Opinion | It’s time for Iowa football to make a change at quarterback

Daily Iowan Pregame Editor Austin Hanson makes a case for backup quarterback Alex Padilla to see some action in Iowa’s next game.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz speaks with quarterback Spencer Petras during the Cy-Hawk football game between Iowa and Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. The Cyclones ended a six-game Cy-Hawk series losing streak defeating Iowa, 10-7. Iowa’s offense had 11 first downs.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Saturday was chock full of firsts — for both Iowa football and myself.

The Hawkeyes lost to the Cyclones for the first time since 2014, and I can safely say I felt really uncomfortable during a postgame press conference.

I know I haven’t been on the beat as long as other reporters, but I have attended quite a few pressers during my four-year career at The Daily Iowan, including a few where Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands has called reporters out or spoken with hostility after a tough loss at the NCAA or Big Ten Tournaments.

Still, I’ve never quite understood the phrase “you could cut the tension with a knife.” That is, until tight end Sam LaPorta talked with reporters after the Hawkeyes’ six-game winning streak against the Cyclones was snapped.

The normally happy-go-lucky and polite LaPorta was uncharacteristically short-winded with some of the answers he gave reporters. Then, he got a question about senior quarterback Spencer Petras’ play. His response shocked not only myself, but the room, collectively.

“I think he’s commanding the offense pretty well,” LaPorta said. “I think we’re going to keep relying on him and leaning on him for his experience and leadership on the offense. I think he’s doing a great job.

“The average fan or the average reporter, you guys might shit on him, but I don’t. I see what he does in practice. I see the work that he puts in the film room and everything.”

While Petras does deserve his due of “shit” for Iowa’s offensive performance, I’m going to take the high road this week. I won’t defend Petras and demand he deserves the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback job. But I’m not going to place the blame for Iowa’s poor offensive performance squarely on his shoulders, either.

It’d be easy for me to write a column condemning Petras for Iowa’s 150-yard, one-touchdown performance. My clothes are soaked from watching the final three minutes of the game in a torrential downpour, and typing up 1,000 words on Petras would be a quick way for me to go home and put a dry shirt on.

But I’m not going to bring LaPorta’s prediction to pass. Mostly because the Hawkeyes are bad from top to bottom on offense.

On the game, Petras was sacked once and hit on four other occasions. He turned the ball over twice. 

When he lost a fumble during the first quarter, his protection collapsed around him. He was stripped from behind and he probably never saw the defender that forced the ball from his hand.

All of that said, I do think it’s time for the Hawkeyes to make a change at quarterback. Overall, Iowa’s head coach, Kirk Ferentz, and Iowa’s offensive coordinator, Brian Ferentz, might be right about Petras being the best quarterback on the team. 

What the father-son duo has failed to see, at least from my seat, is that Petras isn’t the best quarterback for the hand Iowa has been dealt this season. The Hawkeyes’ offensive line has surrendered three sacks in two games — which ranks in the bottom half of the Big Ten Conference.

Junior quarterback Alex Padilla, who is more mobile than Petras, can scramble out of the sacks, turnovers, and other negative plays Petras is constantly put in by his coaches and offensive line. I haven’t seen Petras extend a play and create something positive once this season.Yes, Padilla isn’t the traditional strong-arm pocket passer the Ferentz family loves to have take its snaps. But with a bad offensive line, it’s difficult for a strong-arm pocket passer like Petras and other Iowa quarterbacks of yesteryear to thrive.

In a different year, situation, or time, I’m sure Petras would be exactly what the Hawkeys need. But this year, Padilla is the answer for Iowa — and he’s proven that.

In his last eight games, Petras has thrown one touchdown and nine interceptions. With virtually the same offensive line and skill players as Petras, Padilla threw two touchdowns and one interception in the three starts in 2021.

I believe Kirk and Brian Ferentz when they say Spencer Petras is the best quarterback the Hawkeyes have. After all, they’ve coached a lot more games than I have. 

Still, one quarterback can be holistically better than another and still not be the best fit for a team. I don’t know why the Ferentzes don’t get that. They’ve worked a lot of games, surely they’ve seen a situation like this before.

Regardless, if the Hawkeyes’ offense falters against Nevada next week, they might actually have to make a change. In last week’s column, I wrote about how staunch Kirk Ferentz’s stance on his starting quarterback was. During his postgame press conference Saturday, Kirk Ferentz was less apt to defend Petras.

“No, I didn’t say that,” Ferentz said in response to a question about Petras being his No. 1 quarterback next Saturday. “I just said today he played the whole game. My judgment was that was the best way to continue through this game. I gave it some thought, and I felt like it was our best opportunity. We’ll reassess everything tomorrow.”

After that response, Ferentz went on to talk about Petras’ leadership qualities, his experience, and how injuries at wide receiver have impacted his ability to play well. Still, even after the Hawkeyes put up 166 yards against South Dakota State last week, Kirk Ferentz said he had a lot of confidence in Spencer Petras.

This week, Ferentz’s confidence in Petras wasn’t a topic of discussion.

We’ll assess all that tomorrow,” Kirk Ferentz said postgame. “Obviously, the statement made about points scored, we’re not going to win moving forward if we can’t score more points than that, and we have a really good defense. But you’re not going to win a game, seven points, 10 points a game, as a rule.”

The Hawkeyes’ offense has gained 316 yards and scored one touchdown in its first two games of the 2022 season. Its defense has allowed 436 yards, one touchdown, and forced four turnovers.

On top of that, punter Tory Taylor has downed nine of his 16 punts inside the 20-yard line.

The Hawkeyes have generationally talented special teams and defensive units. But until Iowa makes a change at quarterback or jumpstarts its offense in some other way, the Hawkeyes will be a two-phase show all season long.

At this rate, it’s hard for me to believe the Hawkeyes will win six games to be bowl eligible come December. Like Kirk Ferentz said, the Hawkeye offense’s current seven-points-per-game pace isn’t going to cut it for the rest of the season.

“We have work to do, obviously, to move the football,” Ferentz said. “We’re gonna have to score points to be successful.”