Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz laughed when asked about the pressure for a quarterback making his first collegiate start in front of a hometown crowd.
With starter Spencer Petras injured and questionable to play Saturday against the Gophers, sophomore Alex Padilla will likely make his starting debut at Kinnick Stadium. But Ferentz is pretty matter-of-fact about the issue.
"It's like, what choice do we have here? What choice does Alex have?" Ferentz told reporters this week. "He's got to be ready to go."
That statement isn't quite as resigned as it sounds. Losing two-year starter Petras to a shoulder injury three possessions into last week's game at Northwestern surely wasn't ideal. But the way Padilla stepped in did a lot to assuage any anxiety. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 172 yards, steering the Hawkeyes to a tight 17-12 victory in a rebound from two-consecutive Big Ten losses.
That even-keel temperament seems to be a hallmark of strong quarterbacks, and Ferentz saw that in Padilla.
"He just kept a real clear head and kept a real good demeanor about him," he said, "and really executed things pretty well for us."
Now Padilla will have to prove he can maintain that composure in a border battle with a rivalry trophy on the line. Plus the No. 20 Hawkeyes will have another chance at separating themselves in the Big Ten West.
The Gophers and Iowa are in a four-way tie right now with Wisconsin and Purdue, all at 4-2 in the conference. The Hawkeyes — 7-2 overall with victories against No. 17 Indiana, No. 9 Iowa State and No. 4 Penn State — were actually undefeated until their two-game slide against the Boilermakers (24-7) and the Badgers (27-7) to end October.
Ferentz mentioned how important "November football" is and was pleased to see his team start off the month beating the Wildcats. And this game against the Gophers could end up being a defining one when it comes to Iowa's postseason chances.
"It just kind of might be opening some people's eyes about how hard it is even to win in the Big Ten," Hawkeyes senior safety Jack Koerner said. "There's no give-me games. … There's no handouts in the Big Ten. Every team is going out there to give you their best shot."
Koerner said the defense will take on some added responsibility Saturday, knowing the offense might be working through a transition with a new signal caller. Freshman left tackle Mason Richman also left the Northwestern game early with a left knee injury and might not play, though the offensive line still has highly rated center Tyler Linderbaum as its anchor.
The defense, though, should enjoy the return of cornerback Riley Moss. He sat out the past three games with a left knee sprain. His four interceptions led the nation when he got hurt and he is still tied for third.
"Unless we hit a pothole along the way, he'll be full-throttle Saturday," Ferentz said. "Any time you're getting guys back, that's a helpful thing, especially veteran players like Riley. He was playing at a high level."
Iowa's defensive backs have actually started calling themselves the "doughboys." The defense considers the ball as money, or dough, and because this defense prides itself on creating turnovers, they have the money.
"If they're cashing in on NIL, I'm all for it," Ferentz said, referring to name, image and likeness deals college athletes are permitted to pursue now with a laugh. "Good for them. Capitalist society we live in. I'm all for it."