Each week, "One Defining Moment" will dive into the game's most important moment and break it down in all its glory, or in unfortunate cases, its horror. This week: a QB switch due to injury, new energy on offense, and a defining decision to come for the coaching staff.
Iowa-Northwestern will always be a rock fight. The two teams have just the right combination of ineptitude and discipline that the only option is a boring slog with both teams tossing a victory away like a hot potato. Saturday's game lived up to the sleep-inducing hype, save for a key drive by the Hawkeyes in the first quarter. Not coincidentally, it was the first drive after the Hawkeyes made a quarterback switch.
Kirk told us it was due to an injury, not poor performance, that led to the switch at QB, but Alex Padilla's electrifying first-quarter drive and serviceable second half defined not only Saturday's game but will also likely define the next few seasons of Iowa football.
Iowa suffered through three unproductive drives in the first quarter before Kirk Ferentz had seen enough. Spencer Petras bounced multiple passes (there are many reasonable complaints about Petras, but lack of arm strength has never been one of them; the fact that he was bouncing passes was as plain a giveaway that he wasn't right as you'll ever see) and the offense looked like it was set for a repeat of the nightmare scenarios of the past two games.
Late in the first quarter, the Hawkeyes took over again near midfield, thanks to more strong defense and special teams, only this time Alex Padilla was under center. It took only a few plays for it to become evident that the offense had found another gear. Padilla completed a perfectly placed crossing route, followed it up with a nicely thrown deep ball, and Goodson finished the drive off with a strong inside run. In just a few plays, Iowa had the lead and a feeling entirely new to the offensive side of the ball: optimism.
A Closer Look
Padilla's first drive could not have gone better if he drew it up while daydreaming in class. The offensive line held up well on both of his long passes (it's worth noting that Northwestern's defensive line is decidedly NOT the Wisconsin or even Purdue defensive line but it was nice to see a better game from them nonetheless), and Padilla put both passes exactly where they needed to be. The first crossing route, in particular, was a pinpoint accurate throw, with Padilla getting the ball up and over the defender sitting in zone and still hitting Keagen Johnson in stride. Padilla looked confident and decisive throughout the night, zipping passes into tight windows and letting his receivers go up and make spectacular catches.
The ensuing deep shot was as much a product of Padilla's chemistry with Johnson as anything else. The two spent much of the spring and fall working together on the second team and their connection was evident on the deep throw. Padilla clearly had confidence in Johnson's ability to win a jump ball and Keagan was on the same wavelength, turning back to make the twisting catch. Goodson finished off the drive, running right behind future NFL first round pick Tyler Linderbaum, and the Hawks were in business.
Padilla's first drive went just about perfectly, but the real impact of the drive will be seen in the coming weeks. Padilla no doubt provided a spark to the offense, powering them to two first half touchdowns, more than enough for this stout defense against an offense as poor as Northwestern's, but the quarterback switch has the potential to signal something far greater.
Petras, at times, has been productive. He's taken care of the ball, made generally smart decisions, and led Iowa to some impressive wins. Throughout all of them, though, the question was whether or not the Hawks were winning because of Petras or merely with him. Padilla's debut isn't going to do anything to quiet those whispers.
We talked last week about the coaching staff setting up the team for its best chance at success. It was clear from the moment Padilla entered the game, that he gave the offense far more options than Petras did. Padilla was mobile, confident, and decisive. The designed rollouts were more effective and the broken plays weren't always doomed to end in a sack.
I think Petras is a good kid, and at times, a good quarterback, but it was clear from Padilla's first drive that he should be the one leading this offense.
Which of course begs the question, who will be the starter next week against Minnesota? If Petras is still hurt, the decision is easy. If not, then Ferentz will be faced with a decision that will not only define the rest of this season but likely the next few seasons at Iowa. The wrong choice and Iowa's offense continues to sputter for the remainder of this season and likely the next. I'm not confident that Ferentz would be willing to make the swap next season either, not to mention the potential transfers that would come from within the QB room and possibly at other skill positions if the offense can't find a way to be productive. Oh, and you can be sure recruits are paying attention too. This decision matters far beyond next Saturday's game.
Kirk Ferentz is a proponent of seniority and loath to make an in-season swap at quarterback, but just because it's a hard decision doesn't mean it's the wrong one. The offense was hardly a juggernaut with Padilla in the game, but it was clear that it was more threatening with him under center. The choice seems clear as a fan. Time will tell if Kirk agrees.