IOWA CITY, Iowa — In four months, Iowa’s quarterback derby should be resolved. Inhale, exhale.
Yeah, it was that kind of performance on Friday night. Iowa’s co-starters Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers looked like they were throwing a different-sized football for most of the Hawkeyes’ spring game. Neither was accurate nor did either project confidence to those in attendance.
If Iowa’s season opener against Wyoming were held on Saturday, who would start? The true sophomore Stanley or the junior Wiegers?
“Oh, man,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’d be in trouble, period.”
Now, that’s seems harsh but it’s nothing about which to get riled, at least not yet. Both have showed promise in the past. When the Hawkeyes offer up a full complement of wide receivers in the summer, the quarterbacks might find a way to separate and look good doing so.
Until then, hide your eyes. Stanley completed the game’s only touchdown pass, on a short swing to sophomore Devonte Young in the left flat. They combined to throw a trio of passes intercepted by junior safety Jake Gervase. One of the picks was brought back 59 yards for a touchdown.
Stanley had the game’s best pass — about 25 yards downfield to junior Adrian Falconer, who dropped it. A few checkdowns produced some yards here and there; otherwise they made some really nice handoffs to running backs Toren Young and Toks Akinribade.
“It’s been back and forth a little bit and sometimes they look pretty good and other times a little bit off,” Ferentz said. “Our timing wasn’t great tonight in certain areas. It’s hard. We’re not really cohesive right now offensively, and it’s not a big surprise. But I think they’re both doing some good things. They’re both competing well. My guess is they’re both going to improve a lot coming out of this 15-day practice session. So what they can do now between now and the start of preseason camp — they have a chance to really advance and improve, go back, look at the tapes from the entire spring, and then hopefully we’ll see a jump here when we get going in August.”
If the quarterbacks sat at a poker table playing Blackjack, both would stare at the dealer with face card down and a 3 on top. The Hawkeyes are down to a pair of scholarship wide receivers (Young and Falconer) running first-team routes with walk-on Nick Easley out-producing everyone. None of those three receivers have caught a pass for the Hawkeyes. Top senior receiver Matt VandeBerg is recovering from a pair foot surgeries, and junior Jerminic Smith remains out with academic issues.
An influx of four freshmen come to Iowa in June, and all have a chance to see action. But you can’t rely on freshmen to become key contributors the same way you can’t count on a 7 of clubs when hitting on 13.
But this spring’s performance is not just on the receivers, and both quarterbacks know it. As expected, both were fairly vanilla with their answers after the game.
“It’s just another day that we came out and tried to improve,” said Wiegers, who opened the game with the first offense. “Obviously there’s things we’ve got to clean up and things we’ve got to improve on. I think it’s just focusing on every day moving forward and getting better as a team.”
“Tyler and I are just trying to get better and improve every day,” Stanley said.
Before this spring, both spent time in the No. 2 chair. Wiegers served as C.J. Beathard’s backup in 2015 and played in four games. Last fall, Stanley snagged the No. 2 job as a true freshman. He played in seven games, completing 5 passes in 9 attempts. Wiegers did not play last year.
Wiegers stayed positive last fall while running the scout team and didn’t focus on the demotion.
“You’ve got to focus on yourself and just try to improve yourself every day,” Wiegers said. “There’s nothing you can do as far as looking at the big picture that’s going to help. You’ve got focus on the little things.”
While Stanley entered the spring as a solid starter, Ferentz declined to say his young quarterback regressed into the quarterback competition.
“I don’t think either guy has really gone backwards,” Ferentz said. “I think they’re both probably better players than they were in January, and part of the passing stuff is we’re a pretty — I don’t want to say fragile, but it’s a fine line for us. And it’s like last year. We lost a couple guys and things didn’t look as good, and it’s usually a couple tweaks here and there and you’ve got a chance to be a little bit better.”
There’s four months between now and when the offense must show improvement. If VandeBerg returns healthy, a current receiver takes a step forward and a freshman takes off, the passing game could make strides.
“For the first time coming out playing live, I think we did all right,” Stanley said. “But we still have got a long ways to go.”