Hawkeye Notebook: Iowa Offense Confident Passing Game Will Come Together
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Nate Stanley wasn’t making any excuses. He wasn’t pointing fingers. He took responsibility for Iowa’s passing attack looking flat during Saturday’s season-opening, 33-7 win against Northern Illinois.
To be clear, he wasn’t the only reason the Hawkeyes couldn’t answer one of their biggest off-season question marks.
The junior completed just 11 of 23 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against one interception after logging a a 56 percent completion rate last season. Even with that, he tossed 26 scores with just six picks.
Stanley talked all offseason (mainly because he kept being asked about it) that he wanted an improved percentage. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and quarterback coach Ken O’Keefe echoed that sentiment.
The Hawkeyes came out throwing early against Northern Illinois, but they were out of sync. Preseason all-American tight end Noah Fant dropped a perfectly-thrown deep ball and receiver Brandon Smith also couldn’t hang onto a few catchable passes. Then, there were attempts on which Stanley was just off, particularly to wideout Nick Easley, with whom he had a good connection with in ’17.
Asked Tuesday if he was trying to be too perfect with the throws to avoid tight coverage from the NIU cornerbacks, Stanley wasn’t looking for an out.
“I just missed the throws,” he said.
All he can do now is be better Saturday when Iowa plays host to rival Iowa State (4 p.m., FOX).
“I’m just trying to be cognizant and aware of that this week and do everything I can one day at a time to make those throws in the next game,” he said.
Fant, Smith and the other pass catchers can help him by hanging onto the football. A lot of the air game is about rhythm and the Hawkeyes never got into it Saturday.
“It’s going to be efficient. We’re working day in and day out and it’s going to come together,” receiver Smith-Marsette said.
“There’s a lot more upside. There’s a lot of talent on the outside and a great group of tight ends. There’s a lot of explosiveness there.”
After scoring just three first-half points in the opener, the Hawkeye offensive line and running back Toren Young wore down the opponent. They rushed for 209 yards in the game, 151 of those coming after halftime.
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The Cyclones will come into Saturday expecting Iowa to lean on its rushing attack. They could stack the box and force the Hawkeyes into going to the air. And future opponents likely will do the same thing until they show they can stretch the field.
“There’s always room to improve. Maybe it wasn’t where we wanted it to be in Week 1 but we’re continuing to work extremely hard day by day and trying to improve upon it,” Stanley said.
Iowa benefits from having learned some lessons in a win. And just because teams attempt to stop its rushing attack, it doesn’t mean they will.
Still, the Hawkeye are going to need more from a receiver group that accounted for four receptions for 33 yards against NIU.
“I don’t think anything was missing,” Smith-Marsette said of the offense. “We played the game. We won the game. So, I don’t believe anything was missing.”
INJURY REPORT: Iowa could be without starting running back Ivory Kelly-Martin on Saturday. The second-year sophomore injured his ankle Saturday and was seen icing it late in the game.
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“He’s doing okay. We’ve got a couple guys that are nicked up from the game, and that’s the downside of playing the game, I guess. Right now we’ll see how it goes, and hopefully we’ll know by the end of the week where we’re at,” said Ferentz, who described Kelly-Martin’s condition as dicey.
Kelly-Martin carried 16 times for 62 yards and a touchdown in the opener. He did have a couple of big runs called back by penalty.
Toren Young came into the game in the second half and led the team with 84 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Mehki Sagent carried 12 times for 40 yards and true freshman Henry Geil rushed for 13 yards on five attempts.
COMMUNITY SERVICE: It’s clear one of the main talking points for “Hate Week” this year is Iowa and Iowa State fans going at it over player discipline. It started when the Cyclones announced their players suspended for the Week 1 opener that was canceled due to bad weather on Saturday would play against the Hawkeyes.
More fuel was thrown on the social media fire Tuesday when Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz revealed that his four players suspended for the NIU game performed four hours of community service on Friday and eight more on Saturday. They did not attend the game.
“There’s got to be a price to pay. It’s got to hurt a little bit, and there’s got to be some consequences, but that’s just part of learning and moving forward. Then how you handle those things and how you respond is, I think, very, very telling,” Ferentz said.
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MAN IN THE MIDDLE: The situation at middle linebacker remains fluid. Senior Jack Hockaday is listed as the starter on the depth chart.
Amani Jones started Saturday but was pulled in favor of Hockaday early into the game. Jones returned later with the second team when the game was in hand.
“I’m not going to say it was predictable what happened, but I think what happened to him is consistent with him,” Ferentz said. “The reason we like him so much, he’s high-energy. He wants to make every play and get to the ball, and you can’t always do that. Sometimes you just have to play your position.
“He was just trying so hard that he hurt himself a little bit on a couple plays, and we just wanted to get him out.”
The coach was pleased with how Jones played when he returned to the game.
“We’re hardly ready to throw him off the boat here. I mean, he’s had a good week of practice. He’ll keep practicing. My guess is he’ll be in the lineup at some point. He’s a really good football player. Just got to calm down a little bit,” Ferentz said.
True freshman Dillon Doyle also is practicing at middle linebacker and is already playing on special teams. It will be interesting to see if he can make a move if the veterans struggle.
TAKING A LEAVE: Second-year running back Kyshaun Bryan was not among the team’s 105 training camp invitees last month. He then was absent for Saturday’s season-opener.
“He’s taking a leave right now, so we’re going to bring him back at bye week and kind of circle back, see where he’s at, and see if he’s more prepared to practice,” Ferentz said.
Bryan red shirted last season. He missed most of fall practices with a shoulder injury.
EXTRA POINTS: Stanley, Parker Hesse, Keegan Render and Brady Ross were named captains by their teammates for this weekend’s game…Iowa announced that the contest, along with the one against Wisconsin in two weeks, are sold out. Limited tickets remain for next week’s game against Northern Iowa…The Iowa-ISU series is deadlocked at 10-10 during the last 20 years. The Hawkeyes have won the last three meetings.