With 10 straight wins under his belt, Iowa football quarterback Spencer Petras is full of confidence
IOWA CITY — Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras is in a completely different place than he was on Oct. 31, 2020. Then, Petras, making only his second career start, threw 50 passes and three interceptions against a veteran Northwestern secondary.
The Hawkeyes lost the game, falling to 0-2 and instantly putting Petras under heavy criticism. Now, 334 days and 10 consecutive wins later, things are much different.
Last Saturday was arguably Petras' career-best game. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, Pro Football Focus awarded him a 91.7 grade.
But most importantly, Petras threw the ball deep and threw it accurately. He completed five passes of 20-plus yards. The deep pass was a big part of his game at Marin Catholic High School in California, but it's taken time to happen at the college level.
"In high school, I could just sit back there for five seconds and let my guy outrun them," Petras said. "And even back then, I could throw the ball a long ways so I would just throw it and let him go get it.
"A lot less time in college. But yeah, it’s a big part of my game and when our offense is playing to our potential, we’re hitting our deep shots."
The results of Petras' downfield performance were two-fold: Fans got the glimpse of him they've been waiting for, and it confirmed the coaches' confidence in him to hit when opportunities arise.
That confidence within the facility has always been there. But through four games, with 684 passing yards, a 60% completion rate and a 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, outside support is growing, too. Entering Friday night's game at Maryland, he has 12 starts (the equivalent of one full regular season) under his belt.
"I feel like as he goes, the offense goes," wide receiver Nico Ragaini said. "The more confidence he has, the better the offense will be."
Iowa's team understands the importance of a balanced offensive attack. With opposing teams putting a concentrated effort on stopping the run, there'll be opportunities for Petras to exploit by connecting on more deep plays.
That was the case in the Colorado State game and will be again this Friday with Maryland's tendency to play a single-high safety look.
"Unless we're running a dead play, which at that point is my fault because I got to get us out of it, there's opportunity out there," Petras said. "In the pass game, any concept we run, there's going to be a route or concept that should put pressure on a defense and should win if we do things right."
Petras' continued understanding of opposing defenses and, in turn, how to direct the offense from there, coincides with his biggest next step: better decision-making.
Although his streak of consecutive passes without an interception ended against Colorado State on an ill-advised throw, it was the longest such streak in the Kirk Ferentz era. The trust that Ferentz has always shown in Petras is beginning to show dividends this season.
"I'm not sure people always appreciate how hard a job it is to be the quarterback," Ferentz said. "Yeah, sometimes the best thing to do is throw it away, or sometimes you have to eat the ball. That's regrettable. You don't want to do that. So those are hard things. They're just really hard things to get across.
"That's part of the process. He'll be learning as long as he's playing, just like all of us are. We're all learning too. We're very thrilled he's our quarterback."
Petras' arm will be needed to make a difference Friday vs. Maryland. He got valuable high-stakes, crunch-time experience two weeks ago at Iowa State. His 21-yard pass to tight end Sam LaPorta on a third-and-long that set up his 26-yard touchdown dime to receiver Charlie Jones in double coverage at the end of the first half is the Spencer Petras that Iowa needs for the remainder of the season.
It cannot be overstated how important a full and regular offseason, spring, summer and fall were to his development. He's grown to love the process and as a result, it's paying off in more pass opportunities and team wins.
"I'm very confident and comfortable in my preparation and process," Petras said. "That's the biggest thing is that I've learned the one thing you really have control of is the present moment.
"The only thing we as a team can control is the week-to-week and if we have a great week of preparation, we can expect to go in and win. I've learned that with time and I think that's a good mindset. I like that mindset. It works for me."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org