The Hawkeyes are back at Kinnick again this weekend, looking to stay in the Big Ten West title race. This time No. 17 Iowa welcomes Illinois. Coach Ferentz and a handful of players spoke to the media this week. Here are some takeaways from what was said.
1. Who’s QB1?
Right now it’s Alex Padilla, according to the depth chart and Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz.
“Alex has been running with the 1s,” he said.
Padilla also played well while leading the Hawkeyes to back-to-back wins. In those two games, he’s thrown for 378 yards, scored three total touchdowns and hasn’t turned the ball over. He’s also been effective throwing the ball down the field.
He’s done all this while the team has said starting quarterback Spencer Petras is out dealing with a shoulder injury that forced him out of both the Wisconsin and Northwestern game. Over the weekend Ferentz said his recovery is going slower than expected, but this week, he’s been taking second team reps.
So what happens when he’s fully healthy?
“We haven’t had that conversation,” Ferentz said. “We’re just trying to get Spencer back in the groove a little bit. 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.”
So no answer there yet, but Ferentz has maintained that the team is comfortable with both guys under center.
It’s an interesting situation, but it’s one both have handled well. Padilla with his play on the field, and Petras with his support off it.
“Obviously Spencer is in a tough situation, but he’s been awesome, he’s been a great teammate,” Tyler Linderbaum said. “Very supportive through Alex getting some playing time and he’s gonna continue to do that and I know he’s a great leader and expect nothing less from him.”
2. Hawkeyes ready for another physical game
Though he won’t be on the sideline this weekend, the Hawkeyes know what a Bret Bielema team is all about. He’s a Hawkeye himself and has faced them more than a few times when he was the head coach at Wisconsin from 2006-2012.
“It’s really clear right now they’re going to run the football and try to eat the clock,” Ferentz said. “Sound familiar? And they also believe in playing good defense. And that’s a pretty good formula for winning football games. That’s what they’re doing right now. And they’ve got good special teams. When he was at Wisconsin they did all those things pretty well.”
The defense is much improved from a year ago under first year defensive coordinator Ryan Walters. They have some familiarity with that scheme because Iowa was set to play Walters and Missouri in their bowl game last year before it was canceled. So no game experience against his defense, but they did watch plenty of film of it last winter.
Meanwhile the offense is going to run a lot. Sort of like what they saw in Madison.
“They’re run heavy, they get into some weird formations,” Riley Moss said. “They’re a team you have to be physical with, much like Wisconsin.”
3. Title game hopes still alive
A few weeks ago it looked like a mess in the Big Ten West standings, with four teams at the top. The Hawkeyes were in a tough spot with losses to two of them. Now it’s just two: Iowa and Wisconsin, both sitting at 5-2.
The Hawkeyes are very much still in the chase as long as they take care of their business.
“It’s been in our minds a little bit, but like I said before, we’re really just focused on the task at hand, the week that we’re in,” linebacker Jestin Jacobs said. “We’re just taking it one week at a time. We can’t get to the championship if we don’t win this week.”
The bad news is they need some help. With the Badgers also having the same record and the head-to-head win over the Hawkeyes, they have the tiebreaker. Even if Iowa were to win out, they’d also need a Wisconsin loss to send them to Indianapolis.
“That’s the goal from the get go, get to the Big Ten title game and hopefully it’s still there for us,” senior guard Kyler Schott said. “We just have to do our part and hope everything else goes.”
4. Should I stay or should I go?
Saturday is sure to be an emotional day, with seniors walking out onto Kinnick Stadium’s Duke Slater Field potentially for the last time.
“I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until I run out on the field,” Schott said. “I think it’s really going to come over me like a tidal wave. I hope I can keep it in a bit.”
But for several of those players, including Schott and Moss, it might not be their last time playing a game in Iowa City. Several players have the option to come back, and as the end of the season gets closer, so does their decision.
“There’s still time to figure that out, but I’m going to treat it as if it is my last, but I don’t even know,” Moss said.
There’s a lot things that go into the decision: Draft stock, how your body feels and what the team needs were all things mentioned this week. But for the guys who have already stayed an extra year with a redshirt, there’s one more important factor.
“I already graduated last year, so I’m just taking random classes right now,” Schott said. “I don’t know if I can find enough classes to take for two more semesters.”
5. No coach, no problem
The news that Illinois head coach Bret Bielema would have to miss Saturday’s game with a positive Covid test is a reminder of the reality we’re all still in.
Iowa hasn’t had any trouble with Covid this season, but how would they do without Kirk on the sidelines for a game?
“I’m irreplaceable,” he said. “No, the fact is, and you guys haven’t figured this out yet, but don’t tell anyone, we don’t do a hell of a lot on gameday. 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.”