Iowa survives late Northwestern comeback attempt, snaps two-game losing skid

Backup quarterback Alex Padilla replaced starter Spencer Petras and led the Hawkeyes to a 17-12 victory.


Grace Smith

Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla passes the ball during a football game between No. 19 Iowa and Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 17-12. Padilla replaced starting quarterback Spencer Petras during the first quarter of the game.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

EVANSTON, Ill. — Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz had seen enough.

With two minutes and 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter against Northwestern, Iowa’s coaching staff came to a consensus that starting quarterback Spencer Petras needed to be pulled from the game. So, backup Alex Padilla took the field in his place and led No. 22 Iowa to three scoring drives in its 17-12 win over Northwestern on Saturday.

Petras, who has started the last 17 games for Iowa, suffered an apparent shoulder injury late in last week’s loss to Wisconsin. Ferentz said that Petras looked healthy enough to start as of Friday, but in pregame warmups and early in the game didn’t look like he had any zip on the ball.

“I think all of us were seeing the same thing,” Ferentz said postgame. “Spencer just couldn’t throw.”

Petras finished 2-for-4 for four yards before being pulled. Padilla went 18-for-28 for 172 yards through just over three quarters of action. Ferentz said that Petras’ status and a review of film from the game will determine Iowa’s starting quarterback next week.

Ferentz added that he doesn’t think Petras’ injury is anything major. The 23rd-year Hawkeye head coach expects Petras to be back to playing full speed by Monday or Tuesday.

“We’ll look at the film and see what we think,” Feretnz said. “I know this: Spencer has led us to a lot of victories. Tonight Alex did. To me, that’s a good situation. I’m really proud of what Alex did and I’m really proud of all the things Spencer has done over the last two seasons, as well. We’ll take it one day at a time.

“You can’t downgrade Spencer because he couldn’t play full speed. We’ll just see where that is next week.”

Big picture

Iowa is now 7-2 overall on the season and 4-2 in the Big Ten.

There are now four teams in the Big Ten West with a 4-2 record: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Iowa. Minnesota lost at home to Illinois on Saturday, while the other three teams won. The Boilermakers knocked off No. 3 and previously undefeated Michigan State in their second top-three win of the season.

Wisconsin and Purdue have already defeated Iowa this season. Iowa plays Minnesota next week.

The Badgers defeated the Boilermakers two weeks ago. Wisconsin and Minnesota have yet to play this season, but the Gophers have defeated the Boilermakers.

Turning point

Padilla being brought into the game seemed to lift up Iowa’s offense in the first half.

Iowa gained one first down over its first three drives of the game against Northwestern with Petras leading the way. But on Padilla’s first drive, Iowa found the end zone. Padilla completed 3-of-4 passes for 45 yards on a six-play scoring drive that ended in a 13-yard touchdown run by running back Tyler Goodson.

The Hawkeyes went 83 yards in nine plays for another touchdown their next time out on the field. Freshman wide receiver Arland Bruce IV broke through multiple Wildcat tackles for a 10-yard score on the ground.

A Caleb Shudak field goal in the third quarter rounded out Iowa’s scoring on the night.

Iowa gained 361 yards of total offense at Ryan Field — most of those with Padilla leading the way. Padilla, a sophomore from Colorado, said he took some first-team reps in practice this week with Petras dealing with his injury.

“You never know when you’re gonna get the opportunity,” Padilla said. 

Ferentz said the game plan did not really change with Padilla in the game.

Padilla spread the ball around to his targets. Eight different Hawkeyes recorded receptions on Saturday, led by wide receiver Keagan Johnson. The freshman recorded 68 yards on five receptions, including two on Padilla’s first drive when Padilla lobbed it his way and gave him the chance to make a play.

Iowa gets Goodson going on the ground

Goodson hadn’t scored a rushing touchdown since September, or a touchdown of any kind since Oct. 1, coming into Saturday’s game. It didn’t take him long to become acquainted with the end zone again.

A 13-yard scoring run with 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter was the highlight of a 141-yard rushing day for Goodson.

“It’s always good to get back in the end zone,” Goodson said.

Iowa as a team ran for 185 yards against Northwestern — a team with the worst rush defense in the Big Ten. Starting left tackle Mason Richman left the game with an injury in the second half and his status moving forward is uncertain.

Back to forcing turnovers

The Hawkeyes intercepted 16 passes over their first six games — all wins. But in losses to Purdue and Wisconsin, Iowa couldn’t force a takeaway in the passing game. Iowa’s starting “Cash” Dane Belton snapped that streak with an interception in the first half of the Hawkeyes’ victory. And he wasn’t alone in forcing a turnover on the night.

Jermari Harris, Iowa’s fourth cornerback who is starting because of injuries to Riley Moss and Terry Roberts, also picked off a pass. Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty threw a pass over his receiver and right to Harris in the end zone with 8:02 remaining in the game. The Wildcats had just moved the chains after Iowa cornerback Matt Hankins was called for pass interference on fourth down.

That wasn’t the only Hawkeye interception in a crucial situation on Saturday.

The Wildcats had the ball back with 1:44 remaining and trailing 17-12 after a 31-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Marty to Evan Hull on their previous offensive possession. Northwestern’s defense had just forced an Iowa three-and-out, and set up its offense with the chance to win the game. Instead, Belton recorded his second interception of the night on the first play of the series to seal Iowa’s seventh win of the season.

“That’s what we practice — forcing turnovers and getting the ball back for our offense,” Belton said. “We hadn’t done that in the past couple games, but we continued to emphasize forcing turnovers and making plays.”

The three picks bump Iowa up to 19 interceptions and 24 forced takeaways this season.

Belton has now intercepted four passes this year. Harris’ pick was the first of his career and he is now the 10th Hawkeye to intercept a pass this season. In both of Iowa’s two losses, it had a minus-three turnover differential. Iowa was plus-three in that category against Northwestern.

Up next

Iowa returns to Kinnick Stadium for its first home game in a month next Saturday against Minnesota. The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and air on the Big Ten Network.

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