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Editor's Note: This is the third installment of our reports on the No. 18-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, who are Indiana's opponent in the season opener on Saturday.

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Spencer Petras remembered who the opponent was the last time he was the starting quarterback in front of fans.

“Shasta High School in 2017,” said the Iowa quarterback, who played at Marin Catholic High School in California.

Petras has played as a quarterback in front of fans before at Iowa, but it was in five games in 2018 and 2019 when the outcome had long since been decided.

Petras became the Hawkeyes’ starter last season, but all eight of his starts were played in front of almost-empty stadiums because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why he’s looking forward to Saturday’s season opener against Indiana at Kinnick Stadium. The game starts at 3:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on the Big Ten Network. Iowa is a 3.5-point favorite as of Friday morning, according to the gambling website FanDuel.com.

“The focus is on the task at hand,” Petras said. “But it will be fun to throw a touchdown, and hear the crowd cheer again. That’s something we missed last year.”

Petras, a fourth-year junior, had an up-and-down season in 2020. He threw for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns, but he also had five interceptions, three coming in a loss to Northwestern in the second game of the season.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Petras’ inconsistency came from no spring practice and a hurried preparation for the eight-game Big Ten-only schedule.

Now, Ferentz said Tuesday, Petras has settled in.

“It's a night-and-day comparison, really,” Ferentz said. “Last year he went into the season pretty much cold -- no spring ball, no camp. And now he's got eight games under his belt. But he's also had a lot of time to practice beyond those eight games and watch himself perform and learn more about himself.

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“And he really has done a good job in all regards, starting with the leadership part of it. He's totally committed. Has been. And I think that experience has just allowed him to play a little faster now, a little bit more decisively. And for the most part he's been pretty accurate and done some good things.”

“I think a big thing is just confidence,” Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum said. “Last year, there were a lot of things he missed — spring football, fall camp. Now he has a whole year under his belt, (as well as) spring football and fall camp. There’s just more confidence he has in himself, and the team around him.”

“Especially having a season starting under my belt, I’m definitely a lot more confident with what to expect, what it takes to win,” Petras said.

Petras will face an Indiana secondary that ranked first in the Big Ten and second in FBS play last season with 17 interceptions.

“The main thing, I think, is they take advantage of their opportunities,” Petras said. “They don’t leave them out there. These guys take the opportunities that you give them. So it’s really important that balls are placed correctly. And if they’re not, it could be a turnover. For us, as a football team, if we don’t turn the ball over, we win the game 90 percent of the time. That’s an important stat.

“Turnovers can kill a team, and be a huge part of the ballgame.”

Petras said his biggest improvement has come in his pre-snap routine.

“I think I recognize things a lot faster,” he said. “That’s a thing that comes with time. I can spot little details that mean little things. I’m faster, more efficient. A lot of that comes with preparation, watching tape.

“Post-snap is probably more important, because that’s where you need to react and make decisions.”

Ferentz said he has seen a different Petras in fall camp.

“He's operating quicker and more decisively,” Ferentz said. “I don't know if ‘relaxed’ is the right word to describe him. He's got a hyperactive note to himself. But he's doing a good job. He's doing a really good job.

“And the fact that he's one of our leaders, voted as a captain, that tells you how people see him too. He's done a really good job. He's totally invested. There are many things that I appreciate about him. That's one. He's totally invested.”

  • OPPOSING SIDELINE (Part 1): The usually slow-starting Iowa Hawkeyes don't have that luxury this season with two ranked foes – No. 17 Indiana and No. 8 Iowa State – on their schedule the first two weeks. CLICK HERE
  • OPPOSING SIDELINE (Part 2): Iowa has been producing top-flight offensive linemen for years in Kirk Ferentz's tenure, and the latest is All-American center Tyler Linderbaum, who might be the best center in the country.  CLICK HERE
  • TOM BREW COLUMN: There are still a lot of naysayers out there who question how good Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. really is, and many still doubt that he can stay healthy. But to dismiss his ability to have a huge season is a major mistake. CLICK HERE
  • POWER RANKINGS (Week 1): Publisher Tom Brew posts his weekly power rankings, with four-time defending champion Ohio State and the top and plenty to argue about afterward. And a new cellar-dweller after Nebraska's embarrassing performance in Week 0. CLICK HERE
  • MATTHEWS FINDS HOME AT INDIANA: It was a trying time at Florida State for former 5-star wide receiver and returner D.J. Matthews with all the coaching changes there, and he's embraced the stability at Indiana and is looking forward to getting a fresh start. CLICK HERE
  • ALLEN, COORDINATORS READY FOR NEXT STEP: Back-to-back successful seasons has Indiana thinking big in 2021, and Hoosiers coach Tom Allen continues to trust the process as the program grows into a title contender. CLICK HERE
  • THOMAS ALLEN FINISHING IN STYLE: Indiana linebacker Thomas Allen suffered a serious hip injury last fall and had to decide if it was worth months of rehab to play one more season. He's coming back for the 2021 season because he wants to end his career on a high note. CLICK HERE