Spencer Petras Illinois

Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras (7) sings the Fight Song as he celebrates their win against the Illinois Fighting Illini Saturday, December 5, 2020 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

He was never going to perfect. In fact, expecting flaws would have been prudent under the circumstances. 

That's unnatural when it comes to the position, though. It's called armchair quarterback for a reason. Many people that don't play it think they're experts on it. Nobody calls for a change at right guard. 

Even during season impacted greatly by the pandemic, the critics shared thoughts about first-year Iowa starter Spencer Petras. They wanted him benched. No spring practice, truncated summer workouts and downtime before the season kicked off late weren't enough to squelch an American sports pastime. 

Sure some of the criticism was warranted. Petras has played consistently inconsistent.

But what did you expect? 

Nate Stanley took every meaningful snap during Petras' first two seasons on campus. What would have been a normal offseason preparing for his first year as a starter was turned upside down in a way we've never experienced. 

Petras entered Saturday's action near the bottom of most statistics for Big Ten signal callers. His 107.7 quarterback rating ranked last among starters in the conference. He'd thrown four touchdowns against five interceptions. 

Three of those picks came in a Week 2 loss against Northwestern back on Halloween, however. He didn't toss any Saturday in No. 19 Iowa's 35-21 victory at Illinois. He overcame an uneven start to finish with 220 yards and three touchdowns passing for a 165.6 QBR. 

Petras has settled into what he needs to be with a team boasting a dominating defense, a productive running game and strong special teams - a game manager capable of making enough plays to help his team win. 

Don't believe me? 

Coming into Saturday, four Iowa quarterbacks during the last 22 years won at least five starts in a row during a season - Brad Banks 2002 (9), Drew Tate '04 (8), Ricky Stanzi '09 (9) and C.J. Beathard '15 (12). Petras joined them as the Hawkeyes improved to 5-2 after an 0-2 start. 

The Hawkeyes went three and out on their first two drives against Illinois and punted the first four times they had the ball, falling behind 14-0. Petras completed just two of five passes during that time, missing badly on a few throws, which we've seen at times throughout the season. 

Like a switch was flipped, the Northern California native settled down. Darts followed - six yards to Brandon Smith, nine yards to Tyler Goodson, 11 yards to Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a 22-yard touchdown strike to Sam LaPorta. The Illini's plan of loading the box and sacrificing coverage was crumbling. 

After adding a couple of field goals before halftime, closing its deficit to 14-13, Iowa started the third quarter strong for a second week in a row. A nine-play, 70-yard scoring march was capped by a four-yard touchdown toss from Petras to Smith-Marsette. The signal caller was 4 of 4 for 39 yards on the drive and hit Goodson with a pass for the two-point conversion and a 21-14 lead. 

The Hawkeyes extended their lead to 28-14 early in the fourth quarter. A Charlie Jones punt return set them up at the Illinois 32 and a Goodson 16-yard run moved them into the red zone. On the next play, Petras lofted a beautiful pass  to Shaun Beyer in the right corner of the end zone for the TD. 

Petras' performance complemented a running game that rolled up 204 yards on 38 carries. Meanwhile, the defense held the Illini on 38 attempts to 3.9 yards per carry, two yards below their season average. Jones, Smith-Marsette on kick returns, and punter extraordinaire, Tory Taylor, helped the visitors win the field-position battle.  

Preseason conversation pointed out the numerous weapons at Petras' disposal. He utilized them Saturday, completing at least two passes to five different receivers. Talented wideouts Smith and Smith-Marsette combined for nine grabs. 

Petras can take another step in his progression as a Power 5 starter next week against Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes will be attempting to top their rival for the first time since '15 and just the second time in nine tries. He could join Stanzi ('08, '09) and Beathard ('15) as the program's only QBs to conquer the Badgers since Tate in '05. 

All critics won't be silenced after Saturday's response to a shaky start. Anything less than a perfect performance against Wisconsin won't quiet them all. It's the nature of playing the position. 

But Petras has the confidence of his teammates and belief in himself is rising with each win. And that's what matters most.