By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Joe Labas is filling in until Cade McNamara officially joins the Iowa football team.
Labas could lead Iowa to a victory over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Nashville, Tennessee, and could throw for over 300 yards and throw multiple touchdown passes, and yet, it still wouldn’t matter because McNamara will be Iowa’s starting quarterback next season.
The chance to start for a Big Ten team, and to make some money from name, image and likeness was enough to convince McNamara to transfer to Iowa from Michigan where he started in 2021 and led the Wolverines to the Big Ten title, and to the college playoff before losing his starting position early in this season.
McNamara has more than proven himself at the Power Five level, while Labas hasn’t taken a single snap in a game as a redshirt freshman, and he has practiced almost exclusively with the scout team offense until this bowl preparation.
Labas is the emergency starter for the bowl game because he and true freshman Carson May are the only quarterbacks on scholarship that will be available for the bowl game.
Three-year starter Spencer Petras is injured and will miss the bowl game, while junior Alex Padilla has entered the transfer portal.
Labas was among a handful of Iowa players that met with the media on a zoom conference after practice on Thursday, and he answered a lot of questions about his unique situation.
“It’s been good just getting comfortable and getting the reps in, as many reps as possible has been huge for me,” Labas said.
Labas said Iowa has practiced about seven or eight times in preparation for the bowl game, and he has been on an accelerated learning curve because time is in short supply.
“It was kind of just throw me into the fire right away and go and prepare,” said Labas, who is from Brecksville, Ohio. “But day one was a learning curve for sure.”
It isn’t often that a third-team quarterback with no game experience gets to start in a bowl game, but the 6-foot-4, 207-pound Labas has that rare opportunity and he also has Petras in his corner.
“He’s been helping me out a lot,” Labas said of Petras, who has a 20-11 record as Iowa’s starting quarterback over three seasons. “He’s like a third coach out there, another quarterback coach. He helps me out and he talks to me every single play.
“And I need that.”
Labas was asked Thursday what he feels his greatest strength is on the football field.
His answer should excite Iowa fans.
“I would say extend plays,” Labas said. “When the play is not working, or something happens that goes wrong, being able to create and make plays.”
That is in contrast to Petras, whose lack of mobility made it difficult for him to move the pocket and extend plays.
As for McNamara’s decision to be a Hawkeye, Labas didn’t have much to say when asked how it affects him.
“I haven’t put much thought into that to be honest with you,” Labas said. “My focus is on this bowl game. That’s what is most important to me right now.
“It’s been a while since I started a game, so, my focus is on this right now.”
Next season would be Labas’s third in the program, and it would seem, barring an injury to McNamara, that Labas’s ceiling for next season is as the backup.
Or, maybe Labas will treat the Music City Bowl as an audition because the transfer portal is always an option.
Whatever the case, he will make his first career start in a bowl game, and that’s all that matters to Labas right now.