By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The saying goes that a quarterback gets too much credit when his team wins, and too much blame when it loses.
And then there is the case of Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras.
Even with Iowa ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll, and riding a nine-game winning streak dating back to last season, and with Petras having not thrown an interception in the last 5 ½ games, he still is without question the most polarizing player on the Iowa football team.
Some fans were screaming for Deuce Hogan to be inserted at quarterback as the Iowa offense struggled in last Saturday’s game against Kent State.
The problem with that request is that Hogan isn’t even the No. 2 quarterback based on the depth chart heading into Saturday’s game against Colorado State at Kinnick Stadium.
That would be sophomore Alex Padilla, who has appeared briefly in one game this season, and attempted just one pass. Padilla also has one rushing attempt for a minus-2 yards this season.
Hogan has yet to attempt a pass as a Hawkeye, and yet, some fans apparently believe he should be starting at quarterback.
The only opinion that matters, however, is what Kirk Ferentz believes, and it seems fair to say that Ferentz believes strongly in Petras as a quarterback, and as a person.
Ferentz’s belief is based on what he sees in practice every day and based on what he sees in the games.
And though Petras still is very much a work in progress as a fourth-year junior, Iowa is winning with him behind center, and his teammates and coaches respect and admire him.
Petras has been described as one of the most dedicated and prepared players on the team. And that’s what you should want from your quarterback.
He knows the critics are out there, but he pays little to no attention to them.
Petras also knows that quarterbacks are held to a higher standard, but that also doesn’t seem to faze him, at least on the surface.
Because to a borrow a line from former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry, Petras is like an old mule with blinders on.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Petras said. “I focus on what I focus on, and really week to week that’s preparing as best I can and getting a win. I have the utmost confidence that I’ve prepared my hardest.”
The Iowa offense has sputtered at times this season, and Petras is partly to blame.
He still struggles with accuracy, and with his touch on shorter passes. And he hardly is a threat to run, or to scramble from the pocket.
His passing statistics also rank near the bottom of the Big Ten, and it’s been a struggle to throw downfield.
So again, Petras still has plenty of room for improvement.
But there is no substitute for winning, and right now, Iowa is winning with the 6-foot-5, 233-pound Petras playing quarterback.
If Iowa were 1-2 instead of 3-0 at this point, and if Petras were turning the ball over, then maybe there would be cause for a quarterback change, or controversy.
Fans and the media aren’t at practice every day, so we have no clue about what happens in the days leading up to a game.
Petras must be performing the best in practice, and that combined that with Iowa’s success makes it easy to see why he is the starting quarterback.
It also doesn’t hurt that Petras is a good guy because character counts.
A native of San Rafael, California, Petras is an outstanding representative of Hawkeye football, smart, witty, engaging and humble.
And he loves the game.
The times when Petras does fail, it isn’t from a lack of preparation, or from a lack of effort.
It’s because the opponent is also trying to win, and Iowa’s opponents are usually pretty good.
Kirk Ferentz has made quarterback changes before, mostly recently demoting Jake Rudock after the 2014 season and replacing him with C.J. Beathard.
Ricky Stanzi also replaced Jake Christensen as the full-time starter after four games in 2008.
So to say that Ferentz is too stubborn to bench a quarterback just isn’t true.
Stanzi and Beathard both became starters when Iowa was struggling to win games.
Beathard was named the starter just days after the end of the 2014 season, which ended with a 45-28 loss against Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
But with Petras as the starter, Iowa has a 9-2 record dating back to last season and has outscored its last nine opponents 305-113, averaging 33.9 points per game.
Why in Pete’s sake would you switch quarterbacks under those circumstances?
Petras won’t wow you with his statistics, although, he is coming off a game in which he completed 25-of-36 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown against Kent State. Those are respectable numbers, especially when they come wrapped in a 30-7 victory.
Away from football, Petras loves playing the guitar and being with his family.
His parents are both retired and live in Iowa City during football season.
Petras’ 70-year old father is a retired doctor who never had much interest in playing sports and was more of an academic guy according to his son, while his mother played softball in high school.
Spencer Petras said his grandmother is probably the best athlete in his immediate family.
“Genetically, I probably got some coordination from her,” Petras said of his grandmother. “My parents weren’t huge athletes by any means. They were just more so fans of sports.
“My mom’s still learning the rules of football. It’s taking her a little bit (of time).”
Petras considers himself lucky in that his parents didn’t pressure him to play football. They’re just along for the ride and enjoying every moment.
His mother still does his laundry, and getting to spend time with his parents is a nice distraction for Petras.
“It’s refreshing sometimes especially in season when we’re working so hard all the time and days are busy from morning to night, my parents are like, ‘man, look at you, this is awesome,” Petras said. “It’s like a refreshing kind of perspective sometimes.”
To interview Petras is also refreshing because he knows how to play the game.
He doesn’t make bold statements, nor would he ever say anything that ends up on an opponent’s bulletin board because he’s too polished.
But on Tuesday, Petras talked at length with the media about his love for Mexican food and about growing up in northern California.
He talked about taking the ferry across the bay to watch the San Francisco Giants play, often with his father.
He talked about how he likes to go hiking when he is back in California, and that he makes it a point to visit his former high school.
Petras said he still has a close relationship with his former high school football coach, Mazi Moayed. In fact, Moayed is the one person Petras turns to for advice outside of the Iowa football coaches.
His parents, on the other hand, are there for support, and not for advice.
“I love them to death, but they don’t know football,” Petras said of his parents. “So, if they think I had a good game, cool. If they don’t, it’s okay. My coaches are the ones that I listen to.”
It would be foolish to think that the criticism doesn’t ever bother Petras because he’s human. He has feelings.
But he also has the support from those who matter the most – his coaches and teammates – along with nine straight wins as a starter.