Iowa football quarterback Spencer Petras is the type of leader the No. 2 team in the country needs
IOWA CITY —
Turning the page after an emotional, mentally draining win like Iowa's 23-20 thriller over Penn State last Saturday is sometimes easier said than done.
The challenge for Iowa this week is both recovering and also resetting focus to a thorn in their side of late: Purdue, who has won three of the past four meetings, including the Hawkeyes' season-opening loss last year, 24-20.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz is no doubt emphasizing the "24-hour rule," the period in which players can enjoy the win, then look to the next game ahead.
As far as player leadership, Spencer Petras has become an extension of his coach.
"He's kind of an echo of what coach Ferentz says," offensive lineman Kyler Schott said. "He's a great leader on the team. He's making sure we're all heading in the right direction. He's telling us where to go."
Petras' on-field leadership showed against Penn State. After a 2-for-11 start with one interception, he completed 15 of his final 22 passes for 173 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Like Iowa's team, he was tested physically with three sacks and tough quarterback hits, and emotionally by overcoming a rough start.
Off the field, he's developed into the type of leader and motivator the No. 2 team in the country needs. He has developed a cool, level head after a year and a half of at-times intense scrutiny as Iowa's quarterback.
The quarterback is usually the de-facto leader on most teams, but players still have to earn respect. Petras' evolution into an all-around leader both on the field and off it is another aspect of his development that's led to a high degree of success during his time in Iowa City.
"He is just so invested. Like, he's totally invested," Ferentz said. "He's mentally tough and you have to be to play that position because everybody's got an opinion about his performance and that and the offensive coordinator; those are the two worse jobs, as far as being critiqued. So it takes really unique people to do those jobs and Spencer's got that. He's got the right stuff that way."
Petras has always been a leader of this program, Ferentz said. Even when he was a younger backup to Nate Stanley and he didn't talk as much, he found another pathway to lead.
"Internally, we've all felt good about Spencer because we watched him," Ferentz said. "Even when he was not playing, we watched him and how he worked and how he goes about things."
As he's gotten older and become an established player, Petras said he's become more confident being a vocal leader, as well.
"I've always been pretty extroverted," Petras said. "When you're young and you don't really have the credibility or haven't really played, then being a vocal leader isn't going to be super effective. But I think I've always been extroverted. As the older I get and the more experience I get, it becomes easier."
As the quarterback, Petras' impact is felt on other positions on offense. Two freshmen at receiver, Arland Bruce IV and Keegan Johnson, have emerged as impact players for the Hawkeyes. Petras and Johnson connected for a 42-yard pass last Saturday in the fourth quarter that set up a Caleb Shudak field goal that cut Penn State's lead to 20-16.
Petras' leadership has been instrumental to their development, Johnson said.
"Dating back to spring ball or (fall) camp," Johnson added. "Maybe I had a tough day on certain plays — we'd go into film and he'd point out this and that, what I could do better. I feel like that played a big role in my development and kudos to him because sometimes it's not always easy for an older guy to invest that time in a younger guy and he was always willing to do that."
Petras' development as a leader is seen more through the lens of coaches and players than spectators, but his improvement on the field has been apparent. Comparing the first six games of last season to this season, he's improved in completion percentage (56% to 61%), cut down on interceptions (five to two) and has already matched his touchdown pass total from last season (nine).
Iowa's offense has been opportunistic and largely effective when given the opportunity to score. Statistically, they can make significant strides but within the chunk of the season, they've improved several areas of concern from spring practice and fall camp.
"We're 6-0 so we've played good enough six times to win the game," Petras said. "I know we're looking to take the next step this week. It's never going to be perfect but it's a game where you're seeking perfection every time you're out there and it's a never-ending road to perfection and I think we're working hard."
Petras is one of Iowa's leaders that has helped propel the team to its No. 2 ranking in the country. The hardest part of the season is yet to come, though, where the pressure and scrutiny to perform will increase.
But the Hawkeyes are confident knowing that Petras is leading them. As last Saturday indicated, even in moments of adversity, they can rely on him to keep the offense and the team steady.
"It's awesome having another coach on the field," Johnson said. "I feel like the rest of the offense builds off his energy and he's just a positive leader that we all trust. I feel like that helps our attitude."
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 email@example.com