Saturday afternoon in Kinnick Stadium was simultaneously a complete divergence from what Iowa fans have gotten to know and love/hate about Kirk Ferentz, as well of a reminder of those same tendencies.
For the first time since 2014, Iowa kicked off against an opponent with a different starting quarterback than they started in the eight games prior. When they did, they mixed the same tires play calling Hawkeye fans ave railed against for years with the types of plays we’ve yelled for all season. We got plenty of predictable zone stretch plays to the boundary and quick hand offs after every first down incompletion and on and on. But we also got seven passes 20+ yards downfield, a surge in play-action calls and more rollouts than Iowa has tried since CJ Beathard was under center.
At the end of the day, the Iowa offense put up 27 points - the most since an offensive explosion in week five against Maryland and more than the offense has scored in all but two games this season. And it was led by the passing game as Padilla finished the day 201 yards through the air as well as all three of Iowa’s touchdowns.
He completed just 46% of his throws and nearly had one picked off, but we saw the offense actually stretch a solid Minnesota defense vertically in a way we just haven’t seen outside the Colorado State game this season. Despite the 13 incompletions, Padilla averaged 8.6 yards per attempt - number matched just twice this season to-date.
No pass was more exhilarating than the 72-yard bomb to Charlie Jones that flipped the script in the second half and forced the Gophers to play from behind.
While the passing game reinvigorated excitement at times, the running game continues to be a major issue. After rushing for 185 yards against Northwestern, the Hawkeyes managed just 71 yards on the ground Saturday. This despite some big gainers from Tyler Goodson.
Regardless of the changes with Padilla under center, the running game continues to be predictable and largely lacking key elements that stress defenders. Iowas is always going to run on second down after an incomplete pass on first down. They’re never going to fully utilize her motion to stretch the edge and hold linebackers. They’re always going rely on heavy personnel rather than running out of shotgun. Some things can be tweaked, but some things will forever be the same.
But Saturday should have given Iowa fans a glimmer of hope that the things which have seemed impossible to change under this coaching staff, could at least be open for discussion. We’ve watched a backup quarterback take the reins (yes, it took an “injury”, but it happened and there’s no indication it’s changing back). We’ve watched the playbook adapt to that backup over the last seven quarters of football. And we’ve seen various iterations New Kirk over the years.
More important than any of that, however, is what has stayed the same. Not the mundane play-calling or the conservative approach to the game or the questionable (at best) clock management, but the winning. Because through it all, that’s what this team continues to do. Despite the shortcomings, the Hawkeyes enter week 12 at 8-2 on the season. They’re going to again climb in the rankings to inside the top-20 nationally. For the seventh straight year, Floyd of Rosedale is home in Iowa City.
And while there are certainly shoulda, woulda, couldas throughout this season, the Hawkeyes remain a Wisconsin slip up away from their first Big Ten West title since 2015. If that’s not enough to be happy about as a Hawkeye fan, perhaps the bacon in your breakfast will do the trick. There seems to be a shortage north of the border.