How confident is Iowa football in its backup quarterbacks? Position coach Ken O'Keefe answers.
Iowa's 23-20 win over Penn State last Saturday highlighted the importance of quarterback depth.
With Penn State starter Sean Clifford in, the Nittany Lions offense scored on early possessions and held a 17-3 lead. After Clifford's second quarter injury, the offense sputtered to only three more points as backup Ta'Quan Roberson finished the game completing 7-of-21 passes for 34 yards and two interceptions.
And it created a lot of heated criticism for Penn State coach James Franklin about his program's ability to pivot to the backup in a moment of need.
However, is Iowa in any better situation? Quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe addressed those questions this week.
How confident would Iowa be in backup Alex Padilla? What is the preparation like for a backup when reps might be limited?
O'Keefe says it's Padilla's job to prepare at the same level as starter Spencer Petras.
"He has to be just as prepared as the starter," O'Keefe told reporters on Wednesday. "Whether they get reps or whether they don't, they're all preparing the same way for Purdue this week. They spend the same amount of time in the meeting room. If they can't take active reps on the field, they'll take mental reps and put themselves through the pace which I think has made a difference in all of their experiences."
All four of Iowa's quarterbacks: Petras, sophomore Padilla, redshirt freshman Deuce Hogan and true freshman Joey Labas all have a role on Iowa's team. Petras and Padilla's roles are well-defined but what about the freshmen?
Labas serves as the scout team quarterback week-to-week for the first team defense, simulating quarterbacks they'll see on Saturdays like Penn State's Clifford or this week Purdue's Jack Plummer and Aiden O'Connell.
Hogan is an interesting case: His first year with the team was during the pandemic season, not ideal for a young quarterback. The good news, though, is he's practicing with Iowa's offense during practice and going through the same game prep as Petras and Padilla. Reps are limited for the No. 2 quarterback and it stretches even thinner for No. 3.
Often times, Hogan resorts to outside measures to get more physical work in.
"He has the toughest job there is because he gets the fewest reps," O'Keefe said. "We try to find spots where he can get those things but most of his stuff is he has to prepare more mentally than some of the other guys and right now he'll spend some time after practice running through different things with other receivers who aren't getting much work either to prepare for the Purdue game."
As for Padilla, the most immediate backup, O'Keefe gets a closer view at his development than most. From his vantage point, Padilla isn't the type of player who wouldn't make the most of the opportunity to play.
"Alex is working hard," O'Keefe said. "He's the kind of guy that's not going to get caught short in his preparation or his desire to get better. He's made a lot of progress."
Petras, Iowa's starter for the last 14 games, overcame a rocky start last Saturday to throw the game-winning touchdown that propelled second-ranked Iowa to a 6-0 record. As much as O'Keefe has helped Petras' play improve, he credits O'Keefe for his emotional and mental development.
What's O'Keefe's message to all of his quarterbacks? Keep an even keel.
"There's going to be big moments," O'Keefe said. "You can't let them become big moments in your head and body. You just have to train as hard as you can so when those moments show, you automatically play to the level of your training."
Petras growth as a player and a team leader has been well-documented this season. Still, when asked what areas could he improve on, O'Keefe replied with a simple "everything." The next opportunity to work on each aspect of his game is this Saturday against the team that Petras had his first career start against.
"We need to make sure we understand the schemes," O'Keefe said. "Understand how to read through the schemes and making sure the fundamentals and focus is there so we can put the ball where we want it."
Kennington Smith is the Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org