IOWA CITY — One start into his career as Iowa’s starting quarterback, Nate Stanley earned more than a win the last time he visited Iowa State’s Jack Trice Stadium.
He earned the respect and confidence of his teammates in that first road start, crafting a passing performance that still ranks as the most productive in the senior’s 28 starts under center for the Hawkeyes.
Stanley threw for a career-high 333 yards in the Hawkeyes’ 44-41 overtime victory over the Cyclones that day, connecting on 27 of his 41 passes.
The first of his four 300-yard passing performances for Iowa, Stanley threw five touchdown passes and was not intercepted in his Cy-Hawk Series starting debut.
“Nate had a great game that day, showed everybody what he is all about,’’ said receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who introduced himself to Iowa fans as freshman that day when he collected the game-winning touchdown pass on a five-yard score.
“To go into that environment and have that type of game, be that kind of leader, that’s who he is.’’
Stanley led Iowa through a defensive battle in last year’s 13-3 win at Kinnick Stadium, a different type of battle among his collection of 19 victories as the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback.
That’s why Stanley takes nothing for granted as he prepares for the 19th-ranked Hawkeyes’ 3 p.m. game Saturday against the Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium.
“You never know how it is going to play out, whether it is going to be the offense’s day or the defense’s day. You just get ready to go,’’ Stanley said.
Past success against Iowa State provides Stanley with confidence going into the Hawkeyes’ first road game of the season.
And if it takes another strong-armed approach in the passing game to move the ball against the Cyclones, he’s ready.
“I feel confident in my abilities. I feel confident in the abilities of my teammates that we have the potential to go and play that well and do that again,’’ Stanley said.
“But, this is a different team than the one we saw two years ago, or even from a year ago. We know there are going to be differences from those years. No matter what happens, we’re going to have to go out and compete.’’
Stanley does so at a time when Iowa’s passing attack is growing more diverse, a change that reflects the change in the make-up of the Hawkeyes’ roster.
T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant have taken their receiving skills as tight ends to the NFL, while receivers Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith are showing the kind of development coaches would expect to see from upperclassmen.
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Beyond that, Mekhi Sargent provides a pass-catching option at running back and redshirt freshmen Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy have combined to match Smith-Marsette’s team-leading total of eight receptions through two games.
Averaging 16.5 and 16 yards per catch respectively, Ragaini and Tracy join Michigan transfer Oliver Martin in adding depth to a collection of talent that Stanley has grown more comfortable with while guiding Iowa to a 2-0 start to its season.
The tight end hasn’t been forgotten.
Shaun Beyer caught three passes in Iowa’s season-opener and while he has been used primarily as a blocker early this season, senior starter Nate Wieting demonstrated his receiving capabilities last fall.
“First thing that comes to mind are the catches Shaun made a couple of weeks ago, hopefully good for his confidence because he doesn’t have a lot of playing experience,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s a positive. Nate’s doing a good job, Drew (Cook) and Shaun are coming along behind, trying to gain on the fly.’’
Stanley appreciates the collective possibilities he sees.
“We have a good group to work with that works hard to get better every week,’’ Stanley said. “I feel confident in all of them in their ability to make plays.’’
Ferentz sees that working both ways.
“In two games, he’s really looked like he’s been in control and command out there, better than at any point in his career,’’ Ferentz said.
Completing 37-of-58 passes, Stanley has thrown six touchdown passes and has not been intercepted in Iowa’s season-opening wins over Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers.
Stanley said he has developed trust in the playmakers that have helped him complete 63.8 percent of his passes so far this season.
“Some of that is experience that they’ve gained and I’ve gained and a lot of it is the work we put into it every single day. Brandon and Ihmir, we’ve been working together three years. That chemistry, it’s not going to happen overnight,’’ Stanley said.
“They’ve worked hard every single day, all of them have, to be able to do what we expect on the field and make it work. I feel good with where they’re at and what’s developing.’’
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell praised the skill and explosiveness he sees in Iowa’s receiving corps, but praises the consistency in Stanley’s work.
“Stanley is the guy who brings it all together,’’ Campbell said. “You see the experience as he runs their offense and makes the decisions and then makes the throws downfield.’’