Opinion | Petras deserving of praise following performance against Illinois

The first-year starter’s first quarter against Illinois was more of the same. But then he stepped up the rest of the game.


Katie Goodale

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras (7) throws a pass during the third quarter of the Iowa v. Illinois football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Iowa defeated Illinois with a final score of 35-21.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Spencer Petras’ first quarter against Illinois on Saturday appeared to be the start of a here-we-go-again performance from the up-and-down quarterback.

The first-year starter underthrew short routes to Tyler Goodson and missed other receivers on the perimeter. He was holding Iowa’s offense back. Then the redshirt sophomore played the best three quarters of his Hawkeye career.

And he deserves credit for that.

Down 14-0 early in the second quarter, Iowa faced a third-and-12 from Illinois’ 42-yard line. The Hawkeyes had punted on their first four drives, and couldn’t finish another drive without points if they wanted to stay in the game. To that point, Petras was 3-of-7 passing for 35 yards. The only positive passing play was a dump off to fullback Monte Pottebaum for 20 yards.

“We weren’t even spinning our tires,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They weren’t moving. We were stuck. And it was not pretty. You start having dark thoughts when those things happen. It’s like, ‘OK, maybe not our day.’ That’s why the games are 60 minutes. That’s why you keep playing.”

Back to the third-down play. Petras dumped a pass off to Goodson on a screen play for a pickup of nine, bringing up fourth-and-3. Iowa’s offense stayed on the field.

If the Hawkeyes don’t score, perhaps Ferentz makes the call to go to backup Alex Padilla. I know the several Twitter users would have encouraged that. I didn’t blame them, I was thinking critically too. Briefly in the early portion of the second quarter, I even started to plan how this column would be about how Petras should be benched. So much for that.

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On fourth down, wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette ran an “out” route and was Petras’ primary target on the play. But he wasn’t open. Time to improvise.

“We kind of did a little backyard football move,” Petras said. “He just sat down in the hole. And thanks to the O-line I was able to get him a ball he could catch and go. It was a big turning point, and a big play.”

Petras delivered a strike to Smith-Marsette, who caught the pass for a first down over the middle of the field. The next play, tight end Sam LaPorta ran a seam route against a cover one defense, and Petras put it on him for the touchdown.

“That first touchdown was huge,” LaPorta said. “From there, we just took off.”

Petras completed 12 of his final 18 passes, and threw two more touchdowns on the day to Smith-Marsette and tight end Shaun Beyer. The San Rafael, California, native’s three touchdowns were a career best.

The Hawkeyes ran out of the Wildcat formation on their final scoring drive of the night against the Illini, and Goodson took direct snaps out of the shotgun.

“I can assure you,” Ferentz said, with a smirk, in reference to the Wildcat, “we are not trying to start a quarterback controversy.”

Ferentz was joking, but the point stands.

Iowa’s 35-21 victory improves the team to 5-2 on the season. Petras still has plenty to prove if he wants to be the Hawkeye quarterback of the future. But his final three quarters on Saturday was a good start.

Petras has taken heat all year for struggling. He deserves praise for improving.

“Every game’s [an] education, every minute you play, every series, every possession,” Ferentz said. “We’re playing a young quarterback right now. This will be really valuable for him.”

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.