IOWA CITY — Nate Stanley sees the potential in Iowa’s passing game every day on the practice field.
Iowa’s junior quarterback now wants to see the possibilities turn into reality when it matters.
The Hawkeye passing game is off to a laborious start, inconsistent at its best through two games.
From dropped passes to route-running mistakes to underthrown and overthrown balls, a combination of things has left Iowa with the 13th-most productive passing attack in the Big Ten with its average of 154.5 yards per game and an efficiency rating which ranks 12th in the league.
“It all comes back to execution. We haven’t done that for a whole game yet,’’ Stanley said. “We show bits and pieces of what we can do, but we haven’t sustained it yet over 60 minutes. We need to carry that over for a whole game.’’
Stanley has completed 27 of the 51 passes he has attempted so far this season, including five of the six he threw during Iowa’s only touchdown drive in last week’s win over Iowa State.
His throws have covered 274 yards and the one touchdown pass through two games matches his interception total.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday during his weekly news conference he believes Stanley is “pressing a little bit’’ in trying to jumpstart the Hawkeye passing game.
“You can’t aim a ball when you throw something,’’ Ferentz said. “I think he’s doing a little bit of that right now, trying to be too perfect. We’re just not quite there yet in terms of being in synch. We just have to keep working at it. There’s no pixie dust or pill we can give a guy.’’
Stanley said it was frustrating to come away with only three points after short punts gave Iowa the football at the Iowa State 21- and 28-yard lines on two first-half possessions on Saturday.
“Those situations are tough,’’ he said. “We had some short fields and we weren’t able to capitalize. All we can do is keep working, go back watch the film and work to get better. I’m looking forward to going out on Saturday and getting it going.’’
That chance comes during a 6:30 p.m. game against Northern Iowa.
Receiver Nick Easley, who caught a team-leading 51 passes a year ago but has one reception through two games this season, sees the potential that Stanley sees.
He sees sophomores Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith showing growth as the passing game continues to progress in practice in recent weeks.
“It just hasn’t carried over to games yet,’’ he said. “That’s the next step. It’s there. Guys are working. Game situations are different than practices, but eventually if you make it happen in practice it will happen in games.’’
Ferentz believes a lot of little things have led to the Hawkeyes’ slow start through the air.
“There are just so many things that can go haywire in the passing game, and the bottom line is that we haven’t been consistent enough at this given point,’’ Ferentz said. “To be a good offensive team, you’ve got to be balanced and that just helps everything if we can get that going. When you’re throwing the ball well, it does make the run game a little bit easier.’’
Only two games into the 12-game marathon the Hawkeyes are running, Ferentz sees only the need to keep working toward improvement in games with repetition on the practice field.
“Every team is a little bit different. A year ago at this time, the sky was falling defensively for us, right, because we gave up 40-plus points,’’ he said, referencing the 41 points Iowa allowed in an overtime win at Iowa State in 2017. “It’s just a different circumstance now. Bottom line, there’s always something to work on. There’s always a challenge.’’
Tight end T.J. Hockenson, who leads Iowa with 10 receptions, said Stanley’s leadership has remained constant throughout the first weeks of the season.
“He’s the same leader he was last year,’’ Hockenson said. “He’s like the rest of us. He’s anxious to get things going on offense. We want the passing game to be there. We all do. The last two games, it hasn’t been what we expected it to be. The only way to make it better is to keep at it every day.’’
Stanley believes that as well.
He sees the executions during Iowa’s 13-play, 83-yard scoring drive during the fourth quarter against Iowa State as a step in the right direction.
“We just have to continue to chip away at it,’’ Stanley said. “What we did during that drive, we have to carry it over to a full game. We’re working to make that happen and I know we’ll get there, hopefully soon.’’