Spencer Petras brushes off criticism as he competes to earn Iowa’s starting quarterback job for second-straight season

The San Rafael, California, native started all eight games for the Hawkeyes in 2020.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras attempts a pass during a football game between Iowa and Michigan State in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. The Hawkeyes dominated the Spartans, 49-7.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Spencer Petras is aware of the criticism his play received last year in his first season as the Iowa football team’s starting quarterback. He just doesn’t care.

“Everyone has their own opinion, and that’s OK,” Petras said on a Zoom call Tuesday. “No offense to the fans, I could care less about what they have to say about my performance… It’s kind of silly to worry about anything except how I play and the way I do things.”

What Petras is focused on right now is proving he’s deserving of a second season as Iowa’s starting signal caller.

The San Rafael, California, native started all eight games for the Hawkeyes in 2020, leading the team to a 6-2 record, including six consecutive victories to end the season.

Petras threw four touchdowns and five interceptions through the first six games of the season, leading fans to start questioning whether he was Iowa’s best starting option. But Petras’ best football game against Illinois and Wisconsin to end the year, where he threw five touchdowns (and no picks) in his final seven quarters of 2020.

Still, Petras’ name is currently written in pencil at the top of Iowa’s spring depth chart, not pen.

“Everybody is splitting reps [at quarterback],” Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said Wednesday. “Everybody is there right now to show us what they’re capable of doing. Every throw, every incompletion, interception, explosive play — it’s recorded and looked at every day. The body of work is really just beginning here in spring ball.”

O’Keefe said Iowa is holding a true competition this spring for the starting job under center and noted Petras is aware he needs to work every day to secure his job for a second season.

Petras, a redshirt junior, is in the lead, but redshirt sophomore Alex Padilla and redshirt freshman Deuce Hogan are also fighting for the spot.

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O’Keefe described Padilla, who appeared in two games last season, as an accurate quarterback with a solid command of the offense. Hogan, a four-star recruit from Texas, is still adjusting to Iowa’s offense, O’Keefe said, but continues to progress.

“They don’t look at themselves as backup quarterbacks,” O’Keefe said of Padilla and Hogan. “They’re looking at themselves as guys that are starters. They’re competing for the starting job. That’s how we want them to approach the whole thing.

“The bottom line is, [Petras] has eight games worth of experience under his belt. You automatically end up with the advantage in that particular case. The guy who doesn’t have the experience has to prove it every rep, every rotation he jumps in during practice to keep climbing.”

Iowa’s first day of spring practice was in March. By May 1, the Hawkeyes will have completed 15 practices — two of which are open to the public.

Precautions taken because of the pandemic forced the Hawkeyes to scatter across the country last spring, meaning in-person meetings and practices were replaced by Zoom sessions. But now Petras has the opportunity to go through the spring having already gained on-field experience.

“Spring is great,” Petras said. “Spring is an opportunity for us older guys to develop our chemistry and really work on our offense. It’s really 15 practices to just improve. And then for young guys, a lot of time this is their first real opportunity to get some real reps with our offense, learn the system some, and learn how to execute efficiently in our system.”

Perhaps the most important thing Petras is focused on this spring is improving upon his 57.1 completion percentage from last season, which ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 84th out of 108 qualified FBS quarterbacks.

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The target Petras and O’Keefe have set for 2021, assuming Petras starts: 65 percent.

One way Petras has approached bumping that number up is by watching Mac Jones, Alabama’s starting quarterback last season and the winner of the 2020 Davey O’Brien award, which goes to the best QB in the nation. Petras applauded Jones’ ball placement and how he put passes in areas receivers can catch the ball and run with it.

“Spencer has already improved in that particular area,” O’Keefe said. “Four practices [into the spring], you can see the improvement. The timing with the receivers is coming together.”

Iowa’s 2021 opener is scheduled for Sept. 4. Between now and then (probably close to then), the Hawkeyes will have named their starting quarterback.

And if Petras does earn the starting spot for a second season in a row, his teammates will be behind him.

“He’s one of the most genuine guys on the team. A great leader,” free safety Jack Koerner said Tuesday. “You couldn’t find a harder worker on our team. Everybody on the team has an immense amount of respect for him, including myself.

“I’m excited to see what comes from that, because he’s worked his butt off.”