recruit from California that chose Iowa over the likes of Cal, Louisville, Nebraska and Syracuse was the type of quarterback that Kirk Ferentz hadn’t landed since…ever? With the departure of Wiegers, Boyle and Herion, the get seems like perfect timing these days. Stanley is comfortable through graduation but expect Mansell and Petras to compete for the future starting spot.
Will we see Petras in 2018? No. He’s going to redshirt. Just like Mansell did before him.