Quarterback chaos: Iowa and Kentucky to start backup signal-callers in Music City Bowl

The Hawkeyes are planning to give third-stringer Joe Labas a shot at Nissan Stadium Saturday, and the Wildcats are expected roll out multiple backups under center.


Jerod Ringwald

Kentucky quarterback Deuce Hogan performs a drill during a 2022 TransPerfect Music City Bowl Kentucky football practice at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. Hogan, after entering the transfer portal in the middle of the season at Iowa, transferred to Kentucky after last season. Hogan announced a transfer shortly following Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’ remarks in a postgame press conference of the 28-21 win over Nebraska last year. The Iowa quarterback room, at the time, had injury and illness. Ferentz said, “I didn’t know who the hell was going to start [before the 2021 Nebraska game]. If it was Deuce, with all due respect to Deuce, I might have stayed in Iowa City. I’m joking, but anyway. That’s not a pleasant thought going to your third guy at this point.”

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Iowa and Kentucky football fans will both see new faces under center in Saturday’s Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium. The Hawkeyes will be starting Joe Labas, who began the year as a third-string quarterback, and the Wildcats might deploy multiple signal-callers.

The Hawkeyes do not have any quarterbacks that have thrown a collegiate pass on their bowl roster. Starting quarterback Spencer Petras tore his right rotator cuff and labrum in Iowa’s 24-17 loss to Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 25. Petras’ backup, Alex Padilla, entered the transfer portal four days after the Hawkeyes played the Cornhuskers — leaving Labas and true freshman Carson May as the last two players standing in Iowa’s quarterback room.

“It was kind of a shock and a mix of a lot of emotions,” Labas said of the moment he was informed he’d be the Hawkeyes postseason starter. “You know, called my parents right away and they were happy for me and excited. I was excited for the opportunity, as I am right now … It was pretty cool, but also like nerve-racking at the same time. Like, ‘Oh crap,’ you know?”

Kentucky listed three starting quarterbacks on its depth chart — true freshman Destin Wade, redshirt freshman Kaiya Sheron, and Iowa transfer Deuce Hogan. Wade, who is from Spring Hill, Tennessee, has never thrown a collegiate pass, and Hogan has gone 1-of-1 for two yards in college.

Sheron started in Kentucky’s 24-14 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 8 and went 15-of-27 for 178 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He filled in for Will Levis, Kentucky’s starting quarterback who opted out of the Music City Bowl to prepare for the 2023 NFL Draft. Sheron has thrown 29 total passes this season.

“We’re not quite sure, quite frankly, what to expect,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of Kentucky’s quarterback situation. “There’s some film available with Will not playing. You just never know what to expect. That’s probably true of bowl games too. If anything, we simplify some things, make sure we’re sound in all areas, kind of wait and see how things unfold.”

During Kentucky’s open practice on Wednesday, Wade was the first quarterback in line during throwing drills. He was followed by Hogan and Sheron. The Wildcats have not officially announced which of their quarterbacks will start, but the Nashville Post and On3 have both reported that Wade will start the game.

“I mean, the first thing that you have to look for is just command, the guys that can operate the offense, move the football,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center on Friday. “It’s going to be a great challenge with the Hawkeyes. They do a great job defensively.

“It will be a challenge, but our quarterbacks have looked good. Both of us, we’re going to play a quarterback that’s inexperienced. We’ll see where it goes. I think both of us will tell you it’s very important to play well around them. We have some guys with experience that have played that need to step up and do the best job that they can to help the quarterback out.”

Both Iowa and Kentucky have employed unconventional methods to study and prepare for the inexperienced quarterbacks that will take the field Saturday, including watching high school film of the QBs that haven’t played in college.

“The nice part is that high school highlight films are readily accessible,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White said. “We were able to watch (Labas’) high school film. Again, a talented player that can move on the run, make throws on the run both to his strong hand and off hand.

“You can absolutely see why Iowa was excited to have him come in and how he fits that system. As far as how we plan to attack, we’ll sort of see come tomorrow.”

Iowa has already watched Sheron’s start from earlier this season. The Hawkeyes have also been studying the practice tape Hogan recorded while he  played for them.

“It’s tough because we don’t know who it’s going to be,” Iowa defensive back Riley Moss said. “One of the guys has no college film. So, you have to look at his high school stuff. You have to prepare for anything and be ready for anything.”

The Hawkeyes are planning to run more basic defenses on Saturday because of the limited tape on Kentucky’s quarterbacks.

Hogan — a product of Grapevine Faith Christian School in Texas — left Iowa for Kentucky after the 2021 season. He has yet to throw a pass as a Wildcat.

Hogan was a third-stringer during his time with the Hawkeyes. While Hogan never explicitly gave a reason for his departure from Iowa City, his mother, Amy Hogan, took to Facebook to explain her son’s decision.

“Deuce did not leave Iowa because of playing time,” she wrote on Dec. 1, 2021. “The head coach slandered him in a press conference. Very out of character for the coach. He was trying to be funny. Unfortunately, there was no backtracking on his mistake. He has since apologized to Deuce, the team, and the media. But Deuce cannot play for him, and everyone in the facility understands why.”

The press conference Amy Hogan referred to in her Facebook post came after Iowa’s 28-21 win over Nebraska on Nov. 26, 2021, in Lincoln.

Petras and Padilla were sick in the days leading up to the game, and Ferentz seemed to suggest the Hawkeyes would’ve struggled had they needed to start Deuce Hogan.

“I didn’t know who the hell was going to start,” Ferentz said on Nov. 26, 2021. “If it was Deuce, with all due respect to Deuce, I might have stayed in Iowa City. He’s still picking up (the system). I’m joking. It’s just not a pleasant thought going to your third guy at this point.”

Deuce Hogan released a statement on his decision to transfer on Dec. 5, 2021. He wrote that he was leaving Iowa due to “unforeseen circumstances.”

Ferentz later issued a public apology to Deuce Hogan. But the statement wasn’t enough to get the former three-star recruit back in an Iowa uniform as he landed at Kentucky on Jan. 6.

“I brought it up to him,” Ferentz said on Nov. 30, 2021. “In retrospect, I wish I had not named the name … hopefully everybody laughed, that type of thing, because the bottom line, I’m not going to coach a player through the media or say something that’s hurtful or malicious towards a player. To me, it’s not appropriate.”

Deuce Hogan was greeted by his former teammates during a 2022 Music City Bowl welcome event at Wildhorse Saloon on Broadway Street. He’ll likely get a chance to play against his former team at 11 a.m. on New Year’s Eve.

“The competitor in me was like, ‘That’s awesome.’ Like, I want to play against these guys,” Deuce Hogan said on the Men on Melrose podcast on Dec. 21. “… I love it all. I’m excited to hug them and maybe turn up in Nashville a little bit.”