Halfway through first season as starter, Petras focused on cutting down turnovers

The redshirt sophomore quarterback still has the confidence of his team despite shaky performances early in the season.


Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 13, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras (7) drops back for a pass during pre game warmups before a game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Masked behind Iowa’s dominant 35-7 victory over Minnesota was another shaky performance from first-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras.

The redshirt sophomore completed five of his first six passes against the Gophers, and the Hawkeyes led 7-0 by the 5:42 mark of the first quarter. The next 30-plus minutes of game time were not as kind to Petras.

Between Iowa’s first scoring drive and the second play of the fourth quarter, Petras went 1-for-9 passing. Petras completed as many passes to a Hawkeye as he did a Gopher. Iowa’s third drive of the game concluded with Petras staring down wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette from the snap and throwing an ugly interception.

Petras’ play contributed to Iowa failing to extend its 14-0 lead until it sank the boat in the fourth quarter, scoring three touchdowns.

Following the game, head coach Kirk Ferentz said he didn’t consider benching Petras in favor of backup Alex Padilla while the passing offense struggled. In the fourth quarter, Petras heated up and completed all three of his pass attempts, including an eight-yard touchdown to Smith-Marsette on the fourth play of the period, and the Hawkeyes won handily.

“It’s just the way it is,” Ferentz said at his postgame press conference. “With a new quarterback, there’s going to be some growing pains. We all knew that. And I’ll remind everybody, it’s a new quarterback without the luxury of a spring practice, which is huge.”

The success of Iowa’s rushing offense the past two games – both Iowa victories – has taken the pressure off of Petras in the passing game. Petras attempted 89 passes in Iowa’s losses to Purdue and Northwestern and Michigan State. In Week 3 and Week 4, he attempted 45.

Running backs Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent have taken over the offense. Running behind an offensive line that dominated Michigan State and Minnesota’s defensive fronts, Iowa ran for 461 yards and eight touchdowns.

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Halfway through the Big Ten’s eight-game regular season, Petras is ninth in the conference in passing yards (759) and 12th in touchdowns (three). He is last among qualified starters in the conference with a completion percentage of 53.7 percent, and only three signal callers in the Big Ten have more interceptions than his four.

“I think every week I’m improving and getting more comfortable,” Petras said. “The only thing I need to continue to do is eliminate turnovers. That really hurts the team. You’re going to make bad decisions. But just like our football team, we’re getting better week to week. And I think I’m doing the same thing.”

Petras has shown flashes of being a more than capable starting quarterback, but inconsistent plays bog him down. The interception in Minneapolis in the first quarter was followed by an 18-yard strike to wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. and a 28-yard completion to Shaun Beyer late in the game.

No matter his play, the leadership abilities Petras possesses are often praised by his teammates.

“Spencer’s a great quarterback,” Goodson said. “It’s taking him some time for the game to slow down for him. He’s grown tremendously. His first two games were obviously not how he wanted them to go. But [Petras] comes in with a fresh mind each week ready to lead the team and ready to get a victory.”

As Petras continues to grow into the role of Iowa’s starter under center, he has the luxury of relying on a productive running game and a stout defense for support.

The next challenge for the San Rafael, California, native is Penn State. Petras could become the first Iowa quarterback to win at State College since Ricky Stanzi in 2009.

Despite the struggles early in his starting tenure, Petras’ team is still behind him.

“There’s no question about our confidence in Spencer, and we feel the same way about Alex,” Ferentz said. “I think we have a good situation there. We just need to keep pushing forward.”