Opinion | Alex Padilla should get another start at quarterback despite struggles against Ohio State

Daily Iowan Sports Editor Austin Hanson explains why the junior deserves another start against Northwestern next week at Kinnick Stadium.


Jerod Ringwald

Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison pressures Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla’s throw attempt during a football game between Iowa and No. 2 Ohio State at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022. Padilla threw an interception on the play. The Buckeyes defeated the Hawkeyes, 54-10.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Alex Padilla didn’t have his best performance in Iowa football’s 54-10 loss to No. 2 Ohio State Saturday in Columbus. The backup quarterback from Colorado went 5-of-10 for 32 yards and turned the ball over on each of his first two drives.

Padilla and center Logan Jones botched their first snap of the game, and the Buckeyes recovered the fumble. Padilla threw an interception on his second drive of the game. The junior targeted senior tight end Sam LaPorta, who bobbled the ball in and out of his hands. Once the pass left LaPorta’s hands, it sailed right into safety Tanner McCalister’s mitts.

While Padilla doesn’t deserve all the blame for the two turnovers, he certainly didn’t start his season in promising fashion. After his opening two drives, he didn’t improve much, as Iowa did not score any points while Padilla was under center.

“It’s obviously been a long time since I’ve been in a game,” Padilla said postgame. “But just kinda focusing every day in practice, trying to get better personally as best I can. That’s kind of the only way you can approach it when you’re a backup and not getting any playing time. You just have to focus on your own improvement. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job with that and hopefully I continue to do it.”

Padilla hadn’t played a snap in 2022 before Saturday’s game. He backed up senior Spencer Petras for the Hawkeyes’ first six games of the season.

Petras turned the ball over three times in the first half against Ohio State — two via interception and another by lost fumble. One of Petras’ interceptions was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Tommy Eichenberg during the second quarter. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz let Petras play the remainder of the first half, but went to Padilla when the third quarter started. Petras went 6-of-14 for 42 yards.

Neither quarterback played well, but Padilla did show enough upside to warrant a start next week. Situationally, he looked better than Petras.

On multiple occasions, Padilla was flushed out of the pocket by Ohio State’s pass rush. Padilla ran out of a number of pressures that likely would have resulted in a sack had Petras been under center. On one occasion, Padilla scrambled outside the hashes and threw a ball away as he was being hit, preventing a sack.

Petras hasn’t shown the ability to do that in any of his appearances this season.

I don’t doubt that Petras is better than Padilla in practice. I think Petras has a stronger and more talented arm than Padilla. But that doesn’t mean he’s the right quarterback for this Iowa team.

Iowa has allowed 23 sacks and lost 153 yards in the process. Before Saturday’s game, Iowa was 12th in the Big Ten in sacks allowed.

If Petras had an offensive line like some Iowa has had in the past, I have no doubt that he’d be playing a lot better. But Iowa doesn’t have a Tristan Wirfs, Marshal Yanda, or Brandon Scherff along its offensive line this year. For that reason, the mobility Padilla has makes him a better quarterback for Iowa this year.

I know Padilla was sacked one more time than Petras on Saturday. But that margin could’ve been much larger had Padilla not been able to scramble out of some trouble.

I also understand the argument that the offense at least scored three points with Petras at the helm. But Padilla played the same amount of time as Petras and posted a better completion percentage, committed fewer turnovers, and had a higher quarterback rating.

Petras threw for more yards than Padilla and posted 8.6 yards a pass completed compared to Padilla’s 6.4 yards per completion. But Padilla attempted four fewer passes than Petras. If he had the same number of throws as Petras, I’m confident Padilla would’ve surpassed Petras’ total.

Padilla was inserted into a bad situation Saturday. By the time he got under center, the Hawkeyes trailed 26-10.

Ferentz did not name a starter for next week’s Iowa-Northwestern game at Kinnick Stadium. He said the Hawkeyes would use the rest of the weekend to evaluate their quarterback situation.

Padilla started three games last year while Petras was injured. In the four games Padilla played at least one half in last year, Iowa went 4-0. Iowa averaged 26 points per game during that stretch.

Padilla has appeared in eight games in his career with the Hawkeyes.

“I feel like they have confidence in me,” Padilla said of Iowa’s coaches. “If they didn’t, I don’t feel like they would’ve put me in the game today. So, I feel, from what they’ve expressed, that they have confidence in me.”

We’ll find out how confident Ferentz’s coaching staff is in Padilla next week. I’d like to see him get a wire-to-wire start in next week because it’d at least give Iowa’s coaching staff a fresh and full game of Padilla tape to break down. Though, I’m not sure how accurately a quarterback can be evaluated against a bad team like 1-6 Northwestern.