Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Monthly, a national award-winning e-magazine that offers a look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each month to fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive periodic news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was the final drive of the 2017 Outback Bowl and the quarterback torch had been passed at the University of Iowa.
With the Hawkeyes trailing 30-3, true freshman Nate Stanley replaced banged-up fifth-year senior C.J. Beathard, who was 7-of-23 for 55 yards and three interceptions. On third-and-3 from Iowa’s 9-yard-line, Stanley attempted his first postseason pass, throwing with Gators’ defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson draped around his waist and defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson in pursuit. The ball to tight end George Kittle fell incomplete.
“It was a naked (bootleg) and Florida had a pretty good idea it was coming,” Stanley said. “It was a contested throw.”
Ed Cunningham, who was the color analyst for ABC, had this to say about Stanley’s appearance:
“Those little reps right there are so helpful for a young guy. How many times has Stanley run a bootleg in practice when the scout team defensive end is standing there? Now he’s standing there against an SEC defensive end. It’s a whole different level of competition as you get ready to go in the offseason.”
Stanley will return to Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 1, this time as a starter, who, by the way, is undefeated in bowl games as a starting signal-caller. The Hawkeyes won the New Era Pinstripe Bowl last December with Stanley throwing for 99 yards and a touchdown.
This will be the third bowl appearance for Stanley; the first two have been drastically different, both on the scoreboard and on the thermometer. It was 83 degrees at kickoff for the 2017 Outback Bowl, a game the Hawkeyes lost. It was 23 degrees for the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl, a game the Hawkeyes won.
“I’m excited to get back down there, it’s a great trip,” Stanley said. “I had a great experience my freshman year. I’m excited to get back on the field and play with my teammates.”
Stanley and his teammates have played quite well this season, finishing the regular season 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten, a conference that sent nine teams to postseason play. The Hawkeyes won six of their first seven games of the season, withstood a three-game losing skid, then won back-to-back games while averaging 47 points in wins at Illinois and against Nebraska.
Points could be at a premium Jan. 1. Iowa’s opponent in its sixth Outback Bowl in 15 seasons is No. 18 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, from the Southeastern Conference, lead all NCAA Division I programs in scoring defense (12 points per game). They are third in total defense (268.4 yards per game) and sixth in fewest passing yards allowed (164.2).
“I’m looking forward to going up against a good team like Mississippi State and trying to show what we can do,” Stanley said. “It comes down to the amount of time and effort we put into our preparation. I’m excited to start studying them on tape.”
Since Stanley replaced Beathard behind center, he has completed 57.3-percent of his 716 pass attempts for 5,075 yards and 49 touchdowns. More importantly, he has led the Hawkeyes to 16 victories.
A win over Mississippi State would make him 2-0 in bowl games, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a starting quarterback in Iowa City since Ricky Stanzi led the Hawkeyes to Outback, Orange, and Insight bowl victories after the 2008-10 seasons.
“The last two years I have learned how I need to go about preparing, especially when we’re away from the facility,” Stanley said. “I feel like everybody has a good idea of what they need to do to be ready to play.”