By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With his team trailing 14-0 and the offense sputtering, Iowa sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras had one message for his teammates: stay the course.
The result was Petras’ first multi-touchdown game and a 35-21 Iowa victory.
“I was just telling them to stay with me,” Petras said. “Obviously, it can’t be fun for them when I’m struggling. I just had to make sure they stayed at a high energy, kept the faith and look, they made plays when we needed them and we got a great rhythm going eventually.”
After starting 4-of-8 passing, Petras finished 18-of-28 overall for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
Perhaps no play was more important in lighting a fire under the San Rafael, Calif., native than an 11-yard completion on fourth down to senior receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the second quarter.
The completion led to a 22-yard touchdown pass to Sam LaPorta on the next play to put Iowa on the board with 6:18 left in the first half.
“Really it was a good job by Ihmir,” Petras said. “He had an out-breaking route, and the corner was sitting outside of him. He kind of did a little backyard football move. He just sat down in the hole and, thanks to the offensive line, I was able to get him a ball he could catch and go. It was a big turning point. It was a big play.”
From then on, it was all Iowa.
The Hawkeyes scored 35 unanswered points to win improve its record to 5-2 on the season, and win its seventh consecutive game against Illinois.
“It was huge,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Because we were not even spinning our tires, our tires weren’t moving. We were stuck and it was not pretty. In your mind, you start having dark thoughts when those things happen. It’s like, OK, maybe not our day.
“But that’s why the games are 60 minutes, that’s why you keep playing. You need a little something to get you going and somebody’s got to spark you. I think once we got a little bit of movement there, he certainly settled down and played well the rest of the way.”
Even though the Iowa offense was struggling as a unit, fans on Twitter focused most of their frustration on Petras.
Some fans were clamoring for a quarterback change, but Iowa stuck with Petras and reaped the benefits.
“I think everyone, we started off slow in that first quarter,” sophomore center Tyler Linderbaum said. “I wouldn’t say that’s just Spencer’s fault. That’s the whole offensive group. As things got rolling, his confidence grew, obviously. That’s going to happen to any quarterback. As things get rolling, they start building the confidence, they start hitting those throws.”