There’s still room for improvement but sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras is finally starting to showcase the potential that had Iowa fans fawning before the season.

Iowa started the season 0-2 with narrow losses to Purdue and Northwestern, in large part because Petras was inconsistent. Even when Iowa turned it around with four straight wins vs. Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, and Nebraska, Petras was still uneven.

However, Petras has broke out during the final two games of the regular season, as Iowa extended its winning streak to six.

Last week, Iowa defeated Illinois 35-21. On a snowy Saturday in the regular-season finale, the Hawkeyes handled visiting Wisconsin 28-7 to claim the Heartland Trophy. That was Iowa’s first victory vs. Wisconsin since 2015.

Petras has stepped up to tally 431 passing yards in the last two victories. Petras has logged passer ratings of 165.6 and 153.3 respectively, his best of the season. In both performances, Petras was nondescript in the first half but came up huge in the second half when it mattered most.

Petras has passed for 4 second-half touchdowns (2 vs. Illinois, 2 vs. Wisconsin) in the past two games. Petras has passed for more touchdowns in the past two games (5) than the rest of the prior games combined (4).

Against Illinois, Petras began with just 9 passing yards in the first quarter but ended up completing 18 of 28 passes for 220 yards and 3 TDs.

Once again, on Saturday against Wisconsin, Petras began slow with only 87 first-half passing yards. Iowa converted one third down on nine attempts to that point. In the second half, Petras bounced back with 2 touchdown passes to Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

An encouraging step forward for Petras is his ability to take much better care of the ball. After throwing 5 interceptions through the first six games, Petras didn’t have any in the last two contests. Petras has been much more poised with greater command on his passes.

Another area that Petras has struggled with is with the deep ball. The sophomore has a bevy of talented receivers but had been lacking the chemistry for long completions.

That changed Saturday, as Petras finally connected on some long passes vs. Wisconsin. He found Smith-Marsette for a 38-yard completion and a 53-yard touchdown, the team’s longest aerial score of the season.

Petras is gratified that the effort all season has eventually paid dividends.

“It’s something we’ve been hitting all year in practice,” Petras said. “We knew it was a matter of time before it showed up during the game. … Really good to see that finally pay off.”

Petras gives all the credit for his revival to his talented cast of playmakers.

“We liked our matchups just across the board because we have a lot of confidence in our receiving corps,” Petras said. “If you want to play man coverage against Ihmir, you can get burned.”

The biggest factors in Iowa’s impressive turnaround would have to be the dominant defense, led by defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, and the reliable running attack fortified by Tyler Goodson and Mehki Sargent.

That being said, it’s significant that Petras has pieced together two strong second halves after essentially serving as a game manager early in the season.

To be fully sold on his promise though, you’d like to see Petras be able to put together a full performance. Petras didn’t do that in his first regular season at the helm as the successor to Nate Stanley.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz handed Petras the keys and, through the ups and downs, he wisely exercised patience while the new starter gained his footing in the role. Hawkeyes fans will hope that Petras follows up this close to the regular season with a dominant showing from start to finish in a bowl.

To be clear, by no means does Ferentz’s faith automatically equal Petras being a lock to remain the starter next season. Petras will have to once again earn his position by competing against Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan. Plus, Petras will have to elevate himself without playmakers Brandon Smith and Smith-Marsette as well as linemen Alaric Jackson and Tyler Linderbaum.

It’ll be fascinating to see how Petras develops this offseason with a year of experience under his belt. Anyone evaluating the entire season would likely conclude that Petras still has plenty of work to do.

All things considered though, we’ve witnessed enough encouraging signs in the last two weeks by Petras to elicit hope he can be Iowa’s long-term answer.