By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Alex Padilla, by definition, is not a dual-threat quarterback, but he is mobile enough to where defenses will have to account for him.
That was apparent in Iowa’s 27-22 victory over Minnesota this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in which Padilla made his first start for Iowa.
The third-year sophomore from Colorado only rushed four times for three yards.
But he also wasn’t sacked, and he made some of his best throws on designed roll outs, or after he had scrambled from the pocket.
Padilla was able to move the pocket and that made it easier for Iowa’s offensive line to pass protect, which has been an ongoing problem this season.
Iowa’s offense didn’t really change that much from a play-calling standpoint with Padilla playing quarterback compared to when Spencer Petras was behind center.
But it looked different, and that was due mostly to Padilla’s mobility, and how he was able to move the pocket.
His ability to avoid the rush allowed Iowa to take more chances downfield, and you can assume that Illinois head coach and former Hawkeye Bret Bielema is trying to figure ways to contain the new wrinkle in Iowa’s offense heading into Saturday’s game at Kinnick Stadium.
Padilla’s ability to manipulate the defense with his legs was noticeable throughout the Minnesota game. He did the same in Iowa’s 17-12 win at Northwestern a week earlier when he replaced an injured Petras in tthe first quarter and then led three scoring drives.
Padilla has had to learn how to throw on the run, and to scramble from the pocket because he’s only listed at 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds. He doesn’t have the luxury of standing in the pocket and throwing over the outstretched hands of defenders.
Padilla has to move around and find lanes in which to throw.
Petras, on the other hand, is a typical pro-style quarterback in that he stands about 6-5 and is more comfortable throwing from the pocket in a stationary position.
Most of Iowa’s quarterbacks under Kirk Ferentz, and under Hayden Fry for that matter, have been pro-style quarterbacks.
So, the results speak for themselves.
But the game is also evolving to where having a mobile quarterback can be an advantage.
That was probably my biggest takeaway from Iowa’s victory over Minnesota.
Padilla completed less than 50 percent of his passes, but he also made some big throws downfield, and he repeatedly beat whatever pressure the Gophers applied.
One of the biggest problems with a pro-style quarterback is that when a play breaks down, there is little to no hope of extending the play due to a lack of mobility.
Just think of all the mobile quarterbacks that have hurt Iowa over the years. From Seneca Wallace to Antwaan Randle El to Dan Persa, their ability to run and to extend plays was something that Iowa couldn’t match on offense, or contain on defense.
Brad Banks only started for one season at Iowa in 2002, but he finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy and led Iowa to a Big Ten title.
And while Banks had an incredible supporting cast on offense, his presence as a dual-threat quarterback helped to lift the offense to another level.
Padilla isn’t as elusive as Banks was in 2002, but Padilla is more elusive than Petras and that made a big difference against Minnesota.
Now you wonder if it’ll convince Kirk Ferentz to start recruiting more mobile quarterback because the style sure seems to work.
Keagan Johnson; a tough-minded playmaker
One sign of a good player is the ability to bounce back from a mistake, or from failing to make a play.
Iowa freshman receiver Keagan Johnson showed that ability in Saturday’s victory over Minnesota.
He was targeted eight times, but only had two catches.
Johnson was partly to blame as he a had a couple drops early in the game.
But instead of getting down on himself and losing confidence, Johnson just kept competing and when the moment came for him to make a key play with the game on the line, he delivered in spectacular fashion early in the fourth quarter.
Johnson appeared to be stopped after having caught a pass from Padilla near the line of scrimmage.
But somehow, Johnson managed to spin and break away from two defenders before racing to the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown that gave Iowa a 24-16 lead with Caleb Shudak’s point-after kick.
“I don’t even know how to explain that one,” Padilla said of Johnson’s touchdown. “That is credit to what he can do with the ball in his hands. He is a special player. There are not too many guys in the country that can probably break out of two tackles from defensive linemen. Awesome play.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz also was impressed.
“Takes some strength, obviously,” Ferentz said. “The bigger thing is it just takes a guy who is really competitive.”
Johnson is tied for fourth on the team with 15 catches, but his 316 receiving yards ranks second only to tight end Sam LaPorta’s 425 receiving yards on 37 catches.
Johnson leads Iowa with a 21.1 yards-per-catch average, and his role is expanding with each game.
From annoying to starring
Charlie Jones grew up in suburban Chicago, but had to travel halfway across the country to play college football for a team on scholarship.
Buffalo offered Jones that opportunity and he played for the Mid-American Conference school as a freshman in 2018, catching 18 passes, scoring four touchdowns and returning punts and kicks.
His future looked bright in upstate New York, but Jones wanted to prove himself at the highest level, so he chose to join Iowa as a walk-on in 2019, and the decision has paid huge dividends for Jones, and for Iowa.
He caught a 72-yard touchdown pass from Alex Padilla in the victory over Minnesota, a play in which Jones shook loose from his defender with a nifty double-cutback move.
Jones also returned four kicks for 77 yards and has has ranked among the top kick and punt returners throughout the season.
“This is exactly why I came here,” Jones said after Saturday’s game. “I was playing in the MAC, left the scholarship because I knew I could play in the Big Ten.
“It was tough on me, tough on my family, but we knew it was worth it. Moments in games like this is exactly why I came here.”
Jones apparently didn’t make a great first impression on Kirk Ferentz, but that started to change after Ferentz watched Jones in action.
“Charlie, to me was a real wild card,” Ferentz said. “He almost kind of annoyed me earlier when he got here, and he knows this. Some idiosyncrasies, and I’m sure he feels the same about me.
“You see him in live action, once you get to live action — and we don’t practice kicking live — we knew pretty quickly last year that, boy, this guy has great judgment fielding balls. He is reckless and just daring on the return part of it.
“The other part he has really developed into a good receiver, as we saw today. That’s a real credit to him. He has worked really hard at that. … Love players like that.”
Self-absorbed or misunderstood?
P.J. Fleck is tough to read.
He seems like such a good guy, always positive and saying the right things and being enthusiastic about everything he does as the Minnesota football coach.
When Saturday’s game ended at Kinnick Stadium, Fleck met Kirk Ferentz at midfield to shake his hand and congratulate him over yet another victory over his Gophers.
Fleck then made his way over to the Iowa sideline where he shook hands and talked briefly with Spencer Petras in what seemed a classy gesture.
Minnesota also helped make “The Wave” at Kinnick Stadium arguably the greatest tradition in college football when Fleck, his players, and his assistant coaches and support staff all turned as a group in 2017 and waved to the patients across the street at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
The tradition had started that season, but it wasn’t until Fleck and the Gophers participated in the fifth home game in 2017 that it really took off with both teams being involved.
And yet, it was suggested that Fleck was only trying to bring attention to himself.
The guy just can’t seem to win when it comes to his interaction with Iowa, on or off the field.
Someone even suggested on Twitter that Fleck was planting a seed for Petras to transfer to Minnesota since Petras appears in danger of losing his starting to position to Alex Padilla.
Fleck came up with the phrase “Row the boat” during his time as the head coach at Western Michigan and it has stuck with him and defined his coaching philosophy and his purpose in life.
But it also has made him a source of ridicule and resentment because Fleck’s critics believe the phrase is corny, and yet another attempt to bring attention himself.
Do a little research, however, and you’ll learn that Fleck came up with “Row The Boat” as part of the grieving process after his son, Colt, died shortly after birth because of a heart condition.
You’re probably asking why I’m still writing about Fleck since Iowa already has defeated the Gophers for a seventh consecutive time, and fair enough.
The reason is because Fleck and the Gophers could play a key role in Iowa’s quest to win the Big Ten West Division.
Iowa and Wisconsin are currently tied for first place in the West Division with 5-2 records, but Wisconsin has the tiebreaker based on having defeated Iowa this season.
Iowa plays Illinois at home on Saturday before closing the regular season at Nebraska on Black Friday, while Wisconsin plays at Nebraska on Saturday before facing Minnesota in the regular-season finale on Nov. 27 in Minneapolis.
Iowa and Wisconsin both will favored in each of their final two games, and should they both finish 7-2, Wisconsin would represent the West Division in the Big Ten championship game.
It would be foolish to assume victory for Iowa in either game, considering Illinois is coached by Bret Bielema and will have had two weeks to prepare for Saturday’s game after coming off a bye week, and because Iowa has won its last three games against Nebraska by only a combined 12 points.
But the odds are in favor of Iowa and Wisconsin both winning their final two regular-season games. However, the Badgers would have to defeat Minnesota on Senior Day in Minneapolis, which will be no easy task.
Iowa will face the same challenge at Nebraska on Senior Day.
But wouldn’t it be ironic if P.J. Fleck and his Gophers were able to upset Wisconsin and that would prove to be the difference in Iowa winning the West Division?
Would that help to improve Fleck’s image with Hawkeye fans?