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Iowa's new quarterback, Spencer Petras, knows he has the firepower around him to succeed

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Spencer Petras is QB1 for the Iowa Hawkeyes now, and, at least in his initial meeting with the media Tuesday, he’s carrying himself accordingly.

Petras was firm in his belief in the Iowa offense and in his ability to make plays, not excuses. He spoke with authority, knowing that there is no room for the timid under center in a college football game.

But, mostly, Petras reiterated what is obvious for any first-year starter at quarterback: Nothing will be known about whether he is up to the challenge until Oct. 24, when the Hawkeyes open a delayed, abbreviated Big Ten Conference season at Purdue.

“I’m extremely lucky. I feel really grateful just to be in the same room as a lot of these guys. It’s an honor to go out and play with them,” Petras said of a Hawkeye offense that is skilled and experienced at every position except the one that matters most.

“It’s my job to make sure this doesn’t go to waste. We have a great team and a lot of talented guys. It’s up to all of us. But it’s up to me to execute this offense well.”

Iowa's new starting quarterback, Spencer Petras, looks to pass during Monday's practice session. Running back Tyler Goodson is to his left. Petras only attempted 10 passes a year ago, but expectations are high that the redshirt sophomore can ignite a potent Hawkeye offense.

Petras has the size (6-foot-5, 231 pounds), the high school accolades (50 touchdown passes against only two interceptions as a senior at Marin Catholic in northern California), and the trust of Iowa’s coaching staff after he beat out the older Peyton Mansell to be Nate Stanley’s backup last season.

But the redshirt sophomore doesn’t have the exposure to meaningful game action after completing 6-of-10 passes in mop-up duty a year ago. And he didn’t get the benefit of a full slate of spring practices as the starting quarterback after the COVID-19 pandemic put Hawkeye sports activities on hiatus from March to September.

Instead, Petras stuck around Iowa City and got creative. He’d gather as many receivers as he could find in town and head to a local high school field to work on route-running, timing and accuracy. He said he did this three or four times a week.

In the process, he earned some respect.

“He just has a commanding personality, what you’re looking for in a leader,” starting center Tyler Linderbaum said of Petras, who is also his roommate.

When Linderbaum moved from defensive line to center two years ago, it was Petras who helped him practice snapping a football and rapidly getting into a blocking motion, essential for that position. Linderbaum started every game at center as Iowa went 10-3 last year and is already considered a potential early-round NFL Draft pick.

Senior running back Mekhi Sargent was one teammate who spent time this offseason catching passes from Petras, trying to develop a bond with his new quarterback that extends beyond the football field.

“He’s like an energy ball. He’s contagious when you’re around him. Guys gravitate towards his leadership,” Sargent said of Petras. “He’s going to have a huge role this year, bringing the team along with him.”

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Petras said he is comfortable preparing for a game after watching Stanley do that for two years. He said he is confident that he can read defenses after studying film with quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe as well. He believes the next step will be to get a read on individual defensive players at the line of scrimmage, looking for subtle clues that may betray their intentions and adjusting his play calls accordingly.

But Petras was also honest about the learning curve ahead. Asked what stood out to him from his limited playing time a year ago, he answered simply: “There were no epiphanies out there.”

The epiphanies will have to come this year for Petras or his time as Iowa’s starting quarterback will be short-lived. This offense is built to win now, and it’s difficult to imagine offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz having a surplus of patience with a signal-caller who is not producing.

Petras said he consults with Brian Ferentz every day at practice, but also exchanges frequent text-messages with the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz. He knows they must think alike if the offense is to reach its potential, and that missing out on precious practice time makes that task even more urgent.

“It’s just executing what the defense gives you. You can’t force anything,” Petras said of his marching orders.

“We have plenty of players to where, as long as I make good decisions, get the ball out on time, fast to these guys, they’re going to be able to make plays. It’s get the ball to the playmakers as fast as possible.”

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Petras went to the same high school as Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff. He even broke most of Goff’s records.

But he hesitated when asked if there’s a quarterback that he emulates. Petras wants to forge his own identity and let others make the comparisons.

“Hopefully, you’ll have a better answer for that on Oct. 24,” Petras said.

Spoken like a true QB1.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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