IOWA CITY, Iowa — When a team is coming off a season in which it had one of the worst offenses in the nation, all options are open to fix it. For Iowa, that means opening the competition at quarterback.
The battle this spring is between veteran starter Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla.
Petras, who missed three games because of injury last season, has started 19 of the last 20 in which he’s appeared. Alex Padilla started three times last season.
“I think the good news is that we feel they’re both capable of playing really good football for us,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And our goal is to try to get them to play a little bit better and everybody around them helping a little bit more. I think, really, that’s the story of our offense right now.”
The Hawkeyes, who were 10-4 and won the Big Ten West last season, were 121st out of 130 Bowl Subdivision teams in total offense, 101st in rushing and 109th in passing.
The struggles put focus on the quarterback position, and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has been overseeing the competition.
“I’m focused on myself,” Petras said. “I’m focused on improving on the things that he wants me to, whether that be completion percentage, things like that. Any energy spent on anything else is a waste.”
Petras threw for 1,880 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, completing 57.3% of his passes. Padilla threw for 636 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and completed 49.1%.
“I think the biggest thing, looking back, is that I’m too smart of a player to not take advantage of coverage better than I did,” Petras said. “For me, with how fast I can identify coverage, or how fast I can get the ball out of my hands, if I’m getting soft coverage where there are opportunities underneath, I need to take that more. I know how to attack coverage, so my completion percentage should be higher.”
Brian Ferentz, Kirk’s son, added quarterbacks coach to his duties in the offseason after Ken O'Keefe stepped away from his on-field role and former Wisconsin quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr was added as an offensive analyst. The younger Ferentz took over as offensive coordinator in 2017, with O’Keefe working as the quarterbacks coach.
“Over the last five years, I can’t overstate how much I learned from Ken,” Brian Ferentz said, “and how much I appreciate that.”
“When Coach O’Keefe told us the move he wanted to make, my first thoughts were I wanted Brian to take over the quarterbacks, and so I’m really happy that’s what happened,” Petras said. “If there’s two people in the building who need to be on the same page, it’s the offensive coordinator and the quarterback. I think any time there’s a degree of separation there, there’s challenges that can be presented.”
Kirk Ferentz said the move made sense.
“The guy calling the plays is coaching the quarterback directly,” the head coach said. “Personally, I think if he can get that situation, it’s better. And Brian is more than capable of doing that job. And he knows our offense better than anybody, quite frankly.”
There are other questions on the offense.
Iowa must replace All-America center Tyler Linderbaum and guard Kyler Schott. Running back Tyler Goodson, who rushed for 1,151 yards last season, left for the NFL draft and will be replaced by a tandem of Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams.
The quarterback competition is something that will go on for a while. The Hawkeyes open against South Dakota State at home on Sept. 3.
“Everybody’s competing right now,” Kirk Ferentz said. “And on one hand, (Petras has) got an edge or things he does better than Alex. But I can flip it around saying there’s things that Alex can do a bit better, too. We’ll ride it out, see where it all goes. But we’ll get it figured out. And the good news is both guys are totally capable.”