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Iowa goes as Nate Stanley goes, and where that leads no one knows

Nate Stanley was awesome against Ohio State, against other quality defenses? Not so much in 2017.

Iowa has two impressive wins on its record in 2017, beating both Iowa State (pre-Oklahoma and TCU wins) and Ohio State. Nate Stanley tossed 5 touchdown passes in each of those games — coincidence much?

Despite that, the Hawkeyes are just 6-3 in his first season as a starter, perhaps another not-so-shocking revelation either.

Stanley had himself one heck of a game on the biggest stage of the season for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Five touchdown passes, 226 yards and 64 percent of passes completed led Iowa to a stunning 55-27 win over the previously No. 7-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

He also completed 27 of 41 passes for a season-high 333 yards and 5 touchdowns against Iowa State in Week 2.

All of that is well and good, but then there is the Nate Stanley that showed up…or rather, didn’t show up against two of the best defenses the Big Ten has to offer in 2017.

In a loss at home to Penn State, Stanley was just 13 of 22 for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He also followed that up by going 16 of 31 for just 197 yards and no touchdowns against Michigan State the next week.

That MSU game also saw Stanley fumble inside the Spartans 10-yard line just as it appeared Iowa was going to make it a one-score game. Instead, Michigan State recovered a really strange fumble and held on to a 17-7 lead.

But, the good news is he didn’t throw an interception in any of those games. In fact, Stanley has thrown just four interceptions all season long.

Once again, the flip side of that great news is that three of his four interceptions have come in the last four games.

Which version of Nate Stanley will show up against Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall?

The home-state product was not a priority for the Badgers back in the short-lived Gary Anderson era. Instead, Anderson was all-in on finding a dual-threat quarterback capable of giving the Badgers the run-pass option he desperately wanted in transitioning the Badgers offense.

Stanley didn’t and doesn’t fit that bill at all. Yet, the Badgers had a D1 quarterback in their back yard and Anderson chose to ignore him. Stanley’s former high school head coach, Joe LaBuda, of Menomonie High School, put the situation rather bluntly.

“The only reason he’s not a Badger,” LaBuda said, “is Gary Andersen.”

No matter the situation on the recruiting trail, and the motivation it might give to Stanley, the fact remains that what he will see across the field is easily his biggest challenge to date.

He’ll face arguably the best of the Big Ten’s defenses this weekend, as the Hawkeyes take on bitter rival Wisconsin.

Stanley has faced big challenges before and in Big Ten play he’s come up with one big performance and two losses. Despite the early setbacks to Penn State and Michigan State, Stanley hasn’t let it get to him and that is a credit to his ability to face adversity head-on.

“The biggest thing I’ve said all along is I’ve been most impressed with how he’s handled the bumps,” said Kirk Ferentz at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “When things go wrong, it doesn’t seem to rock his world.”

On Saturday he’ll face a defense that specializes in rocking quarterback’s worlds. Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten with 31 sacks and have racked up a Big Ten-best 14 interceptions. Four of those 14 interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, a total that also leads the Big Ten.

Can Stanley avoid the big hits and the mistakes that the Badgers like to force opposing quarterbacks in to?

If he can, Iowa is likely to have a good shot in this rivalry game. If not, the Badgers are likely to continue their defensive domination.

Let’s see if Stanley has another big performance against a big time defense in him. It sure has been a mixed bag of results so far in 2017.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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