Iowa football postgame mailbag: Should Iowa make a change at quarterback after Wisconsin fiasco?
Well, that was ugly.
Iowa football was outclassed for the second straight game. Two weeks ago it came at the hands of Purdue 24-7 and on Saturday to another familiar foe: Wisconsin 27-7.The Hawkeyes were dominated in every phase of the game. They lost the turnover battle 3-0, the time of possession battle by over 11 minutes and only converted 2-of-13 third down attempts.
Most fans will point to the offense as the primary source of Saturday's dysfunction. This loss stings more than Purdue's for two reasons: 1. Iowa was coming off of a bye week and looked lost and 2. they no longer control their destiny in the Big Ten West.
Where does Iowa go from here?
That is one of many questions submitted into this week's mailbag. Let's go.
How would you describe Iowa's offense and defense as Halloween candy?
Like kids on Halloween hurrying home after a night of trick-or-treating to scavenge through their candy haul, Iowa fans were anxious to see what they'd get offensively on Saturday.
What they got is what you never want to see in your bag: A plain Tootsie Roll. Hard to chew, lacking in flavor and unsatisfying.
It started up front with the offensive line that had another tough day. Jack Plumb got the start at right tackle for the first time this year, but like Nick DeJong two weeks ago, he was subbed out after two series. Overall, Wisconsin had six sacks, 10 tackles for loss and forced three turnovers.
Play designs and play-calling were also underwhelming. Most notably, the back-to-back fullback dives on third and fourth down in the third quarter when Iowa looked like they could gain some momentum. The creativity was non-existent, the rush offense struggled and the passing attack was a no-show again.
In all, it was worst showing of the season.
The defense were Sour Patch Kids: A mix of sour and sweet. Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz nearly completed as many passes (7) as he attempted all last week (8) in the first quarter and threw his first touchdown pass since Oct. 2. But after his 7-for-8 start for 68 yards, he completed 4-of-14 for 36 yards.
They gave up 168 yards rushing (nearly double their season average) and lost their heralded under-25 points surrendered streak but considering the circumstances, they had bright moments. Three times turnovers pinned the defense back inside their own 10-yard line but only surrendered 10 points. It wasn't a great day by their standards, but fans will be content with the mixed-taste performance.
Is Spencer Petras still the guy after another bad performance?
Iowa's QB1 had another tough showing on Saturday. Four interceptions against Purdue followed up with a 9-for-19 for 93 yards and zero touchdowns against the Badgers.
A hard hit to the shoulder forced Petras out of the game in the fourth quarter, opening the door for backup Alex Padilla to get some live reps. Padilla played two series completing 3-of-6 passes for 39 yards.
Do we have a quarterback controversy? Not according to head coach Kirk Ferentz, who immediately shot that down in the postgame presser.
"No, no, no," Ferentz said when asked if there was anything to read into about the quarterback change.
It may not be a discussion among Iowa coaches but we'll examine that further here.
At this point, I think it's understood that the offensive line's poor play was a large part of why Petras struggled and why the offense has all season. Petras had a few errant throws today and held the ball too long on other attempts (DVR Monday will confirm that), but overall it's tough to get in a rhythm with constant pressure.
Petras' lack of mobility has been a talking point in recent weeks. Padilla, much faster by comparison, escaped pressure on one of his plays and turned it into a 27-yard completion — Iowa's longest offensive play of the day. But he also took a sack that was unescapable even by the most athletic quarterbacks.
In a small sample size Saturday, Padilla flashed a little bit of what Petras cannot do, but hardly did enough to force Iowa's coaches to make a change after 16 straight Petras starts. I don't see this becoming a legitimate topic within Iowa's facility unless there's at least two more poor performances.
Where does Iowa go from here?
I saw this question asked in two forms so I'll address both: About this season specifically and long-term.
With Saturday's loss, Iowa temporarily dropped to fourth place in the Big Ten West behind Minnesota, Purdue and Wisconsin. Depending on the result of the Purdue game, Iowa could move up to third, but regardless this plummet was hard to imagine after the Penn State win to start the month.
The path to the Big Ten championship game isn't impossible but it's a longshot. The Hawkeyes (two Big Ten losses) must win out including against Minnesota (one loss) at home on Nov. 13 that would give them a head-to-head win advantage. Purdue (two losses) has Michigan State and Ohio State in consecutive weeks coming up and Wisconsin's (two losses) remaining games are against Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska and Minnesota.
The Badgers are rolling with their fourth straight win and will likely be favored in their remaining games. But as we've seen in the Big Ten this season, upsets can happen. But first things first, Iowa must re-grouping and beat Northwestern next Saturday.
Now to the long-term.
I won't dive into hyperbole and categorize Saturday's result as some program-altering loss, but it does continue to raise questions about what Iowa needs to do to be a bigger contender in the West, both this year and looking ahead.
"Change" has been a buzzword among fans in recent weeks. What change is needed? Is it as big as a shakeup in the staff or is it scheme? Or perhaps it's just an issue of personnel. Or is the answer no change at all, everything can improve internally.
Only time will tell. If things don't turn around soon, it's easy to imagine a lot of difficult questions coming in the off-season.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.