Opinion | Alex Padilla’s first start was promising enough to earn a second one

The redshirt sophomore accounted for three touchdowns in his starting debut. Kirk Ferentz didn’t name a starting quarterback for next week, but Iowa should keep it rolling with Padilla under center.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla throws a pass during a football game between Iowa and Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

When Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff determined that Alex Padilla was going to start at quarterback for the Hawkeyes against Minnesota, there was no panic.

“We just all acted like it’s his turn,” Ferentz said. “It’s his time.”

After Iowa’s 27-22 win over Minnesota on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, which ended with the Hawkeyes escorting the 98-pound Floyd of Rosedale trophy through a snow flurry and into the home locker room, there’s no doubt that it’s Padilla’s time — or that it should remain his time.

Padilla repeatedly attacked deep down the field in the passing game, a rare strategy for Iowa recently, and accounted for three total touchdowns in his first collegiate start to improve the Hawkeyes to 8-2 on the season and 5-2 in Big Ten play. Postgame, Ferentz declined to name a starting quarterback for next week’s Illinois game. The 23rd-year Hawkeye head coach said how Padilla and Spencer Petras look in practice this week will determine who starts against the Fighting Illini. But Iowa needs to keep things rolling with Padilla under center.

Because Iowa’s confidence in the redshirt sophomore was warranted.

“[I was] a little nervous, but really excited to go once I got out there,” Padilla said. “It was everything I dreamed of.”

Padilla finished his first start 11-of-24 passing for 206 yards, two passing touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown in front of a sold-out Iowa crowd. That statline may look subpar at first.

It helps to realize that this is the first time Iowa has surpassed the 200-yard passing mark since Oct. 1. Padilla also averaged 8.6 yards per attempt, the second-highest for an Iowa quarterback in a game this season, and an incredible 18.7 yards per completion, the best mark for an Iowa quarterback in a game since 2011. And, maybe most importantly, Padilla has yet to personally turn the ball over in a little over seven quarters of leading Iowa’s offense.

Leading up to the game, Petras — Iowa’s starter for the previous 17 games who is nursing a shoulder injury — had some pertinent advice for Padilla on how to approach his starting debut.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras wraps up in a coat during a football game between Iowa and Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. Petras came out of the game against Northwestern last week and sat tonight.The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers 27-22. (Jerod Ringwald)

“You can start to overthink things when you’re making your first start, try to force stuff,” said Padilla, who led Iowa to a field goal on its first possession of the game and a touchdown on its second. “Spencer’s word of advice was just, ‘Rip it.’ That kind of eased my nerves a bit.”

Rip it? That’s what Padilla did.

The former Colorado high school standout consistently pushed the ball deep down the field against the Gophers.

With Minnesota’s rushing attack eating up clock, the Hawkeyes only ran 49 offensive plays against the Gophers. Padilla made the most of them — with some help from his playmakers.

Padilla completed passes of 34 and 72 yards to wide receiver Charlie Jones. The latter of those completions went for a long touchdown after Jones worked his way open over the middle of the field on a double move. Padilla’s second touchdown through the air on the night was a 27-yarder to freshman Keagan Johnson, who was almost certainly going to be tackled for a loss on a screen play before he powered through two tackles on his way to the end zone.

Even when Padilla wasn’t connecting on passes, he was still aggressively taking chances deep down the field. That strategy has largely been absent from Iowa’s offense over the last two seasons.

“We thought there would be some favorable coverages for us to take some shots on,” Padilla said. “They were starting to load the box with those safeties, the corners were playing outside. The stuff down the middle of the field was open.”

Ferentz said Iowa’s game plan hasn’t changed much with Padilla leading the offense, but the offense looks noticeably different. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is rolling Padilla out of the pocket to take advantage of his mobility, utilizing play-action and taking advantage of Padilla’s quick release, and actually allowing his new quarterback to take shots deep.

RELATED: Iowa defeats Minnesota for seventh consecutive year, keeps Floyd Of Rosedale in Iowa City

“I felt like this was our best game offensively as far as moving the ball,” Johnson said. “… I didn’t feel like we had the ball forever, but I felt like we produced when we needed to. This was well-needed, and I think we will grow from here.”

At first glance, Iowa’s statistics weren’t all that impressive against Minnesota. Actually, it was a wonder that the Hawkeyes won.

The Gophers had the ball for over 40 minutes of game time (Iowa’s 19:40 time of possession is the lowest of any of the program’s 176 wins in the Ferentz era) and outgained Iowa by 132 yards. Padilla completed less than 50 percent of his passes. With possessions a rarity, the Hawkeyes committed the game’s only turnover, which led to Minnesota taking a halftime lead, its first lead at all against Iowa since 2016. Oh, and Iowa’s defense allowed touchdown passes of 37 and 68 yards on the day.

So, how did Iowa beat Minnesota for the seventh consecutive season?

Some well-timed Iowa sacks late in the game didn’t hurt. A blocked field goal by Logan Lee didn’t, either. But largely, it was quality quarterback play out of Padilla. No, the first-time starter wasn’t perfect. He threw two passes that should have been picked off by Minnesota defenders. But Padilla brought a previously missing big-play ability to Iowa’s offense that won the game for the Hawkeyes.

Padilla kept the credit away from himself postgame and seemed to stay very level-headed on the field, but in the moment, couldn’t help but passionately celebrate a quarterback sneak that accounted for his first touchdown. He joked that next time, he’d tone the celebration down a little bit. And you better believe there should be a next time.

Padilla had an encouraging first start. It was a performance that should leave Iowa’s coaches, players, and fans wanting to see what he can do next.

Petras dressed against Minnesota, but is still not healthy enough to throw effectively, Ferentz said after the game. Iowa’s starter to begin the year is still recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered against Wisconsin on Oct. 30. Even if Petras is healthy enough to start against Illinois next week, he shouldn’t. Iowa, a team tied with Wisconsin atop the Big Ten West, needs to roll with Padilla’s hot hand over the final two games.

The offense showed too many encouraging signs to take him out.

“We have two good quarterbacks,” Ferentz said. “I think all of us trust at least everybody internally. We all trust both of them … We all have a lot of confidence [in Padilla] because he prepares hard and works hard and he really cares. There’s no specific thing that he is lacking, other than experience.”

That last part should take care of itself soon enough.

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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