By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – This preview was written with the assumption that Alex Padilla would start at quarterback against Illinois on Saturday.
Even if Spencer Petras is healthy enough to play, it would make more sense to start Padilla under the circumstances and then just see what happens.
Padilla has earned the right to start after having led Iowa to victories in the last two games against Northwestern and Minnesota.
But if he struggles, and if Iowa falls behind, and Petras is ready to play, then Kirk Ferentz could always switch back to Petras.
That’s the luxury of having two quarterbacks that you trust.
“We’re just trying to get Spencer back in the groove a little bit,” Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “He’s there mentally, obviously, and just working through some missed time.
“And he’s missed some throws he probably would make. We’ll see where it goes. We’re real comfortable with both guys.”
It’s reasonable to assume that Petras would be ready to play on Saturday based on what Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. Petras will have had three more days to work on his accuracy and timing in practice, and for his shoulder to heal.
Meanwhile, Illinois is having to prepare for two quarterbacks with different playing styles, but it seems more likely that Illinois would be preparing for Padilla to start.
Illinois is a difficult team to read, and to judge, with or without Bret Bielema patrolling the sideline.
It’s unfortunate that Bielema will miss Saturday’s game after having tested positive for the coronavirus because for one, you hate to see him have a health concern, and because his presence as a former Iowa player and assistant coach would’ve been an intriguing storyline.
How much it will affect Illinois during the game is hard to say because almost all of the preparation and strategizing will be over by then.
Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that if he were to miss a game it wouldn’t have much of an impact.
“The fact is head coaches – if you guys haven’t figured this out yet, and don’t tell anybody — we don’t do a hell of a lot on game day,” Kirk Ferentz said. “But we always – I think everybody has a plan, especially last year, you had to really check your blueprint a little bit because it was so prominent.
So, yeah, there’s always plan A and plan B. But in all seriousness, I think things would run really, pretty smoothly if I wasn’t there. Everybody’s got an assignment. Everybody’s got their deal and everybody works together, too. I think things would flow pretty seamlessly and you just hope you don’t have to experience that, what the guy was going through last year when our game got canceled. But we were able to.”
Iowa has the advantage on defense, and on special teams, while Illinois might have a slight advantage on offense, especially its ground attack.
Should Illinois have success on the ground, avoid committing turnovers, and then also shutdown Iowa’s running game, that could be the recipe for an upset.
Illinois’ biggest problem this season has been inconsistency as evidenced by its 4-6 record.
The same Illinois team that defeated Penn State 20-18 in nine overtimes on Oct. 23 on the road lost a week later to Rutgers 14-6 at home.
Illinois rushed for 357 yards against Penn State, but then was held to just 107 rushing yards against Rutgers.
Illinois running back Chase Brown shredded Penn State for 223 yards, but then was held to just 67 yards against Rutgers.
Iowa struggled to tackle in open field against Minnesota last Saturday, and if it happens against Illinois, then Brown could cause major problems.
Wisconsin showed the blueprint for how to defeat this Illinois team, which was by consuming the clock on offense behind a potent ground attack, while shutting down Illinois’ ground attack.
The Badgers rushed for 391 yards and held Illinois to just 26 rushing yards on 13 carries during a 24-0 victory on Oct. 9 in Champaign, Ill.
The problem is that Iowa’s running game pales in comparison to Wisconsin’s running game, and the Badger defense is even more dominant than Iowa’s defense.
Look for Iowa to try to establish the run against an Illinois defense that is ranked 10th in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 152.4 rushing yards per game.
Padilla is more mobile than Petras and can make the pocket move, but Padilla still needs a successful rushing attack to operate at full strength.
Illinois could be in trouble if it allows Iowa to rush for at least 150 yards because that would mean Padilla has the luxury of using play action.
As deflating as the back-to-back losses were against Purdue and Wisconsin, Iowa still has a chance for 10 wins, and is 16-4 since the start of last season.
It also will be Senior Day on Saturday with 16 seniors being recognized before the game.
And while some might ultimately choose to return next season due to having an additional year added because of the global pandemic, the pre-game ceremony on Saturday still will be very emotional.
That combined with Iowa being solid on defense and on special teams, and with Padilla having added a spark on offense, should be enough for to avoid an upset.
Prediction: Iowa 23, Illinois 12
Iowa vs. Illinois