Iowa Football

Spencer Petras recovers from slow start to help Iowa rally against Illinois

Young quarterback turns in 3-touchdown, no-pick performance in 35-21 win

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras is pressured by Illinois defensive lineman Owen Carney Jr. (99) and Roderick Perry II du
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras is pressured by Illinois defensive lineman Owen Carney Jr. (99) and Roderick Perry II during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — You can exhale now, everyone. The same can probably be said for Spencer Petras.

Perhaps someday you’ll be able to look back and say Saturday was the start of a great career for the Iowa quarterback.

The roll needs to be slowed here big time, for sure. This is just the redshirt sophomore’s seventh start, and he has to follow up his performance here with another good one.

And another and another. But three touchdown passes, the way he was able to make throws after a rough first quarter — and an uneven first six games — was so very, very encouraging.

“I’m proud of Spencer,” said Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum. “He has put a lot of work in. To finally see a few touchdown passes thrown to the tight ends, that was nice. That’s a guy who is in the meeting room working his butt off. He’s on the practice field working his butt off. To see a few touchdown passes from him was nice.”

Petras came into Saturday ranked 13th in passing efficiency in the Big Ten Conference. He short-hopped open receivers with throws in a dismal first quarter for himself and his team, as Iowa fell behind, 14-0, early in the second.

But an innocuous little flip to fullback Monte Pottebaum that went for 20 yards on Iowa’s first series of the second quarter was a harbinger. On the Hawkeyes’ next possession, Petras completed four passes, including a 22-yarder to tight end Sam LaPorta that went for a touchdown.

That came one play after a nifty 11-yard completion to Ihmir Smith-Marsette that converted a fourth-and-3. Confidence built.

“Really it was a great job by Ihmir because he had an out-breaking route and the corner was sitting outside of him,” Petras said. “We kind of did a little backyard football move. He just kind of sat down in the hole. Thanks to the O-line, I was able to get him a ball he could catch and go. It was a big turning point, a big play. Give the credit to him because that was really good on his part for making that play.”

Petras completions led to a pair of Keith Duncan field goals later in the second, as Iowa crawled within 14-13 at the half. Then a 70-yard drive to open the second half was punctuated by a 4-yard TD throw from Petras to Smith-Marsette and a 2-point conversion pass to Tyler Goodson.

A beautifully thrown corner route to tight end Shaun Beyer gave Iowa a 16-yard touchdown and 28-14 lead early in the fourth. Petras finished 18 of 28 for 220 yards, a noticeably different guy after settling in.

That’s a good thing for Iowa moving forward. A great thing.

“Definitely a slow start,” Petras said. “I think we all felt it. Obviously, I felt it. Missing some easy throws and struggling to get into a rhythm. I thought it started with the run game. Once we were able to start running the ball well, that one littl11111e series we started going. The rest, offensively, we were pretty good from there on. You’ve just got to try to get into a rhythm faster and get it going.”

“Every day is an education, every game is education, every minute, every series, every possession,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “We’re playing a young quarterback right now, so this will be really valuable for him. Just like it was really valuable for our whole football team. Nobody really came unglued. There wasn’t much to look at (early), but no one came unglued. We just looked at what was in front of us and saw if we could just do it a little better.”

Petras sure did that.

“We started out slow the first quarter, but that wasn’t Spencer’s fault, it was the whole offensive group,” Linderbaum said. “As things got rolling, his confidence grew, obviously, and that’s what going to happen for any quarterback. When things start rolling, they start building confidence and start hitting those throws. And that’s what we saw tonight from Spence.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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