Quarterback Spencer Petras returns to field, leads Iowa in second half of Nebraska win

Alex Padilla was benched at halftime and Petras saw his first in-game snaps since Nov. 6 in Iowa’s 28-21 win over Nebraska.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa celebrates a touchdown from Spencer Petras after a quarterback sneak during a football game between No. 16 Iowa and Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. Petras rushed for one touchdown. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 28-21.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

LINCOLN, Neb. — Quarterback Spencer Petras maneuvered his way through a cramped media room for his postgame interview after Iowa’s 28-21 win over Nebraska on Black Friday. The redshirt junior, donning a “Big Ten West champions” t-shirt, made it to the podium and grinned at the reporters sitting in front of him.

“So happy to be back in front of you guys again,” Petras said.

After starting every game of the 2020 season and the first nine contests of the 2021 campaign, Friday marked Petras’ first in-game snaps since Nov. 6, when he was removed in the first quarter of Iowa’s win over Northwestern with a shoulder injury. Petras began the Nebraska game by wearing a red baseball cap on the sideline as the backup quarterback. But at the start of the second half, Petras traded that cap in for his black and gold Hawkeye helmet.

When Iowa’s offense only produced six points in the first half and the Hawkeyes trailed the Huskers by eight, head coach Kirk Ferentz opted to make a “gut decision” and throw Petras back into the mix. Petras started the second half, replacing Alex Padilla, who has started the last three games for Iowa.

“Felt like maybe that’d give us a little boost,” Ferentz said postgame.

“[We] just needed to go a different direction, similar to what happened against Northwestern [when] my shoulder was jacked up and just couldn’t do it,” Petras added. “That’s just the way it is. Next guy in.”

When Hawkeye players got word that Petras was taking over, Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum slapped Petras on the helmet and told him, “You’re a winner. Go out there and win.”

That’s what Petras did.

Petras led Iowa on four offensive drives in the second half, excluding the kneel down to end the game. The Hawkeyes got two field goals and a touchdown out of those drives, but could have had more if running back Tyler Goodson had not lost a fumble at Nebraska’s 6-yard line on Iowa’s opening possession of the second half. But Goodson redeemed himself.

The junior surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the season with his 156-yard performance against Nebraska. In the fourth quarter, his 55-yard run set up Petras for a game-winning QB sneak touchdown.

“It’s funny, T-Good takes us down there, then Gavin [Williams] with some physical runs. Then I get the score,” Petras said. “It feels like I’m cheating those guys. But no, it was good. It was good to get in the end zone.”

Petras finished the game 7-of-13 passing for 102 yards and a rushing touchdown in a game where Iowa trailed by 15 points in the second half, but scored the final 22 points of the game to walk away with the victory and the Heroes Trophy.

“Obviously as a competitor, I want to be out there,” Petras said after Iowa’s seventh consecutive win over Nebraska. “My number was called today and I was able to execute.”

Padilla went 6-of-14 for 76 yards and had multiple passes go through the hands of Nebraska defenders in his third career start. Padilla went 6-of-17 for 83 yards and an interception in last week’s win against Illinois. Petras injured his shoulder against Wisconsin on Oct. 30 and was removed in the first quarter a week later against the Wildcats. Padilla replaced Petras against Northwestern and has started in Iowa’s wins over Minnesota and Illinois the past two weeks, with Petras listed as the backup on the depth chart.

“Nobody likes to be on second team,” Ferentz said. “At least good second-teamers don’t want to be second team. They want to be first team, and I’m sure Spencer felt that way, but you’d never know it the way he practiced.”

Petras said he didn’t practice at all the week leading up to the Northwestern game because of his injury, and was mostly off the practice field ahead of the Minnesota game to give it more time to heal. The past two week, Petras said, he has felt 100 percent. Well, at least his shoulder did.

RELATED: Iowa rallies from 15-point deficit to beat Nebraska, clinch share of Big Ten West

Both of Iowa’s top-two quarterbacks were sick with the flu early in the week. Neither player practiced on Tuesday, leading to third-stringer Deuce Hogan taking first-team reps.

“If it was Deuce [starting against Nebraska], with all due respect to Deuce, I might have stayed in Iowa City,” Ferentz joked. “… [Iowa’s flu outbreak] was pretty bad. For those of us that didn’t get it, I’m sure we all got it. Because it was a pretty good locker room [celebration] in there.”

Ferentz said Petras and Padilla were both healthy coming into the game, and that their health status did not impact making a change at halftime.

With the win, Iowa improved to 10-2 on the season and 7-2 in Big Ten play. The Hawkeye clinched at least a share of the Big Ten West division title. If Wisconsin defeats Minnesota on Saturday, the Badgers will represent the West in the Big Ten Championship game because of their win over the Hawkeyes earlier this season. If Minnesota upsets Wisconsin, Iowa will win the division outright and play the winner of Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game next weekend in Indianapolis.

As for which quarterback would start that game, Ferentz declined to answer.

Alex is a great quarterback, and so is Spencer,” Goodson added. “We have two quarterbacks who can get the job done.”

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