Instant analysis: As Spencer Petras goes, so goes Iowa football's offense (and season)

AMES, Ia. — We learned a lot in No. 12 Iowa's drubbing of rival No. 10 Iowa State.

But one takeaway from the 27-17 victory stands out above the rest: As quarterback Spencer Petras goes, so goes Iowa's offense and, ultimately, how far the Hawkeyes go this season.

Petras played his best football in the second quarter before tapering off a bit in the second half. He finished 11-for-21 for 106 yards and a touchdown.

Iowa's defense played stellar throughout, forcing four turnovers with a Jestin Jacobs forced fumble returned for a touchdown in the third quarter. The other three: two interceptions by defensive back Matt Hankins and one by linebacker Seth Benson, which were converted into a touchdown and two field goals, respectively. 

MORE: The five best moments from ESPN College GameDay in Ames

It's clear that Iowa's defense is capable of both shutting opponents down and wreaking havoc. Their play allows Petras to play comfortably. And so far this season, he's done that. But a little tighter play could be the difference in Iowa playing for a Big Ten championship this December and possibly a New Year's Six bowl game.

Iowa's defensive turnovers and the ensuing sequences paint the picture. 

After Hankins' first interception (early in the second quarter), Petras led them on a touchdown drive capped off by a Tyler Goodson run to take a 7-3 advantage. Iowa's next possession: a 10-play, 71-yard touchdown drive in which Petras completed 5 of 5 passes, including a 26-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Jones in between two Cyclone defenders to make the score 14-3 just before halftime. 

The second half was much more of a mixed bag. 

Benson's third-quarter interception set Iowa up for a potential knockout punch following Jacobs' strip fumble-turned-touchdown. Iowa's offense went backwards for minus-8 yards on four plays, though. Petras took a bad sack to push the offense back 9 yards and almost out of field goal range. 

On the next possession, Hankins picked Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy off again and returned it to the Cyclones' 22-yard line. Again, Iowa's offense stalled out and settled for another field goal to extend their lead to 27-10. 

In his first start facing a rowdy road crowd, Petras passed the test overall. He played within the offense, didn't turn the ball over and generally kept things moving even without much productivity from the running game. 

However, for long stretches of the second half, Iowa fans saw inconsistencies in Petras' play. He went 9-for-14 first half ... and 2-for-7 in the second half. 

Iowa junior quarterback Spencer Petras points to the Iowa State defense in the second quarter at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Neither opponent through two weeks has figured out Phil Parker's defense. Their ability to create defensive scores, as well as to set up Iowa's offense for easy scores, have helped Petras and the offense tremendously.

It's fair to say the defense will continue to play at a high level for the rest of the season.

It's also fair to say Petras has answered the two main questions about his play entering the season: Is he the definitive guy for Iowa? And can he take care of the football? 

The answer to both appear to be yes. Now, for the following question: How far can he take Iowa's offense? If he plays like he did in the second quarter — decisive, confident and ahead of the chains — Iowa could reach rare heights in the Big Ten. 

If it's more like the second half, the ceiling suddenly becomes lower. 

Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at