116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
EVANSTON, Ill. — So this will probably be a weeklong thing, whether Alex Padilla gets his first start at quarterback Saturday against Minnesota, or if it’s incumbent Spencer Petras.
That is the micro. The macro is the Hawkeyes are in a four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West, need to win out to have any real hope of claiming the division's spot in the league-championship game, and need good quarterback play in the final three games.
If we get a straight, clear answer during the coming week on who will take the first offensive snap Saturday against Minnesota? It might be a bigger upset than the Gophers losing at home to Illinois Saturday to fall into that division tie at 4-2 with Iowa, Purdue and favorite Wisconsin.
It wouldn’t be a shocker if, doggone it, Petras’ shoulder problem hasn’t quite healed so there was no choice but to go with Padilla.
The fact Padilla was poised and accurate in Iowa’s two touchdown drives Saturday night at Northwestern gave him a pretty high approval rating in Hawkeyeland.
“On those two drives I thought we ran the ball really well,” Padilla said, “which opened up stuff in the rollout game and the play-action game.”
Ah yes, the rollout and the play-action. To almost accurately quote Eric Clapton from his more-lucid days, hello old friends, it sure is good to see you once again.
The Hawkeye offense didn’t flow so well after that, scraping together just three second-half points. But Padilla never made any sort of goof to send his team spiraling, and it took home a turnover-free 17-12 win that won’t be replayed for the next several years as some sort of BTN classic.
Padilla comes out of it as the people’s choice, being 1-0 after Iowa went 0-2 with a pair of thuds in its previous two games.
After Iowa’s three drives under Petras netted a total of one first down, Padilla came in and got things moving right away. That is the enduring memory.
He was mobile, and he made three throws that were dimes that turned heads. The first two were perfect passes to Keagan Johnson on the first scoring possession. The third was hitting running back Tyler Goodson in stride on the next drive for 19 yards on a third-and-7 from the Iowa 20.
That was enough, and it was good enough. This time.
Let’s note this was a Northwestern team that is the poorest team in the West. And this was a slog, albeit one in which Iowa held the upper hand nearly all game.
No matter the opposition ahead — it’s Illinois and Nebraska after Minnesota — Iowa won’t run the table with three more performances like this. It’s too much to ask to go back to winning with defense and special teams alone.
A 10-2 mark means Iowa has a shot at Indianapolis, and it would put the Hawkeyes in the neighborhood for a New Year’s Six game.
Is that realistic or a pipe dream? Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska — a murderer’s row, that ain’t. But Iowa has averaged 10.3 points over the last three weeks, and we’re headed into Game 10.
Is Padilla the answer at quarterback? You can’t say a firm yes based on this night. You may want to, but you can’t.
If you’re Ferentz, though, can you go back to Petras this week after Padilla seemed to click so well with two freshmen who put life in your passing game?
Keagan Johnson was targeted 11 times Saturday. Yes, Iowa not only identified a playmaker, it threw to him repeatedly. Johnson’s five catches for 68 yards against the Wildcats actually lowered his season average yards per catch to 21.7.
Bruce shed a would-be tackler with ease and ran 10 yards for a touchdown on an end-around. Oh my gosh, offensive threats! So, more of the same from here on out? Is there a choice?
“We’ll see where each week takes us,” Ferentz said after the game, clearly thrilled to get any kind of a win.
Iowa has too much left to play for to not to ride its younger horses. That’s Johnson, that’s Bruce. And for this week, at least, it’s Padilla.
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