A couple hours after the Penn State loss, I was feeling all the feels.
Look, guys, I get that Iowa can win out and win the Big Ten with another Wisconsin loss, but this offense hasn't scored a touchdown in six quarters. It isn't winning out. It had a good couple of weeks against Minnesota and Indiana, and now we're back to good ol' eight-win Iowa.
— This feed: It's not for everyone (@PV_GIA) October 27, 2018
I will fully admit that I was being overly cynical in that moment. I'm trying to be better about that, I swear. I am still trying to keep the faith, but every now and then, we all are Doubting Thomas.
Nate Stanley has now been Iowa's starting quarterback for 21 starts, with a 14-7 record in those games. In those 21 starts, Iowa has never won more than three games in a row. While the Hawkeyes have lost a couple of games where Stanley played well, Iowa has lost all five of his (arguably) worst starts (2017 MSU, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue, 2018 Penn State). In other words, while a good Nate Stanley performance is not a condition sufficient for Iowa to win, it is a condition necessary.
There is no doubt that Stanley is better this year than he was in 2017 -- four of those losses were last season for a reason -- but here's where my cynicism arises: In those 21 starts, Stanley has posted four consecutive quality starts (QBR > 150, yards > 200, completion percentage > 55%) exactly once, and UNI had to be included in that streak to get there. If Iowa is going to get to Indianapolis in December, it will need Stanley to play well in four consecutive Big Ten games. We are asking him to do something he's never done.
Obviously, Iowa is helped by the fact that two of those games are against Illinois and Nebraska, where defense has been optional all year. Northwestern comes to Iowa City and will have trouble getting to Stanley's Achilles heel: Hitting Stanley early and hurrying up his footwork and throwing process. The Wildcats are 109th nationally in team sacks, recording just 1.5 sacks per game, and have not faced an offensive line allowing fewer sacks than Iowa all year. If you were going to line up three teams that are not particularly suited to stopping Nate Stanley -- and, in turn, stopping Iowa's offense -- you would be hard-pressed to come up with three better.
That leaves Purdue. The Boilermakers have the best pass rush Iowa will face the rest of the way, although they are nowhere near as good as Penn State, Iowa State, or even Northern Illinois. Even with that, more passes have been attempted on Purdue than any other Power Five team this season. If the Good Stanley shows up Saturday, he'll have a chance to shine.
This game looks even across the board. There is no doubt the Trains can score -- they are 12th nationally in yards per game, probably the best Iowa will see this year -- but Phil Parker's defense is as good as it has ever been, and is allowing just 84 rushing yards per game and five rushing touchdowns all season. Iowa probably won't be able to run that much, as has been the case for most of this season, but it can likely keep the Boilermakers honest. Purdue's passing offense is better than average, especially with David Blough under center, but Iowa shut down a more efficient attack against Iowa State.
So then the question becomes: Can Stanley win four in a row? Because as many statistical reasons as we can uncover and throw around to make us feel better, the answer to that question has to lie in faith, in believing he is capable of doing something we have not seen him do before. Doubting Thomas had to touch Jesus's wounds to believe. Stanley only has to beat Purdue to restore our faith in the promised land.