Iowa’s offense was searching for a spark against Northwestern last Saturday night. And it found one in backup quarterback Alex Padilla.

So now what? The Hawkeyes are just going to put out that spark? Of course not.

Iowa (7-2, 4-2) announced it would start Padilla on Saturday against Minnesota (6-3, 4-2). But why stop there? It would make no sense to go back to Spencer Petras. With the Hawkeyes in a 4-way tie atop the West and a berth to the Big Ten Championship Game very much in play, there is no time to worry about hurt feelings or anything like that.

Kirk Ferentz just needs to trust what his eyes were telling him last Saturday: Petras should not be leading this offense anymore. That was Ferentz’s takeaway after watching the first 3 drives Petras led against Northwestern that resulted in just 1 first down. When Padilla came in for the fourth drive, there was a noticeable difference in how the offense operated. And that’s more than just a results-based observation. It was the same thing against Wisconsin in the prior game, though that was in garbage time with the outcome already decided. Padilla moves at a different speed. To simplify it, Padilla has more juice — in terms of mobility and arm strength. He gets the ball out so much quicker than Petras. He is twitchy.

Watching Padilla rip throws over the middle, like to Keegan Johnson just out of reach of the Northwestern defender, or the bullet to Tyler Goodson on third-and-7 for 19 yards, was something I don’t often see from an Iowa offense. His best play was actually an incompletion. He controlled a high snap, stepped up in the pocket and hit Charlie Jones in stride about 20 yards downfield. It was perfectly placed just over the linebackers and in front of Jones to where he probably would’ve turned it into a 68-yard TD. But it went right through Jones’ hands.

Even if Ferentz believes that a healthy Petras is the better player, he clearly is not at full strength and may not be the rest of this season. He short-hopped his intended target on 8-yard out routes on 2 throws, which is reportedly what led to the hook on Saturday. Petras isn’t even a difference-maker when healthy; if he is limited, he definitely should not be playing.

If Ferentz goes back to Petras after how plainly obvious it was Saturday that Padilla is the guy, he risks losing the trust of the fan base. Iowa has been searching for something for the last month to get it going. This offense is averaging fewer than 300 yards per game, last in the Big Ten and 123rd nationally. With as good of a defense as Iowa has, it doesn’t need to put up 30 or 40 points per game to win games. But it does need a guy who can make plays every now and again and doesn’t need the perfect circumstances to have success.

I liked how when the Hawkeyes got the ball at their own 11 with just over 2 minutes left in the first half, they didn’t go hyper-conservative and sit on the ball before the half. Padilla completed 4 straight passes and moved them into Northwestern territory, though the drive stalled when the clock ran out.

It reminds me a little bit of last year when Michigan went to Cade McNamara over Joe Milton, or when Michigan State went to Payton Thorne over Rocky Lombardi. The offense just kind of moved differently. The rest of the offense had an instant trust in the QB. That’s what we’ve seen here with Padilla. You think star running back Tyler Goodson, who has had an underwhelming season but had a huge game against Northwestern liked playing with Padilla? Look at this quote: “For Alex to come in here and look as comfortable and superior as he did, it’s just amazing to see.”

Since there is buy-in from the rest of the team, this is an easy decision, with all due respect to Petras, who has started the last 17 games and led Iowa to a 13-4 record. He was reportedly smiling and encouraging Padilla on the sideline after the first TD drive.

The only consideration would be how prudent it is for a contending team with a lot to play for to shake things up. Michigan and Michigan State last year were just playing out the string. But Padilla just won a game on the road in which he was thrown into an adverse situation. I think he can handle it.

It’s quite possible that Padilla is actually the better player, even though he wasn’t starting. Petras was the better player at the start of last season, as he began his third season in the program while Padilla was in his second. And as Iowa went on an incredible run the last 2 years, winning 12 straight games, how do you replace the QB, even if he wasn’t always directly impacting the outcome? That’s tough.

But since the offense has stalled, the door is open for Padilla. And Ferentz must choose it, even when Petras is healthy again.