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INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa stepped foot into Lucas Oil Stadium with confidence in two quarterbacks.
“We have two guys we can win with,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Nov. 20.
Iowa saw both guys at quarterback — Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla — on the field in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game. Iowa didn’t experience much winning with either quarterback on the field, though.
The offense had its lowest scoring total since playing Michigan in 2019.
Petras started the game and completed 9-of-22 passes for 137 yards. Padilla came in and had a better completion rate — he was 10-of-15 — but had one interception and only 38 passing yards.
Ferentz said Petras suffered a “torso” injury, prompting his exit. But the 23-year head coach said Petras’ performance was a matter of Michigan’s defense, not Petras’ health.
“They played really well tonight,” Ferentz said after the 42-3 thumping. “It didn’t seem like we had a lot of guys wide-open either.”
Both quarterbacks had solid starts.
Petras was 5-of-8 before then going 4-of-14.
Padilla, meanwhile, had 29 of his 38 passing yards on his first drive. He led the Hawkeyes down the field as far as the Michigan 8-yard-line before throwing for a 7-yard loss on fourth down.
“We had a good rhythm going,” Padilla said. “Kind of mixing up the run and the pass. Keeping them off balance.”
Then reality hit. The Padilla-led offense did not advance past the Michigan 47-yard-line for the rest of the night.
A handful of factors would’ve made Saturday difficult for almost any quarterback.
Iowa’s rushing game averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Redshirt freshman Gavin Williams averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but much of his success came in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach.
Ferentz attributed the lack of running success to Michigan’s “big, bulky guys in the middle.”
“They made it really tough to run the football tonight,” Ferentz said. “We were expecting that, but we were hoping to run with some success too.”
Michigan only had one sack, but pressured Petras and Padilla nine times.
While both quarterbacks have certainly played a lot better against inferior Big Ten defenses, Saturday’s loss marked the sixth consecutive game where the starter completed 50 percent or fewer of his passes.
Petras and Padilla have both taken snaps in three of the last five games. (Petras wasn’t available in one of the other two games.) That leaves the quarterback situation beyond 2021 murky.
Both quarterbacks have eligibility after this season. Petras is a junior, Padilla is a sophomore and both can benefit from the extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19.
But in the era of athletes more frequently entering the transfer portal to find the best fit, it’s unclear how long Iowa will have this quarterback quandary. Fellow quarterback Deuce Hogan already entered the portal earlier this week.
Padilla said the focus has been on the team’s current season, though.
“I haven’t really thought too much about the future,” Padilla said. “We were just focused on this game.”
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