Leistikow: Tackling 5 questions about Iowa quarterbacks ahead of Alex Padilla's first start
IOWA CITY — For the first time in more than seven years, Kirk Ferentz is presiding over a game-week quarterback change. Alex Padilla is officially in for injured Spencer Petras, the Iowa football coach affirmed Tuesday.
Padilla’s first career start will come against Minnesota in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m., Floyd-of-Rosedale showdown and sold-out Kinnick Stadium.
The starting debut for the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Colorado native triggers a lot of anticipation, but also a lot of questions — about this week and the future of Iowa’s quarterback position.
No. 1: Could Alex Padilla win the Iowa quarterback job long term?
Absolutely. Ferentz acknowledged that with a smile even before the question was completed at Tuesday’s news conference.
“Yeah,” Ferentz said. “Alex is helping himself or helped himself Saturday.”
It’s not like Padilla hung on to a lead and wobbled to the finish line at Northwestern. He seized the lead and protected it … and the football … on the Big Ten Conference road. It was a crisp 18-for-28 performance for 172 yards, and the offense looked more explosive until Ferentz went into "two-score milker" mode. (Hat tip to former Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Marc Morehouse for coining that apropos term.)
It sounds like Padilla, like his head coach, keeps an even keel on a day-to-day basis. That should help him deal with the pressure of this first start. It’s a big one. With Petras unable to effectively throw this week with an injured right shoulder, Padilla has the keys to this offense. With a strong performance on Saturday, Ferentz would be willing to give Padilla the nod against Illinois on Nov. 20 … even if Petras (13-4 as a starter) is fully healthy.
As Ferentz said, this could turn into an ideal situation in which Iowa eventually has two trusted quarterbacks. Padilla and Petras are great friends; I could see both going into next season as 1-2 together. Who would be 1 and who would be 2? We'll see.
“We have two guys that have played pretty well,” Ferentz said. “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.”
No. 2: How has Kirk Ferentz handled these situations in the past?
There are some parallels to the last time Ferentz handled an in-season QB injury. Back on Sept. 27, 2014, a redshirt sophomore named C.J. Beathard got the start at Purdue in place of second-year starter Jake Rudock, who had been injured the previous week against Pittsburgh. Beathard came off the bench at Pitt and helped lead the Hawkeyes to a 24-20 win, giving the coaches confidence that he could run the offense as a starter.
Similarly, a redshirt sophomore in Padilla has parlayed a strong relief performance (in Iowa’s 17-12 win at Northwestern) into his first career start against a Big Ten West foe.
In that Purdue game of 2014, Iowa came out with an extremely conservative approach. On its first five possessions, Iowa went three-and-out four times and Beathard threw a pick-six on the other to fall behind, 10-0. But once Beathard was turned loose, the offense opened up, and Iowa rallied for a 24-10 win. Under the direction of then-offensive coordinator Greg Davis, Beathard started 2-for-7 for 12 yards in the first quarter but completed 15 of 30 passes for 233 yards the rest of the way and used his legs to scramble for key first downs.
After that game, Ferentz made the somewhat unpopular decision of returning the reins to Rudock. That season would go off the rails and ultimately led to Beathard taking over for the magical 2015 season and Rudock transferring to Michigan. Perhaps Ferentz learned a lesson from that mess that it can be a productive thing to let the backup — who by all accounts pushed the starter pretty closely throughout the offseason — have a chance to build on winning momentum.
No. 3: What type of game plan should we expect?
In doing more homework on Padilla, I pulled up his Hudl videos from Cherry Creek High School in the Denver suburb of Greenwood Village. He compiled a 40-12 record as a high school starter, and over his final two seasons completed 352-of-520 passes (67.7%) for 4,629 yards and 64 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The excellent footwork and quick release looked very similar to what we saw at Northwestern. It also stood out that Padilla excelled at over-the-middle, quick throws with a premium on accuracy, just as he did at Ryan Field.
That seems to be Padilla’s bread and butter — something Minnesota is probably noticing on tape, too. But considering Iowa has a bevy of slot receivers, that type of game plan makes sense.
It would be a mistake to try to play it conservative with Padilla, even with cold conditions forecast Saturday (temperatures in the upper 30s and a 10-15 mph winds). We saw that when Iowa went into a shell at Northwestern, the offense suffered. Those quick, decisive throws — and the ball really gets out quick with Padilla — also help with an offensive line that’s had trouble with pass protection and now will be without starting left tackle Mason Richman this week and probably next.
Now, I did ask what should we expect? I think the Ferentz history and Minnesota’s plodding style could lead to a ball-control approach. And that’s fine, but I think ball control can also include the short passing game, which seems to be a strength of Padilla’s. Go with it.
Iowa can’t possibly keep five quarterbacks for the 2022 season … right?
This question is already being asked, so here's an attempt to answer it. The trend in college football with wide-open transfer rules is that quarterbacks who don’t see a quick path to the field are likely to look for opportunities elsewhere.
Among the four current scholarship quarterbacks, Petras would be a fifth-year senior in 2022; Padilla, a redshirt junior; Deuce Hogan (who is working at No. 2 this week), a redshirt sophomore; and Joey Labas (who is running the scout team), a redshirt freshman. Iowa also is adding Oklahoma high schooler Carson May in the Class of 2022, and he’ll join the program in June.
How well Padilla does in the final stretch of the season is the biggest wild card. Will he have taken the No. 1 job by storm? Will Petras be back on the 1 line by then? Will there be enough uncertainty that there becomes wide-open competition in the spring that also includes up-and-comers Hogan and Labas?
All fun to speculate, but impossible to know. Understanding the makeup of that quarterback room, it wouldn’t surprise me if all four went through spring ball and put their best foot forward … and then once that shakes out, maybe we would see a departure.
How much will Padilla use his legs Saturday?
Padilla has shown in open practices that he's a more mobile option than Petras in the pocket. In mop-up time at Wisconsin, Padilla evaded a blitz, rolled out to his left and connected with Sam LaPorta on an improvised play that would account for 27 of Iowa's 156 total yards in a 27-7 loss.
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Other than that, I expect Padilla to be coached to avoid contact as much as possible. If Padilla goes down, Iowa would have to turn to third-stringer Hogan. And it doesn't sound like the play book changes with Padilla at the helm.
"It’s not like we run a lot of read-options with the quarterbacks," receiver Arland Bruce IV said. "It’s the same plan."
Padilla was not available for media interviews this week; understandable, given that the fewer distractions the better. On many levels, it's time to let his play do the talking.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.