By Pat Harty
ORLANDO, Florida – Spencer Petras, obviously, has to play better, much better in some respects, as Iowa’s starting quarterback.
The California native had his moments in Saturday’s 20-17 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, but just not enough as Petras threw three interceptions against a depleted Kentucky defense that only had six interceptions during the regular season.
His final interception came in the closing seconds, and it helped to secure Kentucky’s fourth bowl win in a row and its third 10-win season since 1977.
It also led to a firestorm of criticism on social media as Hawkeye fans took out their anger and frustration on Petras as they have so often this season.
And while fans certainly have a right to voice their displeasure, especially those who pay a lot of money to follow and support the Hawkeyes, there comes a point when the criticism crosses the line.
There comes a point when frustration over a loss turns into personal attacks, and that’s where the situation is now with Petras.
Some of the stuff being said about Petras on social media is disgusting and unfair because it isn’t his fault that Kirk Ferentz believes that Petras gives Iowa its best chance to win at quarterback.
And it isn’t his fault that the Iowa defense allowed Kentucky to score what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with just under 2 minutes remaining.
You win as a team, and you lose as a team.
And sometimes we have to be reminded of that.
I’ve been critical of Petras at times this season, including Saturday when I tweeted that backup quarterback Alex Padilla should be given a chance in the second half with Iowa trailing 13-3 at halftime.
It’s easy to forget in the heat of competition that Iowa football players are human, and that they have parents, relatives and friends who hurt and suffer along with them.
The Iowa media was reminded of that when Petras was asked after the game what message he would have for the Iowa fans.
He paused briefly before giving an answer that nearly brought me to tears.
“I would just remember my mom reads a lot of the things that people say,” Petras said. “I’ve kind of grown my immune system and deal with that, the things that people say about me. But it’s never easy for loved ones or parents or ex-teammates to read what people say. Remember that I’m a human being, as are my parents and it’s hard for them a lot of the time.”
Petras wasn’t begging for sympathy or calling out the Iowa fans. He was asked a question and then spoke from the heart and gave an honest answer.
Petras always addresses the media after tough losses because he knows it’s part of his responsibility as Iowa’s starting quarterback, and because he appreciates and respects the role of the media.
“I get it. It happens all the time with guys across the country, especially a quarterback,” said Petras, who has a respectable 13-6 record as Iowa’s starting quarterback. “But to have my mom have to see some of the stuff that people say is tough, it’s definitely tough to see her emotions about it. I try to tell her that it doesn’t matter, but it’s easier said than done. So, I guess that’s what I’d say.”
Some fans will probably take exception to this narrative and point out that Petras is a starting quarterback for a Big Ten team, and with that comes a huge responsibility and an expectation to play better than he has over the past two seasons.
And fair enough.
It’s one thing to point out that Petras’ statistics leave much to be desired and that he has struggled in big games this season.
That goes with the territory as a starting quarterback, and it’s true in this case.
But to say that Petras should give up football or transfer, or that he couldn’t start for a Division III school, or for a high school team is just being cruel and crosses the line.
Imagine if Petras were your son, or your brother or your close friend. You wouldn’t want him treated this way.
Social media makes it so easy to lash out and to say things you wouldn’t say face-to-face because there is no accountability, and rarely are there consequences for what you say.
Some will say that Petras needs to quit being a baby and take responsibility for his sub-par play, and they’ll blame the media for coddling him.
But it’s also important to remember that Iowa football players have feelings and have family members who also suffer after tough losses.
Petras is always accountable after a loss, and he never makes excuses or points fingers.
He is exactly what you want in a leader and a teammate.
Nobody on the team prepares harder or is more invested in the season-long grind than Petras.
That’s not me saying that, but rather his teammates and coaches.
“I would just say remember that he is a human being that you’re talking to or talking about,” said Iowa senior defensive end Zach VanValkenburg. “We’re obviously trying to win. We’re trying to compete and we’re more hurt than the fans.
“But on that same note, we’re really proud of our fans and we’re proud of the support that we get.”
Iowa players have reason to be proud of their fan support because it ranks among the best in the country.
And again, fans have a right to be upset and frustrated with how Petras and the offense has performed this season.
The offense under Brian Ferentz has been a mess at times this season, including for most of the first half on Saturday.
Fans were upset when Petras failed to convert on a quarterback sneak on 4th-and-1 in Saturday’s game. Some described it as one of the worst sneaks they had ever seen.
But in Petras’ defense, the Kentucky nose guard appeared to jump offsides and made contact with Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, and that caused the play to unravel.
Fans deserve better from Petras as a quarterback, but Petras deserves better from the fans.
You can be critical without crossing the line of decency.
In fairness to Iowa fans, it’s probably a vocal minority that cross the line when criticizing Petras, but it still hurts.
Petras understands his weaknesses and he will start to address them after taking a week off to unwind from this roller coaster of a season that saw Iowa climb to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll midway through the season before losing four of its last eight games to finish 10-4.
Petras wants to work on his mobility because he knows that’s one of his biggest weaknesses.
But mostly, Petras just wants to help Iowa win.
“I want to play great football,” he said. “We played really good football this year. But it wasn’t good enough in a few games. And, obviously, the goal every year is to win a Big Ten Championship and that’s my goal, too.”
So just remember before posting something nasty on social media that Petras is aware of what’s being said about him.
But so are his parents and they deserve better.
Being critical is one thing. Being a jerk is another.