Hawkeyes confident in quarterback Alex Padilla ahead of first start

Padilla is at the top of the depth chart for Iowa’s matchup against Minnesota after relieving Spencer Petras last week against Northwestern.


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

Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla stood on the visitor’s sideline at Ryan Field and heard over his headset when the Hawkeye coaching staff decided he was going into the game.

While relieving starter Spencer Petras, Padilla went 18-of-28 for 172 yards in a little over three quarters of action. The redshirt sophomore immediately led the Hawkeyes on two touchdown drives in their 17-12 win over Northwestern.

Not long after that Hawkeye win, Padilla was told he’d get another chance on the field.

Padilla is at the top of Iowa’s depth chart this week and is expected to make the first start of his college career at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday against Minnesota. Padilla wasn’t made available for interviews this week to discuss preparing for his first start against the Gophers. But his teammates did plenty of talking to make it clear they are confident in their new starter under center.

“He’s ready for the moment,” Iowa running back Gavin Williams said. “He’s ready for the light.”

Hailing from Greenwood Village, Colorado, Padilla was inserted into the Northwestern game after Iowa’s coaching staff determined Petras didn’t have any “zip” on the ball. Petras, who has started Iowa’s last 17 games (winning 13 of them), finished 2-for-4 passing for four yards before being removed after three drives.

Petras is medically cleared to play against Minnesota, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday, but he is not listed on the team’s depth chart because of concerns over whether or not he could be effective. Redshirt freshman Deuce Hogan is listed as the backup on the depth chart this week behind Padilla.

Padilla has been the backup on Iowa’s depth chart for the past two seasons.

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The Hawkeyes, though, expect second-string players to prepare like starters. And Padilla is a player who quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said is “not going to get caught short in his preparation or his desire to get better.”

“I just can’t say enough about the way Alex just went in and performed,” Ferentz said on Tuesday. “This is the opportunity he wanted. Not in the circumstances, but hey, it’s time to get in there and play and he did. Didn’t think much about it. Based on what I’ve seen for two days, he’s handling himself the way he does. I don’t want to call him low-key but he’s a steady, even-keeled person. And it helps in that position.”

“Padilla’s very calm and detail-oriented in what he does,” Williams added. “He doesn’t get into the emotions of the game. For him, it’s more of trying to relax, stay calm, make the right decisions and do what he can.”

While Padilla was the backup, he often practiced with the second-team offense. In spring practice and early in the season, he was usually throwing to freshman wide receivers Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV.

The chemistry between Padilla and those two young receivers was on display last Saturday.

Johnson caught five passes for 68 yards against the Wildcats, leading the Hawkeyes in both categories, while Bruce recorded three receptions for 30 yards, as well as a 10-yard rushing touchdown.

“I’ve got his release down,” Bruce said. “I know when he’s about to throw the ball, I can tell when he’s about to scramble and where he wants me to go when he does so I feel like that helps a lot. … I could tell when he was told that he was going in that he was ready to go. I could see the look on his face, he was serious. There’s even a picture of us on the bench after I scored where I’m smiling and he has a serious look. He was just locked in.”

Padilla earned his first non-garbage time snaps last week.

The former two-time all-state high school quarterback will get another opportunity this week against the No. 3 overall defense in the Big Ten.

While Padilla didn’t get a chance to share his thoughts leading up to his first start, his teammates seem confident in him. And if Padilla continues to impress his coaching staff, he could be in contention for the permanent starting job moving forward.

“Yeah, Alex is helping himself or helped himself Saturday,” Ferentz said. “So the good news as we stand here today, which is really premature. We have two guys that have played pretty well. We know more now than we did a week ago. That’s for sure. And I’d love to have both guys healthy, ready to go. See where it all goes here.”