IOWA CITY, Iowa — As Nathan Stanley dropped into the pocket, Devonte Young performed a double move to Stanley’s left. When Young gained a step on the defensive back, the Iowa quarterback heaved a pass to the corner of the end zone.
Young hauled it in for a 21-yard touchdown and the Iowa offense erupted in joy.
Stanley looked the part of Iowa’s starting signal caller during the Kids Day open practice on Saturday. Despite Stanley’s play, the quarterback competition didn’t come more in focus on Saturday. Neither Tyler Wiegers nor Stanley is showing much separation 12 practices into camp.
But something else became clear. For one day, Stanley put together the kind of play needed out of the position. Whoever becomes QB No. 1 needs to replicate it come the regular season.
Nathan Stanley’s standout play
The longer practice went, the more Stanley stood out. He split first-team reps with Wiegers but made plays regardless of the players around him. He unofficially completed 13 of 23 passes for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns.
His most impressive pass of the day was his second touchdown toss to Young. He hit the receiver in stride on a deep throw which turned into a 50-plus yard score. He also found freshman wide receiver Max Cooper for a 4-yard touchdown.
Impact passing plays were too few and infrequent last season. The Hawkeyes need more production from the quarterback and passing game. Stanley provided it on Kids Day.
No one wanted to praise Stanley too much for his play, be it teammates or coach Kirk Ferentz. It is an open competition, and everyone is trying to be like Switzerland. They don’t want to give the impression of showing any favorites.
“This is one exposure out of 12,” Ferentz said. “So we are trying to measure the whole body out of 12. Again, both guys have done some really good things and both of them have some things they would like to change or take back. That is what you expect.”
Ferentz makes a good point. It is just one practice. It’s the definition of a small sample size. This performance alone isn’t enough to name him a starter, especially in a competition that may be closer than it appeared on Saturday.
“They are both like neck and neck right now,” running back Akrum Wadley said.
Stanley made several throws the fans in attendance walked out talking about. It was harder to recall big play Wiegers made. The latter is not the impression a player wants to leave.
Wiegers overthrew a wide open Brandon Smith on a deep pass. A downfield Wiegers toss to Ihmir Smith-Marsette led to a pass interference penalty. The result goes down as a positive, but the pass was underthrown.
Too much of Wiegers’ performance was reminiscent of the spring game, as he unofficially completed 6 of 14 passes for 31 yards. That’s the last thing the Hawkeyes want to see from a quarterback in camp.
“They are both gaining ground,” Ferentz said. “They are both like our team. They have things they have to do to get better.”
Finding a starting quarterback
Stanley entered spring as the overwhelming favorite to win the job. He beat out Wiegers for the backup job as a true freshman in 2016. But he never pulled away in March and April.
Even though both entered camp on equal footing, Stanley is still the favorite to win the job. He showed he can beat out Wiegers once. He is yet to do so again, opening up the possibility of each playing against Wyoming on Sept 2.
“We would rather not, but if that is what it means, that is what it means,” Ferentz said. “Quite frankly it would be nice at some point, in a perfect world, when we start preparing for our first game to have a one and two. I think it’s better for the team overall. We will handle it however we have to handle it.”
For now, that means Stanley and Wiegers trade off reps with the starters. It’s the only way to let the best quarterback emerge.
“Usually time exposes things,” Ferentz said. “I doubt it’s going to be clear cut, but you never know.”
It will be if someone plays like Stanley on Saturday in consecutive scrimmages.