By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla wasn’t there on Tuesday to talk about himself, so freshman receiver Arland Bruce gladly filled that role.
With Padilla unable to attend Tuesday’s weekly press conference due to having an academic commitment, Bruce probably was asked more questions about Padilla than about himself.
Padilla has the spotlight right now after having replaced Spencer Petras late in the first quarter of last Saturday’s 17-12 victory at Northwestern.
Padilla led a sputtering Iowa offense on three scoring drives, and his presence seemed to energize his teammates, while also having the same effect on the Iowa fans.
Some fans have been clamoring for a change at quarterback with the offense struggling and it now appears that they will get their wish.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday that Petras has received medical clearance, but still isn’t healthy enough to play at full strength.
Padilla is now listed as the starter for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game against Minnesota, while Petras’ status is uncertain.
Redshirt freshman Deuce Hogan is now listed as the backup quarterback.
“We have to prepare mentally, Alex is going to be the starter and then Deuce will back him up and we’ll see what we can do with Spencer,” Kirk Ferentz said.
The fact that Padilla played with poise and confidence against Northwestern hardly came as a surprise to Bruce.
Padilla completed 18-of-25 passes for 172 yards and zero interceptions.
“I see it every day in practice,” Bruce said. “He has the same approach in practice every day. He works hard. All the quarterbacks are the same, no matter who’s starting, scout team, they all have the same approach.”
Bruce and fellow freshman receiver Keagan Johnson have emerged as key components to the Iowa offense and they both complement each other with their contrasting playing styles.
Bruce plays more in the slot and runs more underneath routes, while Johnson is more of a threat downfield.
They both enrolled at Iowa last January, skipping their final semester of high school, and that’s when they both started building a relationship with Padilla on and off the field.
The bond between the three grew even stronger during spring practice as they all worked with the second-team offense.
“When I first got here, Keagan and I mainly took reps with the twos and I was with Padilla, obviously,” Bruce said. “And you guys probably saw in the spring, it was mainly him throwing to us. I didn’t really get any balls from Spencer until about fall camp.
“So, I just think him throwing to us all spring when we first got here and building that relationship has definitely helped.”
It was obvious from the Northwestern game that Padilla is comfortable throwing to Bruce and Johnson, sort of like how Petras is comfortable throwing to tight end Sam LaPorta.
The countless hours of catching passes from Padilla in practice is now paying dividends for the two freshmen receivers.
“I think it’s huge,” Bruce 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, or where he wants me to go when he scrambles. I feel like it helps a lot.”
While the offense probably won’t change much with Padilla at quarterback, his playing style is different than how Petras plays the position, party due to the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Padilla being about four inches shorter than Petras.
“Each quarterback definitely has a different arm angle and different tendencies about them,” Bruce said.
Bruce was confident that Padilla would play well if the opportunity came against Northwestern.
Padilla had spent some time working with the No. 1 offense in the week leading up to the Northwestern game just in case Petras couldn’t play.
So, when the opportunity finally came, Bruce could tell that Padilla was ready.
“I didn’t really have to say anything to him,” Bruce said. “I could tell when he was told that he was going in that he was ready to go. I could see the look in his face. It was serious.”
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Bruce saw a picture of himself and Padilla on the Iowa bench shortly after Bruce had scored on a 10-yard sweep and one thing stood out.
“I’m smiling and he’s got this serious look on his face because he’s locked in,” Bruce said of Padilla, who is from Greenwood Village, Colorado.
When asked what qualities Padilla has that could make him effective as a starting quarterback, Bruce focused on Padilla’s mobility and his pocket presence.
“He’s mobile and he can feel pressure in the pocket,” Bruce said. “Obviously, he can move a little bit and he can throw on the run.”
Petras, on the other hand, is more likely to stay in the pocket due to his lack of mobility.
That’s been a problem at times this season due to the offensive line struggling with pass protection.
Petras was sacked six times against Wisconsin and four times against Purdue as Iowa lost both games by a combined score of 51-14.
The hope is that Padilla’s mobility will help to avoid sacks, and give Iowa a different dimension.
It’ll be interesting how this competition ultimately works out because Kirk Ferentz has been one of Petras’ biggest supporters, and Iowa is 12-4 in games that Petras has started and finished.
“Our strategy really has been to rest him,” Kirk Ferentz said of Petras. “We’ll see what he can do tomorrow and see how he looks. He’s feeling pretty well. It’s a matter of throwing the ball effectively and that ultimately was the decision Saturday. It was real clear on that last throw just couldn’t get the zip on it that he needs to.
“Medically, he’s clear to play. If that makes sense. That’s how every decision gets made. There’s a medical component. And then the rest of it is can a player play effectively. For a quarterback if you can’t throw it effectively it’s tough. We’ll see tomorrow. All of us are the mindset that Alex will play and we’ll see where it all takes us from there. But Spencer’s done a great job. Great leader. Team-first guy and has a really good resumé.”