116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Nico Ragaini is no stranger to deep throws from Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras.
“Every single practice he pretty much chucks them down the field,” the wide receiver said. “When we have a deep route, we know we’ve got to be really, really sprinting because the ball could go like 67 yards, easy.”
When Ragaini pulled off a Willie Mays-style catch against Colorado State in the fourth quarter on a 34-yard throw from Petras, it was a little less familiar to the 65,456 fans in attendance.
Petras rarely threw the ball deep until Saturday’s 24-14 win over Colorado State, to the dismay of some fans. About 59 percent of his completions in this season’s first three games went for fewer than 10 yards.
He had only one completion for more than 30 yards — a 48-yard pass to Ragaini in the fourth quarter against Kent State.
Iowa fans saw a slightly different Petras against Colorado State, though.
He still had plenty of short throws. Sixty percent of completions were for fewer than 10 yards.
But the other 40 percent went deeper. Petras had three 30-plus yard connections with his receivers.
His average completion went for 14.9 yards against Colorado State, much longer than the 9.4 yards per completion in the first three games.
Ragaini said the lack of deeper throws earlier in the season was a result of the game situations Iowa experienced. Two of the first three wins came by more than 20 points.
“In the first three games, there really wasn’t a reason for us to be taking like extremely big shots,” Ragaini said. “We had big leads.”
Head coach Kirk Ferentz likes the efficiency of the shorter throws, too.
“Typically the percentage goes down the farther you throw it down the field,” Ferentz said.
Petras’ completion percentage varied in the first three games from 48 percent against Indiana to 69 percent against Kent State.
The shorter passes did help him go 167 consecutive throws without an interception, though, dating back to the 2020 season. The streak ended on a short pass against Colorado State on a failed tunnel screen.
Iowa’s battle against Colorado State brought much different circumstances than the first three games. The Rams never trailed Iowa by more than 10 points and were the first team to boast a halftime lead since Illinois had a one-point lead on Dec. 5, 2020.
Those different circumstances prompted different offensive play-calling.
“In this game, we had to throw some shots,” Ragaini said Tuesday.
Colorado State also frequently stacked the box to hinder running back Tyler Goodson and Iowa’s running game, creating opportunities elsewhere.
Establishing a deep threat is “very important,” Goodson said, “so that the defense respects that we can throw the ball down the field.”
Ferentz said the newfound success throwing deep follows improvements in practice.
“Last week was a better week for us completing deep balls in practice,” Ferentz said. “Whereas a couple weeks prior to that, I wasn’t so sure how many of those we were making. In fact, I’m pretty sure how many we weren’t making. … That's a concern because, if you're not doing it in practice, it's not going to happen in the game.”
Even when Petras hadn’t been throwing deep, his receivers knew he could. Now, it’s a matter of doing it.
“We know Spencer could do it, and he knows he could do it, so we just have to continue to grow and take some more shots this week and as the year goes on,” Ragaini said.
When true freshman wide receiver Keagan Johnson had two 40-plus-yard catches Saturday against Colorado State, he partly credited his chemistry with Petras.
“When I came out and saw press, me and Spencer, we kind of know — we have that connection — that I can win those deep balls,” Johnson said Saturday.
Petras said Tuesday it was “fun” to have the big-play success against Colorado State although he insisted the “focus right now is on Maryland.”
Will we see more deep throws in Big Ten play? Petras is “always trying to execute those (longer throws) if they’re there.”
“You can’t force anything, but if it’s there, we need to take advantage of it because those plays are huge in games,” Petras said. “We’re looking forward to trying to do it again Friday night.”
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