There is a strange feeling being a Hawkeye fan these days. Things have clearly taken a turn for the worst this season with Iowa losing their last three games. In that span, the Hawkeye offense has managed just two touchdowns - both came in the fourth quarter against Michigan when things were largely out of hand.
The miserable on field performance from one third of the team has left fans and the media both asking pointed questions about who is to blame. Kirk Ferentz has been slow in making adjustments during the season as the Hawkeyes were the last team in the nation to give a second quarterback live game snaps when they finally inserted Alex Padilla into the lineup to start the second half against the Buckeyes. He has not only refused to make staff changes, but has been both defensive and snarky when faced with such questions.
The end result has been some mix of anger, frustration and eventually apathy among the Hawkeye faithful. We’re left wondering, genuinely, if it would be better for the team to simply lose games down the stretch to force the hand of either Kirk or Gary Barta. That sentiment stems from the utter stubbornness exhibited by Ferentz the elder to this point and his general lack of accountability when it comes to Brian’s role with the offense.
Do we really think Kirk would fire his son at the end of the season if the Hawkeyes manage to turn things around? What would it take for him to pull the trigger? These are not questions we should be forced to ask, yet here we are.
Similarly, everything we’ve seen on the field would lead most sane people no reason to ask whether Alex Padilla would be starting in place of Spencer Petras this weekend. Padilla, in his highly limited time under center, has not shown himself to be markedly better than Petras (and statistically he has been slightly worse), but he possesses enough mobility to at least mask some of the serious issues facing the offensive line and give this team a fighting chance to be better than dead last in the nation in total offense.
That’s why nearly every one of the respondents to this week’s poll question feels Padilla should start against Northwestern on Saturday afternoon.
But we heard all week that Spencer Petras was splitting first team reps with Padilla in practice. That can mean only one thing. Because we’ve heard all season that Petras has been the better practice player.
How could he not? The first team offense almost never faces the first team defense, according to Ferentz, and often times the QBs are being judged on their performance against air. Really.
So of course Petras, with his first team offense, looks better against backup defenders and air running an offense built around him than Padilla ever could with a group of second team players facing Iowa’s first team defense in an offense that is built for someone else’s strengths.
And splitting those reps all week means there is no chance, even if we do somehow get Padilla at some point Saturday, that Brian has put together a game plan built for Alex to succeed or accentuate what he does well. After all, that’s just backyard football. What’s the upside?
Despite the predictable frustration that is sure to ensue, more than two thirds of Hawkeye fans remain confident Iowa will emerge victorious on Saturday.
Perhaps that’s not saying much. More than 90% of fans expected Iowa to win this matchup during the pre-season. That was before Northwestern lost seven straight games before coming to Kinnick.
As it stands, the Wildcats have not won a single game on this continent. And yet they remain a viable contender in the Big Ten West, EVEN WITH A LOSS ON SATURDAY AND THE FOLLOWING WEEK AGAINST OHIO STATE. That’s how miserable this Hawkeye team and the division they play in has become.
Still, pessimism reigns supreme. Perhaps it’s that wishful thinking that losses piling up will actually force Kirk’s hand, but less than 10% of Hawkeye fans now think this team will finish with a winning season. Compare that to 65% who think Iowa will finish with their first losing record in a decade.
I suppose that’s football.