Iowa postgame mailbag: Still concerned about Spencer Petras? And is anyone on Phil Parker's level?

On Friday night, Iowa's football team turned Washington D.C. and Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium into Kinnick East. 

The stage was set. Undefeated, top-five ranked Iowa on the road against an undefeated Maryland team on a Friday night. It was the only marquee college football matchup on TV and Maryland fans acted accordingly, filling much of the stadium with all black. But by the end of the game, the only dominant color left was Iowa gold. 

Iowa (5-0, 2-0 in Big Ten play) trounced Maryland (4-1, 1-1) by a score of 51-14, making yet another national television statement. Their win sets the stage for a potential top-five matchup with sixth-ranked Penn State next Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. 

The Hawkeyes turned in their best performance of the season on the eve of the biggest matchup of the year. There's plenty of praise to go around after this one.

Let's get to your questions in this week's postgame mailbag: 

Is there a more valuable coordinator in the country than Phil Parker?

When Friday’s game started, 105 FBS players had more interceptions than Taulia Tagovailoa (1). At the 12:20 in the fourth quarter, no FBS players have more interceptions than Taulia Tagovailoa (6).

How's that for a stat? 

You can thank defensive coordinator Phil Parker, the mastermind behind Iowa's game plan for that. 

"Coach Parker really overprepared us," Cornerback Terry Roberts, who had one of six Iowa interceptions said. "We kind of do that every week. It was having great discipline, knowing our keys, having great eyes and lineman knowing responsibilities and everything will take care of itself." 

More:Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell shares the secret to Phil Parker’s defense

Parker has been with Ferentz since the beginning in 1999 and for the greater part of the last decade, Iowa's defense has been elite. Iowa has been among the top 12 among FBS programs in each of the last three years in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense. The Hawkeyes were No. 5 nationally in fewest points allowed in 2019 (14.0) and No. 6 in 2020 (16.0).

They've now have played 26 straight games without allowing more than 24 points, the longest streak in FBS. And including last night, 76 interceptions in the last five seasons is the most in the country.

The secret? Just old-fashioned work. In a college game where turnovers are celebrated with flashy jewelry or gold, spiked pads, Parker's defense has embraced a blue-collar mentality.

And right now, it's executing at the highest level. 

I’ve always thought (Spencer Petras) had the potential but lacked the confidence. This was confident and I’m on board now.

Not so much a question from a reader, but it says a lot. It appears that Spencer Petras has, to an extent, silenced skeptics a bit with his recent play. Last week against Colorado State was arguably this best game as a starter but his performance Maryland build upon that in a big way. 

“I wasn’t on the team last year, and I saw a lot of criticism about him," freshman receiver Arland Bruce IV said. "But everything I’ve seen has been great, ever since spring when I got here. I have never understood the criticism. Great job by Spencer."

Petras threw accurately most of Friday night, on a variety of throws. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz's strategic yet aggressive play calling put him in a position to put together a complete night: 21-of-30 passes (a 70% rate) for 259 yards and five total touchdowns (three passing). When he took his curtain call at the beginning of the fourth quarter, he led Iowa on nine straight scoring drives. 

But most importantly, he's led Iowa to 11 straight wins. Questions around him just months ago used to be pessimistic: Is Petras the quarterback that can take Iowa where they hope to be? Or should Alex Padilla be the starter?  

Now they've taken on a different tone: What's the ceiling for a confident Petras? And what does that mean for Iowa's offense if he keeps playing like this? 

More:With 10 straight wins under his belt, Iowa football quarterback Spencer Petras is full of confidence

Petras' growing confidence has resulted in big-play shots, and conversions down the field. His first deep shot to Ragaini was a near completion but an early warning to Maryland that they weren't afraid to test them. His 67-yard touchdown to Tyler Goodson to start the second half put the Maryland defense down for good then his subsequent 31-yard dime to Charlie Jones down the left sideline was the icing on the cake. 

With the rush offense's re-emergence last night, Iowa's offense looks as balanced as it's been with Petras as the starter. 

It took a year and a half but Petras is winning over large portions of the Hawkeye fan base now. 

Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum prepares to snap the ball against Maryland on Friday.

Your take on the offensive line? 

Last week against Colorado State wasn't a game to write home about for anyone on Iowa's offensive line, including center Tyler Linderbaum. I thought their performance against Maryland was a great comeback effort. 

A few things of note, a new lineup combination: Kyler Schott starting at left guard over Cody Ince and for the second straight week true freshman Connor Colby got the start at right guard. And sophomore Justin Britt's return paid huge dividends for the unit early on. 

Down 7-3, Iowa executed arguably their best offensive drive of the season. An eight-play, 58-yard touchdown drive where every play went for positive yardage minus one dropped pass. Britt and Ince, who were subbing with Colby and Schott, were in during this drive. The first three plays were three consecutive Goodson runs for five, six and five yards. 

More:Just how valuable is Tyler Goodson to Iowa football? Look no further than the win vs. Kent State

Especially in the first half, the Hawkeyes offensive line pushed Maryland's front around the field. Tyler Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin combined for an average of 5.7 yards per carry in the second half. Petras only took two sacks for the game and the first didn't come until late in the second quarter when the score was 34-7. 

The push the line gave on the quarterback sneaks for scores was impressive.

It was nice to see the entire unit have bounce back games but especially the youngest on the line in Colby and Mason Richman. It will be interesting to see what happens with Schott at left guard (who is still working on his conditioning off the foot injury) and what happens with Ince, who the coaches were hoping to move to tackle during the spring. 

But it appears Iowa's settled in on their top seven. However they're positioned, last night was a confidence-boosting game. 

What specifically will Penn State bring to the matchup that Iowa may have not yet faced?

When thinking about what Penn State will bring to the table that others haven't, I think about an classic football phrase: "It ain't about the X's & O's. It's about the Jimmy's and the Joes."

And Penn State has Jimmy's and Joes'. 

Unlike Iowa's first four opponents, Penn State has a proven pedigree of national relevance and their recruiting rankings reflect their program success. Over the last five seasons, their classes have ranked 14th in the country on average according to 247 sports. 

Simply put, they have elite talent everywhere. You see it on Saturdays. And you see it on Sundays, with their roster of alums playing in the NFL. The upgrade in athleticism is what will be Iowa's greatest challenge in next Saturday's game.

They have the statistical output to back it up: 

  • Like Iowa, Penn State has two ranked wins this year: then-No. 12 ranked Wisconsin and current No. 23 Auburn.
  • Penn State's offense is averaging over 400 yards per game: 300 yards passing and close to 115 yards per game rushing
  • A stat to watch? Penn State's offense has only two turnovers through four games 

This matchup was circled on the calendar before the season as one of Iowa's toughest opponents and it's here soon. Not sure how many people predicted it would be a game of two top-five teams (assuming Penn State takes care of Indiana this Saturday) but that element is exciting for everyone involved.

Here we go. 

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