Opinion | Alex Padilla should have a chance to start at quarterback for Iowa

Kirk Ferentz has a quarterback controversy on his hands. And after Saturday, backup Alex Padilla should get another shot on the field.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla throws a pass during a football game between No. 19 Iowa and Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Padilla had a 67.9 QBR rating.The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 17-12.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

EVANSTON, Ill. — Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has a decision to make.

And it just so happens to be choosing who to start at the most important position in football down the final stretch of the season with a Big Ten West title still on the line. So, after a 17-12 Iowa win over Northwestern that saw backup quarterback Alex Padilla take over for an injured Spencer Petras, who will it be as the starter moving forward?

It has to be Padilla, at least for next week.

“We’ll look at the film and see what we think,” Ferentz said postgame when asked about the team’s quarterback situation. “Spencer has led us to a lot of victories, and tonight Alex did, also. To me, that’s a good situation. I’m really proud of Alex for what he did and really proud of all the things Spencer has done over the last two years, as well. So, we’ll just take it a day at a time. But hopefully it’s — pardon the pun — a healthy situation for us.”

In simpler terms, the official decision is still to be determined. That means we have, as some in the business would call it, a quarterback controversy on our hands. There’s no denying that.

But this decision should be obvious for Ferentz to make, even if it isn’t easy.

We need to see more from Padilla.

Padilla, Iowa’s backup over the last two seasons, seemed to provide a boost to the No. 22 Hawkeye football team’s (7-2 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) offense, after he came in with two minutes and 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The sophomore promptly led Iowa on six and nine-play scoring drives on his first two possessions under center.

Considering Iowa’s past two games, which saw the Hawkeyes lose to Purdue and Wisconsin — scoring only seven points in each game — back-to-back scoring drives seemed like a minor miracle. After a 43-yard game-winning touchdown from Petras to wide receiver Nico Ragaini, the Iowa’s offense’s next 30 offensive possessions resulted in 14 points, 15 punts, just 27 first downs, six turnovers, and four turnovers on downs.

Yikes. And things weren’t looking much better early against Northwestern.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras looks to pass 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. (Grace Smith/The Daily Iowan) (Grace Smith)

Iowa only gained 26 total yards and picked up one first down over its first three drives of the game. Then Kirk Ferentz and other members of the Hawkeyes’ coaching staff determined Petras wasn’t healthy enough to play and couldn’t throw with any “zip on the ball.”

“I felt like it was in everybody’s best interest to get him out of there,” Ferentz said.

Petras’ shoulder, which he hurt while being slammed to the turf against Wisconsin, was a nuisance to the second-year starter during practice last week, allowing Padilla to take some first-team reps. The injury prevented Petras from ever looking comfortable against the Wildcats — completing only 2-of-4 passes for four yards before heading to the bench.

“We knew Spencer was a little dinged up early in the week, so Alex was taking some first-team reps,” Freshman wide receiver Keagan Johnson said. “It felt good to give the offense a spark, and then later on to punch it in.”

When Padilla came in, he was decisive and accurate with his throws and looked more comfortable in and out of the pocket than Petras. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder completed 18-of-28 attempts for 172 yards in the win, spreading the ball around to different targets. Granted, this was against Northwestern — the worst team in the conference with a defense that doesn’t live up to the typical Pat Fitzgerald standard. But still, Padilla provided Iowa with a little bit of momentum that it desperately needed. That can’t be ignored.

Yes, Iowa only produced three points in the second half, but that was more a product of ultra-conservative play-calling than a sudden decline in Padilla’s performance.

Ferentz said postgame that he hopes Petras will be 100 percent by Monday or Tuesday of this week. But even if Ferentz remains non-committal publicly, Padilla deserves a shot as the starter next Saturday against Minnesota. Petras has started 17 straight games for Iowa. The Hawkeyes went 6-2 under him last year and are 7-2 through nine games in 2021. But the offense just wasn’t producing, and Iowa’s season was starting to spiral.

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

By all accounts, Petras is a stellar leader and an exceptional teammate. That was evident even after he was taken out of the game.

“He really rallied around me,” Padilla said of Petras. “He was giving me a whole bunch of tips. Great player, great teammate. I’m with him more than anyone else. Big thanks to him.”

But something needed to change. The 124th-ranked offense wasn’t producing.

Iowa hasn’t flipped its quarterback in-season much in 23 years under Ferentz. Kyle McCann to Brad Banks in 2001, Jake Christensen to Ricky Stanzi in 2008, and Jake Rudock to C.J. Beathard in 2014 are the notable examples.

Petras-to-Padilla should be added to that list. Ferentz is a loyal coach. Replacing a starter who has won him a lot of games won’t be easy. But at the very least, it’s time to see what Padilla can do with a start. He should be taking first-team reps this week in practice and start against Minnesota — who, like Iowa, is one of four teams tied atop the Big Ten West.

Iowa’s offensive woes this season aren’t solely on Petras. But Iowa’s offense looked significantly better with Padilla in than it had in over a month. There’s too much left to lose this season if the offense reverts to looking nonexistent. Worst case, Padilla doesn’t look good, and you go back to Petras.

“You can’t really downgrade Spencer because he couldn’t play full speed,” Ferentz said. “I admire Spencer for giving it a try. So, we’ll just see where that is next week. In the meantime, it’s great to see Alex get some experience and be successful and to be the quarterback of a team that wins.”

It’s time to take a chance. Iowa fans want to see more from Padilla on the field.

Ferentz should, too.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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