'He's ready for the moment': Why the Iowa football team has full confidence in Alex Padilla
IOWA CITY — For the first time in almost two years, a new quarterback will lead Iowa on Saturday. Monday's depth chart release confirmed that sophomore quarterback Alex Padilla will start over Spencer Petras against Minnesota.
Petras isn't listed on the depth chart as he's still recovering from a shoulder injury. Coach Kirk Ferentz said Petras is medically cleared but it's a matter of throwing the ball with confidence and velocity. Redshirt freshman Deuce Hogan is listed as the backup.
Padilla's 18-for-28, 172-yard performance helped Iowa to a crucial 17-12 win over Northwestern. Ferentz said on Tuesday that Sunday's film review showed Padilla had a good feel for the offense.
"You just hope that guys are going to step up and do a good job," Ferentz said. "But I thought he just kept a real clear head and kept a real good demeanor about him and really executed things pretty well for us."
The Hawkeyes witnessed first-hand the importance of quarterback depth nearly a month ago against Penn State. When the Nittany Lions' starter left with an injury, their offense fell apart. What Padilla did against Northwestern was one part on-the-field play and another part being fully prepared mentally for his number to be called. He was poised from the start and that feeling permeated throughout the team.
"I could tell when he was told that he was going in that he was ready to go," wide receiver Arland Bruce IV said. "I could see the look on his face, he was serious. There's even a picture of us on the bench after I scored where I'm smiling and he has a serious look. He was just locked in."
Iowa expects its backups to prepare like starters each week. Last month, quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe described Padilla as a player "that's not going to get caught short in his preparation or his desire to get better." His strong preparation and apparent confidence are why he has the full trust of the team.
"I just can't say enough about the way Alex just went in and performed," Ferentz said. "This is the opportunity he wanted. Not in the circumstances, but hey, it's time to get in there and play and he did. Didn't think much about it. Based on what I've seen for two days, he's handling himself the way he does. I don't want to call him low-key but he's a steady, even-keeled person. And it helps in that position."
An interesting aspect of Padilla's sudden rise to starter, and what could benefit him early, is the emergence of other backup skill players on offense. True freshman receivers Keagan Johnson and Bruce are major contributors now but were on the second team during spring practice. Johnson led all receivers with 11 targets against Northwestern, and Bruce IV caught all three pass attempts thrown to him.
"I think it's huge," Bruce IV said. "I've got his release down. I know when he's about to throw the ball, I can tell when he's about to scramble and where he wants me to go when he does so I feel like that helps a lot."
And now third-string running back Gavin Williams is playing a major role in place of injured senior Ivory Kelly-Martin. Suddenly, Padilla is surrounded by and playing in games with the players with whom he's practiced the most and who know him best.
"Padilla's very calm and detail-oriented in what he does," Williams said. "He doesn't get into the emotions of the game. For him it's more of trying to relax, stay calm, make the right decisions and do what he can."
Padillia will need to rely on that calm, confident demeanor on Saturday with a significant upgrade in competition. Minnesota ranks third overall in the Big Ten in total defense, compared to Northwestern's second-to-last ranking. He'll be as prepared as possible, getting every rep with the first team this week.
Teammates praised Padilla's approach to Saturday's game. And that's only reinforcing the trust given by the coaching staff. Look no further than Padilla's 28 pass attempts in his first full game as a sign of how highly the coaching staff thinks of him.
"He's ready for the moment, he's ready for the light," Williams said.
The long-term plan at quarterback is in question, but at the moment it's Padilla's job. It's fair to assume that another strong performance on Saturday would continue his momentum moving forward.
And Ferentz will have a decision to make whenever Petras does return, but he's thankful in knowing now that he will have two reliable options to choose from.
"Alex is helping himself or helped himself Saturday," Ferentz said. "So the good news as we stand here today, which is really premature. We have two guys that have played pretty well. We know more now than we did a week ago. That's for sure. And I'd love to have both guys healthy, ready to go."
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 email@example.com.