Leistikow: Iowa football following Ted Lasso’s advice to ‘be a goldfish,’ with goal of beating Northwestern
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Spencer Petras took a beating Saturday at Wisconsin. He was sacked on the first play of the game in Iowa’s humbling 27-7 loss and was pelted constantly by the guys in red and white behind a leaky offensive line.
On his final series midway through the fourth quarter, Petras took simultaneous shots to his right shoulder and helmet as he was desperately trying to throw the football away against the latest pass rush.
Yet three days later, the Iowa quarterback was about as upbeat and jovial as we’ve seen all season. The redshirt junior was engaging, insightful, thoughtful and even dropped in a little bit of humor during a media session inside the Iowa Football Performance Center.
Yeah, losing stings.
But the absolute only thing that matters to the Hawkeyes is that they go 1-0 this week by beating Northwestern at 6 p.m. Saturday on Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.
“Totally,” Petras said. “Because last week’s over. The emotions we all felt after that game and even Sunday, those don’t affect us. The only thing thinking about that can do is take time away from our preparation for Northwestern.”
Petras said it can be difficult to move past the gnawing feeling of defeat, but preparing for a new opponent helps.
To illustrate the team's mentality, Petras quoted the main character from a recently binged show on Apple TV.
“As Ted Lasso said, ‘What’s the happiest animal?’ A goldfish, right? Ten-second memory,” Petras said. “That’s kind of where we’re at. Move ahead, keep going.”
“Be a Goldfish” has become one of the signature lines from the fictional Lasso, one that is plastered on T-shirts and quoted by the fans of the viral show. The quote is about moving past failures, to quickly forget the past.
“Be a Goldfish.”
That mentality could certainly be helpful to an embattled Iowa offensive line that seems to have lost confidence. All-American center Tyler Linderbaum, who is one of Petras’ roommates, echoed that “Be a Goldfish” mentality. The offensive line yielded six sacks and four additional tackles for loss against Wisconsin, seemingly getting worse as the disastrous first half went on. The third quarter did get incrementally better, but it was too late.
“The biggest thing with football is how you respond,” Linderbaum said. “Let’s say you get beat one rep, how do you respond on the next rep? A big focus is not letting one play hurt the next play and the next play and the whole drive, the whole quarter.”
Speaking of forgetting the past … hello, Northwestern.
Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats have beaten Iowa in four of the last five meetings. That includes last year, when Iowa lost a 17-0 lead at home and the game, 21-20. Petras took a lot of heat after throwing three interceptions; offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz took even more heat for calling 51 passes in a game that Iowa never trailed by more than one point.
“I don’t think anyone that played in that game forgets that game. Especially me,” Petras said. “There’s a lot of motivation there.”
In this case, Petras allows himself to remember the past, with the acknowledgment that it's a motivator to create new memories. What he's encouraged by is how Iowa responded to that Northwestern loss — by winning 12 straight games, 10 of them by double figures.
"The veterans on our team that played in that game, we’ve been in this spot before," Petras said. "Our backs are against the wall, and we’ve got to push this thing through."
The Hawkeyes were ranked No. 22 in Tuesday’s initial College Football Playoff rankings. That’s not where anyone associated with the program — coaches, players, fans — wanted to be after rising to No. 2 in the national polls from a 6-0 start.
But players and coaches are choosing to look at this Northwestern game as a major opportunity to claim a fresh start.
Petras, one of the team’s most vocal and engaging leaders, said he’s “reminding guys that the sky isn’t falling. We’re not panicking. We’ve got to keep working, and good results will come if we’re doing things right."
Iowa is a 12-point favorite at Northwestern, which is coming off a 41-14 home loss to new Big Ten West leader Minnesota. The Wildcats may be a Hawkeye nemesis, but they’re vulnerable. Don’t forget, Iowa beat the ‘Cats by 41 in 2014, by 30 in 2015 and by a 20-0 shutout in Evanston in 2019.
It doesn’t matter if Iowa wins by 12 points or by 41 or by one on Saturday night.
Forget style points. Any kind of win would cure a lot of sour feelings. That would put the Hawkeyes at 7-2 overall, 4-2 in the Big Ten and in position to do what they did in 2019 — take down a surging Minnesota team at home in November.
There's a lot to play for, with four games over 21 days. Only three Kirk Ferentz-era teams at Iowa have achieved 10-win regular seasons — 2002, 2009 and 2015. Going 4-0 against Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska would allow this team to join that special collection.
And if Wisconsin loses just once while Iowa goes 4-0, the Hawkeyes would be back in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.
But none of that is possible without going 1-0 vs. Northwestern on Saturday.
"All we're trying to do is win this week," Kirk Ferentz said. "Simple as that."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.