By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras seems to have a message for anyone who assumes that he was in danger of losing his starting position to Alex Padilla:
Your assumption is wrong.
The way Petras tells it, he never felt that he was in danger of losing his starting position to Padilla.
Even after Padilla, a third-year sophomore, had led Iowa to three consecutive victories over Northwestern, Minnesota and Illinois, including two as a starter, Petras, a fourth-year junior, still believed that he would be the starter again once he recovered from a shoulder injury.
In fact, Petras tried to downplay the competition between himself and Padilla during Tuesday’s weekly press gathering.
Petras described the situation more as Padilla filling in until Petras was healthy again.
Petras is now healthy and listed as the starter ahead of Padilla heading into Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game against Michigan in Indianapolis.
“The way I see it, I got hurt and Alex stepped in and did a really good job,” Petras said. “I just think this time of year it’s not as much a competition. That more takes place in fall camp. It’s more so who can help the team win the best that week. And when I was hurt, that was certainly Alex.
“And it seems like right now it’s me. But I don’t know. We haven’t played a game yet. Competition is kind of the wrong word to put on it this time of year.”
Petras was pulled from the Northwestern game late in the first quarter on Nov. 6 after it was apparent that his shoulder injury was preventing him from throwing effectively.
Padilla then led three scoring drives in the 17-12 victory at Northwestern, and he also played well at times in victories over Minnesota and Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.
But Padilla struggled in the first half at Nebraska last Friday, and with Iowa trailing 14-6 at halftime, Kirk Ferentz switched back to Petras in the second half.
Iowa would go on to win 28-21 after trailing by 15 points, and now Petras is the starter again.
The San Rafael, California native will make his 18th start as a Hawkeye in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game. Iowa has a 13-4 record in games in which Petras has started.
“The biggest thing I had to focus on was getting healthy because you can’t play quarterback if you can’t throw the ball,” Petras said. “It was great that Alex was able to step in and win us some some football games when I was out. And I’m just real happy with how he did.”
There is without question a portion of the fan base, based on social media chatter, that would prefer that Padilla start at quarterback.
The Padilla supporters say that his mobility and his ability to move the pocket gives him an edge over the 6-foot-5, 233-pound Petras, who is more comfortable throwing from the pocket.
Padilla’s supporters also believe that his mobility would help to withstand Michigan’s vaunted pass rush that is led by 2021 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Aidan Hutchinson.
There was speculation that Kirk Ferentz might use both quarterbacks against Michigan, with Padilla playing in certain packages, but Petras doesn’t see that happening.
“I don’t think we’re really built like that,” Petras said. You’d have to ask the the head coach. But I don’t think so.”
Kirk Ferentz was asked that question about two hours later on Tuesday, and based on what he said, it seems highly unlikely that Iowa would use two quarterbacks against Michigan.
“One thing we wanted to make sure that Alex understood whenever Spencer was healthy, we didn’t want him looking over his shoulder and now the same thing for Spencer,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Who’s ever in there has got to play. And we’ll handle it as we go. We don’t want a guy looking over his shoulder. Starting that kind of situation is not good for anybody.”
Petras said he is now 100 percent healthy, although, it takes a little longer for him to get warmed up due to his shoulder.
“Once I’m warm, I have no pain, nothing, I’m one-hundred percent,” Petras said. “It’s just getting warm is the thing I have to be very cognizant of.”
What Petras said about this being the wrong time of the season for competition to take place in practice probably raised a few eyebrows since Kirk Ferentz always likes to say that competition is an ongoing thing.
Petras sees the chatter on social media and probably knows that some fans aren’t thrilled with him being the starter again.
Iowa has been ranked last in the conference in total offense throughout the season, and some fans put most of the blame on Petras.
However, the truth is that neither quarterback has performed at a high level this season.
Padilla has certainly made some nice plays, and is more mobile than Petras.
But Padilla didn’t perform well enough as the starter to convince Kirk Ferentz that he should be the full-time starter.
Padilla praised Petras for helping him to prepare in practice, and for his guidance and encouragement during games. They seem to have a mutual respect despite competing for the same position.
The problem is that only one quarterback can play, and Kirk Ferentz is against using a two-quarterback system.
It was easy for some fans to assume that Padilla would be the starter moving forward because Iowa finished undefeated in the month of November, and because the offense had struggled with Petras behind center.
But when Kirk Ferentz switched back to Petras for the second half against Nebraska, it seemed pretty clear that Petras hadn’t lost his starting position.
Petras then brought more clarity to the situation on Tuesday, saying he never felt that he had lost the starting job.
The challenge for Petras now is to perform well on Saturday and show that he deserves to be the starter because he certainly has his doubters who now probably wonder why Iowa doesn’t have competition in practice at this point in the season.
It was surprising to hear Petras downplay the competition narrative because it goes against everything Kirk Ferentz says about competing for starting positions.
Fair or not, it also fuels the belief that Kirk Ferentz is too loyal, or too stubborn, to make changes.