Ken O’Keefe was ready for the questions about Spencer Petras’ offseason improvement, but he wasn’t sure he had the answer.
O’Keefe, Iowa’s quarterbacks coach, knew he would be quizzed about the progress of Petras, who had an inconsistent first season as the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback in an inconsistent season of 2020.
The answers, O’Keefe said, would come in Iowa’s season opener against Indiana.
“It’s hard to tell, because we haven’t played in that first game,” O’Keefe said. “Everybody wants the answers in what kind of strides has he made, or whatever form the question comes in. I want to be honest with you guys and tell you what I think, but I don’t know.”
It’s not that O’Keefe thinks Petras is going to struggle. It’s all about game situations, he said. What Petras has learned in the offseason will come out under the heat of the first game.
“There’s nothing like game-day experience to help you figure out, ‘Hey, this is really something Coach is talking about. Now I understand better, because I’ve been out there for 60 minutes,’” O’Keefe said. “He operates at a fast pace. Sometimes you’ve got to slow him down a little bit. Which is OK, because it’s hard to do the other way. It’s hard to speed someone up who plays at a slow pace.”
Petras had his struggles last season, but seemed to settle in, especially late in the season.
“You get more settled and more comfortable as you go,” said Petras, who completed 140 of 245 passes for 1,569 yards and five touchdowns last season. “The more time that there is, the more comfortable I get. Especially having a normal offseason, that kind of deal, it’s big. I think anybody in a leadership position would say the same thing.”
Petras had four interceptions in the first four games, but only one in the last four. It’s a sign that he did slow down as the season continued.
“I thought he did remarkably well considering the obstacles that he had to overcome,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Ferentz thought back to Iowa’s 35-21 win at Illinois on Dec. 5 last season, when Petras rallied the Hawkeyes in the second half. He was 10-of-18 passing in the first half for 142 yards and a touchdown, but 8-of-10 for 78 yards and two scores in the second half.
“I thought that his highest, the best game I saw him play or the most gratifying game as a coach was at Illinois, where he probably couldn't have played much more poorly in the first half and really put us behind the eight ball and then came back in the second half and played just tremendously well. I think that was a great learning experience for him and I think it also was very revealing in terms of how he's wired and how he's built. He's a really resilient guy, tough-minded guy, extremely conscientious. So as a coach when you see things like that, it really makes you feel, gains some confidence.”
Petras was No. 1 on the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp, and it’s hard to see that changing any time soon.
Alex Padilla, No. 2 on the depth chart, played in two games last season, throwing just two passes.
“He’s a sharp guy, has command of the system, knows how to operate the offense,” O’Keefe said. “He really has good chemistry with the guys on the field.”
Deuce Hogan, a redshirt freshman, threw for 8.192 yards in his high school career. True freshman Joey Labas threw for more than 7,200 yards in his career.
It’s a fun quarterbacks room, O’Keefe said, full of young, talented arms.
But O’Keefe also knows one true fact when it comes to the position.
“Experience,” he said, “is everything.”