As we enter bowl practices, now’s a good time to take a stroll down memory lane of Iowa Hawkeyes QB situations to discern how the current one might unfold. We saw Kristopher “Deuce” Hogan enter the transfer portal after an unnecessary bit of drama spurred by a Kirk Ferentz quip about what Ferentz would do if Hogan were forced into action.
But two quarterbacks (Spencer Petras & Alex Padilla) with relatively significant experience remain and it’s worth seeing if past is prologue to how it may play out. Here’s the recap of what the last couple seasons has looked like regarding the quarterback position with Petras & Padilla.
Petras entered the offseason as the unchallenged #1 quarterback with the graduation of Nate Stanley and transfer of Peyton Mansell after Petras won the backup QB job. In the link above, written January 2020, Scott Dochterman quotes Brian Ferentz: “Spencer was ready to go [after Stanley got dinged in the Nebraska game]. We were going through the calls together and there was nothing that wasn’t going to be on the menu. I think the development you’ve seen with Spencer over two years is he’s starting to get to that mastery of the system and can improvise and ad lib a little bit. And that’s really what you’re looking for.”
It’s worth noting at this time both Petras (RS sophomore who arrived in January 2018) & Padilla (RS freshman who arrived in January 2019) would both have had more time on campus than Nate Stanley prior to his first season as starting QB at Iowa (true Sophomore who arrived summer 2016).
COVID-19 threw the whole world into chaos and a result was the QB position was never really opened up for competition as spring & fall camps were cancelled before the 8-game season went forward in a haphazard manner. Iowa largely won in spite of Petras’ play with his “worst of times/best of times” game against Illinois was the biggest case for opening up the QB battle AND handing it over to Petras.
The QB competition was allegedly open in spring 2021 and Padilla closed the gap but there was no real rhetoric from Iowa’s staff which would insinuate both quarterbacks would get a shot barring injury, which is exactly how it played out.
Padilla only entered the Northwestern game after Petras’ demonstrated a complete inability to make routine throws due to a shoulder injury sustained against Wisconsin. Padilla’s best game, statistically, was unquestionably that first outing: 18/28 for 172 yards. He threw a couple touchdowns the next week against Minnesota but could never get over 50% again.
Petras entered at halftime of the Nebraska and Iowa won. Petras made a throw or two Padilla probably couldn’t while looking a little better on the run than he did throughout much of the season. Padilla replaced after Petras started the Big Ten Championship Game and got dinged in the first half even though Petras entered for the first series of the second half.
Conclusion: Petras seems to have Kirk Ferentz’s trust if for no other reason than the decision to go to the other guy seems asymmetrical. In the Northwestern & Michigan games, Petras was given a chance to prove he could perform despite injuries whereas the move to pull Padilla was based on Kirk’s gut.
The offense’s statistics are subpar by modern college football standards, which means both players’ statistics are, as well. They’re even below that of past Iowa starters. Petras opens portions of the playbook with his arm strength but closes of other portions on the basis of his ability to throw on the run. Padilla is the opposite, though his quick release does make up for some relative lack in arm strength.
So let’s take a brief look at past QB changeovers to see what this most resembles:
2017: CJ Beathard departed and the competition was deemed an either/or between Tyler Wiegers (RS Junior) and Stanley (true sophomore). Ferentz said throughout spring & fall camps it was neck-and-neck but the tea leaves showed it was Stanley’s to lose. He entered the North Dakota State game (3rd on the season) when Beathard had to be tended to and led Iowa down the field before CJB reentered. The QB competition, both in the moment but definitely in retrospect, looked like a way to keep Wiegers in the fold should Stanley have been injured. Otherwise, it’d have been Mansell time.
2015: Following Jake Rudock’s injury in the Pittsburgh game, 2014, Beathard entered in an Iowa win, going 7/8 for 98 yards. The next week against Purdue, he went 17/37 for 245 yards, adding 8 rushes for 29 yards. Iowa won. But Rudock returned to the starting role with Beathard getting snaps in 4 more regular season games. Ahead of Iowa’s bowl game against Tennessee, his father Casey, spoke with The Tennessean. Some fun quotes are: “He just wants to play.” “He’s really hoping he doesn’t have to transfer.” “I said, ‘Hopefully it’ll be obvious in this game, one way or the other.’” Wiegers, a RS freshman, backed up Beathard.
Kirk released a January 2015 depth chart with Beathard as QB1 following a brutal loss to the Volunteers. Rudock transferred to Michigan. The rest, as they say, is history.
2013: Genuinely don’t remember this one but it came after James Vandenberg took every snap in the lost 2012 season. Rudock was the 1, Beathard was the 2. Cody Sokol, a juco transfer, transferred in the spring and started at Louisiana Tech in 2014. Nic Simonek was a freshman and transferred to Texas Tech. He played pretty well in 2017.
2011: Vandenberg played in 2009 and, much like Petras in 2020 & Rudock in 2013, won the job handily. John Wienke was around as backup & pooch punter. Rudock came on board.
2008: The last relevant one, as Jake Christensen & Ricky Stanzi were in the thralls of a QB competition after a really bad 2007. They split snaps in the first four games, with the loss to Pittsburgh in which JC6 went 12/24 for 124 yards while Stanzi went 7/10 for 79 being the straw which broke the camel’s back in Stanzi’s favor. He started the rest of the season with Christensen getting some spot snaps before transferring out.
Analysis: Outside looking in, and this one is a shot-for-shot remake of 2015. Both guys will enter the offseason with some experience but Kirk’s default throughout the season was to stick with safety blanket in Rudock & Petras. Beathard’s stats deflated his ability as well, with sub-50% in games started like Padilla this season. There’s not much age separating them – just a year – and with the COVID redshirt, Petras could play 2 more while Padilla could play 3.
Joey Labas will enter 2022 as a RS freshman who arrived on campus summer of this year. Carson May is not expected to join until the summer, as well. Does this factor into Kirk’s game theory to try and keep an experienced backup in the fold? With that in mind, this has a hint of 2017, and we see the QB competition drag on well into the fall of next season.
An extended QB competition does nobody any favors, in my opinion. There’s enough on each guy’s film for coaches to take what they like or don’t like from their abilities. There’s also the fact that Iowa’s offense just wasn’t that good and only a portion of those struggles were a function QB’s play. In that respect, put all the eggs in one of the veterans’ baskets and move forward in January 2022.
From an individual QB standpoint, Petras or Padilla deserve to know sooner rather than later if the staff is heavily leaning in one direction or the other. Spring 2022 at another university would enable them to progress fairly vs. being behind the 8-ball as a summer 2022 (or winter 2023?) transfer, if playing football is their #1 priority. I say that, because Padilla’s neuroscience major may require the full 4 years at Iowa vs. being able to leave after the Citrus Bowl and graduate or credibly transfer those credits elsewhere.
Even Labas deserves to see the QB1 determined as quickly as possible. Should a transfer occur later than sooner, it would prevent Labas from receiving important QB2 snaps in practice should they need to move him to the backup role in fall 2022.
QB battles happen all over college football but Iowa’s stability at the position has largely resulted in an avoidance of these truths. However, Petras’ injury opened the door for Padilla to play. Though Padilla had flashes, he was unable to pull away in his time behind center. Given Kirk’s default to return to the initial starter in many of these situations, something drastic would have to happen over the next month to have reason to believe Spencer Petras won’t get the first, and perhaps only, crack in 2022.