After three unsuccessful drives to start the game, Spencer Petras was replaced with Alex Padilla on the fourth Iowa possession of the game. The change at quarterback was the first time Kirk Ferentz has benched his starter since the 2008 season when he replaced Jake Christensen with Ricky Stanzi. That quarterback change 13 years ago worked out well. Those results were replicated against Northwestern on Saturday. The Hawkeye offense found a spark and built off the momentum of the quarterback change. Iowa scored touchdowns on the first two Padilla drives of the game to build a 14-3 lead against Northwestern. They went on to win the game 17-12 and go back into the win column. The change under center was the difference maker as Padilla leads an Iowa victory in Evanston.
The Hawkeye offense endured three drives to start the game that resulted in just 26 total yards. Petras could not get anything going for the offense and it began to look like another stagnant performance. Following a Northwestern punt, Iowa experienced a mid-season change at the quarterback position for the first time in 13 years. Petras’ three unsuccessful drives to begin the game were enough, and Ferentz made the call to put in the Colorado native Alex Padilla, changing the course of the game.
Padilla entered the football game late in the first quarter and immediately completed three of four to move the Hawkeyes deep into Northwestern territory. Two of his passes were to Keagan Johnson for 43 yards. Padilla completed a beautiful 26-yard pass down the sideline where Johnson went up and grabbed a jump ball. He came down with the catch and set Iowa up inside the red zone. Tyler Goodson then ran a 13-yard handoff into the end zone giving the Hawkeyes a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. There was a clear momentum shift in the game, and Iowa’s offense felt alive for the first time since the Penn State victory four weeks ago.
According to post game reports, Padilla heard he would enter the game through his headset as the backup quarterback. The redshirt sophomore had been the backup in Iowa City for two seasons. The change at the quarterback position gave Iowa the momentum it needed to reestablish an offensive pulse. The Hawkeyes have struggled to put together long touchdown drives this season, but Padilla was able to flip the script in the first half. His opening touchdown drive was 58 yards, and he followed it up with a nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive to begin the second quarter and take a commanding 14-0 lead. Padilla’s back-to-back touchdowns were impressive and he finished 18 of 28 for 172 yards.
Established Run Game
For the first time since September against Kent State, Iowa was able to establish a run game. Tyler Goodson rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. The performance out of the backfield was the best since beating Kent State, and it put the offense in a great position on Saturday. Goodson had been averaging just 4.1 yards per carry on the season, and he was able to turn things in the right direction against the Wildcats. Iowa’s success on the ground created time for Padilla to find his targets through the air.
On the outside, Arland Bruce IV and Johnson led the receiving game, gathering eight catches for 98 total yards combined. In the past two games, the two true freshmen had just six receptions with 96 yards. They matched that yardage against Northwestern, and their eight receptions opened up the offensive passing game. Bruce added a touchdown on the ground to cap Padilla’s second drive of the game, and things were clicking. Iowa can play at a high level when the young receivers are involved.
For the first time since the Penn State game, Iowa was able to force turnovers on defense. The Hawkeyes intercepted Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty three times. Dane Belton recorded two of the interceptions, including the game-sealing pick with under two minutes remaining. Jermari Harris hauled in the other interception. His pick ended a 60-yard Northwestern drive in the fourth quarter. Harris is a Chicago native, and had a great defensive performance in front of his hometown. He was playing as the third string cornerback for the second week in a row, and his presence was felt. Harris was the 10th Hawkeye to record an interception on the season.
In the last two games, Iowa was negative six in the turnover margin against Purdue and Wisconsin. Prior to those losses, they were plus 16 on the year. The losses in those two games showed how much Iowa relies on the turnover to produce offensive points. The lack of turnovers in recent games was abnormal for this unit, but they were able to reverse the trend in Evanston. The Hawkeyes turned one interception into a touchdown, while the other two stopped key Northwestern drives. They now have 23 total turnovers on the year, and did a great job forcing them against the Wildcats.
Padilla Leads Iowa Victory in Evanston
The Hawkeyes’ average drive start today was their own 31 yard line. They managed to string together three scores on 14 drives. Their scoring success rate remained at 16% when starting drives inside the 25 yard line. However, Iowa’s three scores averaged 63 yards per drive. Under Padilla, the Hawkeye offense looked a lot more dynamic, and their successful drive length was indicative of that performance. Spencer Petras is 12-4 as a starter for the Hawkeyes, but it was evident that based on his last two performances, he had a short leash. After three unsuccessful possessions, Ferentz made the move to Padilla and it paid off immediately. Iowa gets the offensive spark they needed as Padilla leads a Hawkeye victory in Evanston. With a rivalry game next week against Minnesota, the Hawkeyes will need to seriously consider a permanent move at the quarterback position.
Main Image Courtesy Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette