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Interview with Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz


This news story was published on September 27, 2016.
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Kirk Ferentz

Kirk Ferentz

University of Iowa Football Media Conference

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kirk Ferentz

KIRK FERENTZ: Good afternoon. Just first of all, certainly feel lucky that we’re just preparing for a football game instead of sandbagging like some of the people up north. Our thoughts are certainly with them. We have a couple guys from that area that are watching the weather, too, just like everybody else. We’ll all keep our fingers crossed on that one.

Looking back real quickly to last week, we’re certainly pleased to get the victory. Good to get our first road game, first Big Ten victory, so those are certainly positives. The guys really fought hard throughout the entire game and came up big in a couple critical areas. Right before the half getting the stop down inside the 5 on a goal-line stand and then converting with a nice 99-yard drive, that certainly was a highlight, and then second half getting the 4th and 2 stop, and then being able to run the clock out, which we were not successful doing the week before. Those I think are certainly some good signs.

I’m also very happy for Ron Coluzzi to get recognized as Big Ten Specialist of the Week. He’s been doing a great job.

Like every week, we have plenty of things to work on this week, and there are always new variables that add to the challenge. That’s what we started on Saturday afternoon.

Captains for the week will be the same. We’ve got CJ, Matt, LeShun on the offensive side, Josey Jewell defensively, and then medically Matt VandeBerg got injured yesterday morning, so he’s going to be out for a significant period of time here, and we’ll just have to deal with that, and certainly disappointed for him. He’s worked extremely hard, playing really well.

Anytime there’s an injury, it affects that individual the most, and that’s first and foremost in our minds, but as we all know, it’s part of football, so it provides opportunity for other players, and they’re going to have to step up and get the job done for us, and I’m sure they will.

A couple words about Northwestern. Clearly we’re playing an established program, very successful program, coming off a 10-win season, and they’ve got a lot of good players back from last year, and a coaching staff that’s been there in place for a long, long time. They certainly have an identity. They know what they want to be, what they want to do, and they do it really well. Their guys are well-coached. They play hard.

So we’re going to have a big challenge again this coming Saturday.

You look back over the series now we’ve played the last 15 games, it’s pretty much been down the middle, and home field really doesn’t matter. It’s down to the best team, the team that plays the best that given day. That’s the challenge that’s in front of you right now. Certainly we’re excited to be back in Kinnick. Great to have homecoming going on.

Q. With Matt, are you already starting maybe to contemplate the idea of a medical redshirt?
KIRK FERENTZ: We’ll certainly appeal it. It’s not by the letter of the law. I think the law is 30 percent. It’s all happened fast. We really haven’t had a lot of time to discuss it or research it, but I think it’s just 30 percent. If my math is correct, we’re right at like 33 and a third. I won’t even try to predict, but hopefully there will be some leniency there.

Q. You guys had that situation where Tony Moeaki played in his fourth game, in 2007 he played 12 games, but then again you didn’t have success the last time?
KIRK FERENTZ: Your memory is better than mine on that one. I’m glad to hear that. Like I said, I haven’t even thought about that yet, but we’ll certainly appeal it. Our compliance people do a great job of presenting it. Typically things work to the player’s advantage typically, so hopefully that would be the case here.

We haven’t changed our offensive system, so I don’t know if we can make that appeal, but we’ll try to find out anything we can that might work to our advantage.

Q. Never too late to change it.
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, that’s true. We may have to now that we just lost a receiver. That may alter our attack a little bit.

Q. How is Jonathan Parker coming along?
KIRK FERENTZ: The good news is he’s actually back full speed, so we get him back in the mix. He’s missed a lot of time. He got a lot of good work in last week, but it’s been a gradual progression, and hopefully he’ll be able to be with us sooner than later.

Q. C.J. said Matt was injured on the backside of a play on a Monday morning practice. What does that say about Matt and just the example he sets?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, it’s football, first of all, and injuries are so unpredictable, other than the fact that injuries happen all the time in all sports, not just football. But I won’t say a high majority, but it seems like a majority of injuries take place with non-contact type injuries, nothing dramatic, and that’s just how it works. It’s unfortunate.

Matt works hard all the time. He’s one of those guys you have to pull back, and he’s actually been fighting some injuries over the last couple weeks, but he’s got a great attitude, been working hard, and this one is totally unrelated, but there are no guarantees. It’s kind of like life. But the good news is he’s got a great attitude. He was great this morning, and that’s a starting point for any kind of recovery.

Q. The next-man-in mentality, all the guys say it. Has it ever looked as good as it did last year against Northwestern?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, that was probably the highlight of the year that way because that’s when things were really kind of hitting it pretty good. But that’s one thing I’ll always remember about last year’s football team is typically when you have a really good season, things go pretty cleanly on the injury front, and last year that was hardly the case. Jordan Canzeri getting injured during the game was kind of a showcase example of that.

But good teams find a way to win. They find a way to be successful. They find a way to adjust, and it involves other people picking up the rope a little bit when something happens.

We’re confident that will happen. Ironically Jay Scheel was doing really well, then he got injured. Fortunately now he’s coming back. It would be wonderful to have everybody at full speed, but it just doesn’t seem to work out that way.

Q. Northwestern running back Justin Jackson had some preseason hype. He’s really kind of cooled off the past two games after the Western Michigan start. You’ve got a rushing defense that’s really not up to par maybe for what you’re looking for. You have a hungry back and a defense that’s maybe down on its luck right now; how do you put those two together?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, two parts to that one. First of all, they execute really well up front. They do what they do. They’ve got their identities I kind of hinted at. They’re very well-coached. They know their scheme. They do a good job of really executing what they do, and they put a lot of pressure on you in a lot of different ways.

I think that’s probably the running attack — one of the reasons their running attack is good, and then secondly, he’s a really good player. I don’t know how down on his luck he is. When I watch him on film, he’s a really good player. He’ll block. He runs tough, and then he’ll also hurt you in the passing game as a receiver.

We’ve got a lot of respect for him. We tried to recruit him. I think he’s a really good football player, and he’ll be a big challenge for us.

Q. Northwestern is kind of like a wounded animal, they’re 1-3. Can that make them even more dangerous?
KIRK FERENTZ: They’re always dangerous. If you look at our series with them historically, it’s always been a tough game, and I’m sure they’re disappointed right now. There aren’t a lot of people in the country probably happy with where they’re at; I think most of us want to get better right now. They’ve got great young people on their team, and I expect them to come in here and fight.

Q. What do you need to see out of your wide receivers replacing Matt?
KIRK FERENTZ: They just have to play and play consistently. There’s nothing magical about it other than just working hard out there just like Matt did when he was coming up. He is an established player, quote-unquote established player. We don’t have a lot of those guys, but Matt is a guy you really knew what you were going to get. He came into his own last year, hit stride, and really gained a lot of confidence.

You can’t hand confidence to people, they earn that, and he did it through really playing well last year. I think that carried over to this season, and that’s the race everybody runs as a player. You’re trying to gain that confidence.

Q. Has Scheel become the primary slot guy then?
KIRK FERENTZ: We’ll just try to do what’s best and put the guys wherever it fits the scheme, fits the personnel groups we have out there, and some guys you try to leave alone, other guys have some flexibility. Jay might play a couple positions. He’s been doing that in practice, and that’s realistic to think. Riley is a pretty flexible guy. We’ll probably keep Jerminic where he’s been.

Q. What kind of advantage is it with Riley, his comfort with playing three spots, especially now?
KIRK FERENTZ: Riley is one of the unsung heroes on our football team. He played tremendously on special teams last year, and this year — especially during the course of spring but even since spring. I think he’s really improved as a player. He’s done some good things on the game field, especially in practice. We’ve seen him do a lot of nice things.

Q. What are some of those things?
KIRK FERENTZ: Winning against good defensive guys. We’ve seen that in practice, which is really impressive, and he couldn’t have done that a year ago at this time I don’t think. He’s really done a good job, and probably one of our bigger dilemmas right now, we’d love to have him more involved in all of our special teams, but if he’s going to play more snaps offensively, we’ve got to make sure we’re smart about how much we can do. Don’t want to run him into the ground and make him ineffective, but the tackle he made on the punt the other day, I mean, that’s a showcase moment for him. That’s just the way he plays. He’s done a great job for us.

Q. Does Boyle now figure into the mix?
KIRK FERENTZ: Anybody can figure in. Whoever does well in practice will get an opportunity, certainly.

Q. Northwestern, they give up big plays in the run game. Is this a chance to reestablish the run a little bit for you guys or maybe take advantage of some of those things?
KIRK FERENTZ: I’d be really happy if we could eliminate some of the mistakes that have kept us from having some big plays. We’ve had about 140 yards of offense and two runs taken off the board, which to me that’s our focus right now is cleaning those kinds of things up. If we get a chance to hit a 60-plus yard run or a 75-yard run that would have been 175, you know, not having it come back, that’s where the focus is.

Q. You’ve made two allusions to Northwestern and their identity and knowing what they are. A third of the way into the season, do you have a sense of what Iowa’s identity is?
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s always developing. In broad-based terms, yeah, I think we know who we are, what we want to be. When you do have injuries or things that do happen, certainly you lean a little bit left, lean a little bit right, but for the most part we know who we are and what we want to be. You’re always trying to work on the chemistry.

Go back to last year in this game, you come in without LeShun, you lose Canzeri early, so is that going to impact you, affect you? Sometimes you may have to go away from the run, and fortunately Akrum stepped up and did a great job. Those are the variables you deal with every season, every week, and you try to go from there.

We know what we want to do.

Part of our identity is not making critical errors, and I just alluded to two of them that have affected — in my mind that really impacted our offensive football team.

It’s hard to be a good offensive team if you don’t have the consistency and play cleanly.

Q. Getting the story of Akrum after coming in for Canzeri and for LeShun last year, can you use that story as motivation for the wide receivers this year?
KIRK FERENTZ: I think we’ve had them — I can go back 17 years and give you one every year, at least one every year. The first guy that always comes to mind is Sam Brownlee, who was sitting way in the back of the room in August, and next thing you know he’s in there, our full-time back in 2004.

We’ve had a lot of those, and that’s really disappointing again for the individual player who’s worked so hard to get out there and play. That’s what they want to do, and in football you only get 12 chances, so it’s not like you’ve got 160 games.

So that’s the disappointing part, and just on a personal basis, when you’re around young people that have worked hard, you know the commitment they’ve made, to see them deal with that, that’s not a lot of fun.

Our training staff does a great job, and they’re with them during the lonely hours of the rehab, all that kind of stuff, where they’re away from their teammates. That’s the hard part about it, and that’s something that I’m sure fans can’t appreciate and I don’t know why they would because they’re not around it. Family members get it because they’re hearing it on the phone, or it’s like your own kids and they’re disappointed, you feel bad for them.

But we’ve had a lot of good stories, and that’s how you’ve got to look at it is as an opportunity. It’s like anything, anytime there’s a setback you’ve got an opportunity to get back on your feet.

Q. Do you have a need to maybe expand the wide receiver group anyway?
KIRK FERENTZ: The ball goes where it goes, and people have to get open or schemes have to dictate it, whatever. But yeah, I don’t even know the numbers, but yeah, we can do better, there’s no question about that.

Q. You’ve had adverse situations before, and your teams have gone one way or the other. As you mentioned, Brownlee or last year with the injury, he rose to the occasion in there a few years, say 2012 with Brandon when Andrew went down, and then the season was kind of lifted. Is this the type of crossroads moment that you can either rise or —
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it’s hard to compare, but Brandon and Andrew, you’ve got two good players at one position where you don’t have a lot of experience, that really — 40 percent of your starting lineup, all of a sudden you’re talking about percentages. But last year this is probably a little bit like Drew getting injured; he was a senior guy who was an established player, great attitude guy, but we played on. Parker stepped in. He wasn’t Drew, but everybody else kind of grabbed on and helped out, and that’s what has to happen. That’s part of life.

It won’t be the reason we go down the tubes or accelerate, one of those kinds of things. It’s a whole team effort, and yeah, we’ve got a great opportunity. We’ve got eight games left, so we’re excited about that.

Q. James Daniels was up here early and told a story about when he was recovering from knee injury, that he got some perspective when one of his buddies got shot and that he would rather recover from a knee injury than a gunshot wound, but when he says stuff like that, what does that say to you about his maturity and his perspective on life?
KIRK FERENTZ: A lot of our guys have spent time over at the children’s hospital doing visits and meeting some of the patients there, and there’s so many examples. We can all cry about things, geez, my coffee is too cold or it’s not the right brand or whatever. We’ve all got a pretty good deal here, and it’s like I alluded to starting out. I’d much rather be trying to get ready for a game, make a couple first downs or stop a couple as opposed to sandbagging. We’ve been through that here in this community, and there’s so many things going on out there. I always try to remind our players all the time that we all do this, A, because we choose to, and secondly, because we’re able to. We’re pretty lucky.

We’re playing games as opposed to some things that could be really serious. And I’m not minimizing injuries, so don’t get me wrong, but in the big scheme of things, Matt is going to be just fine, and whenever he gets back, he’ll be better than ever.

Q. What can you say about Ronald Nash?
KIRK FERENTZ: I talked about Riley’s progression a few minutes ago, and Ronald is not at that spot or he’d be playing as much as Riley, but we’ve watched him grow and develop with every turn. He came here last year, pretty much worked on the scout team and what have you, in the spring got some work, but every phase he’s gotten better and really has got better since the start of camp. He’s gotten a lot of work since we got started, just hasn’t had a lot of game activity, but I think we’ve seen his confidence grow. He’s a big guy with good skills. Hopefully it’s his time.

Q. Will you activate any other true freshmen?
KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t see that right now. With Jonathan coming back, that’ll help, too, and the other concern is you just don’t want to wear everybody out in practice, either. But we’re all at that point, too, in the season where you start getting some guys out, so you just have to be mindful of where people are at physically.

Q. How about Falconer? Is he kind of a redshirt candidate at this point?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, he actually has been injured. Last week he was out, he’s out right now, out as in not participating with us. He’s with the trainers. He has been in the six or seven guys, but the last couple weeks he’s been out, so hopefully we’ll get him.

Q. What about Derrick Mitchell at this point?
KIRK FERENTZ: He’s back practicing. Yesterday and today he practiced full speed but in the backfield.

Q. Four of the five top tacklers for Northwestern were D-backs, only one of them was a linebacker and none of them were linemen at all. Does that give you an opportunity to exploit their defensive scheme?
KIRK FERENTZ: Typically linemen aren’t leading tacklers. That’s just how it works. If you look at us traditionally, it’s our two inside backers. Our two safeties are the guys that have the highest numbers tackle-wise. They’re built similarly. Their two inside backers are the most active guys tackling wise, and then their safeties are really involved, as well, so yeah, we’re going to try to do what we do and try to do it a little bit better, try to do it more consistently. I think that’s really where our focus is right now, trying to minimize some of those little things that stall drives or stall — take away big plays. That’s really what we’re trying to do right now.

Q. Is there a level of — when something like this happens, is there a level of turning over rocks that we all have to deal with? Does that ever wash up to your shore where C.J. asks for Desmond or anything like that?
KIRK FERENTZ: We certainly — CJ hasn’t said that and nobody has said that, but no, I don’t think we’re — this is hardly a crisis stage. We’re all really sorry that Matt got hurt, don’t get me wrong, I’m not minimizing that, but hey, we’re going to play. We’ve got to play.

Q. Your former NFL players were sharing care packages, pictures that you guys had sent. What was the thought behind that, and whose idea was that?
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s something we’ve done, this will be our 18th year I guess doing it — well, not 18th, 17th, I guess. But it’s just a way to let those guys know we’re thinking about them, congratulate them on — it’s significant to make an NFL team or be on a practice squad. That’s a really significant accomplishment. It’s not the end-all, but just want to let them know, hey, we’re thinking of them. They’re still in the family, and it’s something I think they appreciate, so it’s a little thing.

But kind of a little bit like we got bowl watches for the seniors from 2000 because to me when we made it to that bowl in 2001, those guys were a big, big part of it, so we’ve done little things like that in the past just to thank them for helping us get pushing along a little bit.

Q. You were in a similar situation in each of the last two games with the lead, the ball, three, four, five minutes left in the game, didn’t work out against North Dakota State but did against Rutgers. What was the difference? Is it strictly just execution or was it something —
KIRK FERENTZ: Took the word right out of my mouth. On the last play it was not only — started with CJ. CJ got us in the right play out of that formation, did a great job with that. And then LeShun — the guys blocked well, I’m not minimizing that, but LeShun really did a great job, as well. He did get knocked out-of-bounds at the end, but since he got the 1st down that was excusable. But it was really a good effort on his part, too, and he’s playing really well.

That was a fitting way for us to probably bring it to an end. Had we not converted, then we’re going to punt the ball and hopefully punt it out of there cleanly and go play defense, and that’s the mindset you’ve got to have. But certainly it’s better to be in control of that situation if you can.

Q. Does he feel cursed at all with plays getting called back?
KIRK FERENTZ: I told LeShun he’s still a possession back since those things got stricken from the record. Yeah, didn’t want to ruin his reputation.

Q. You mentioned Devonte Young on the teleconference, maybe a little more background on him, and is he kind of —
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, Devonte, we liked him in recruiting, obviously, and then once he’s gotten here, he went through the summer, did a nice job in the classroom, nice job with the strength and conditioning staff, and once we started playing football, practicing football, he just seemed to handle things pretty well. Didn’t seem like a big adjustment to him, and I’ve said before, it’s a little bit easier I think on the perimeter, and on top of that, he’s a pretty physically mature guy. It’s not like he’s — what did VandeBerg weigh, 158 when he got here, something like that? Devonte had a head start on him there. He’s just done a good job, and now he’ll have an opportunity to play a little bit more hopefully.

Q. You said this isn’t a crisis mode; how does it compare to say 2004 when you totally changed your style almost?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, 2004 we just had — with all due respect to Sam (Brownlee), but we ran out of backs. That’s a bad deal. I remember my first year here, we were playing Penn State, and one of our stronger positions on that ’99 team, not that we were a team of strength, but was the tight end position with Flemister and Wheatley, and we had three guys, three seniors, I think they were all seniors, and we had three guys that could play that position. We had none of them on Friday. So we’re installing a no-tight-end offense that day. I remember that pretty distinctly.

When those things happen, I don’t want to call it a crisis situation, but that’s a time when you’ve got a little work to do. This is just we’ve got to close ranks here and keep pushing forward.

Q. You talked about Saturday some missed calls in the run defense. The run defense, the guys that played, brought that up after week one. How is that still happening?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, it’s football. I mean, that’s just part of the game out there. There’s a lot going on, motion, communication, checks, just like we check on offense, we check on defense. Typically if one guy doesn’t get the call, it could be bad. One good thing about defense, sometimes they don’t find you when you blow something, but on offense usually it shows up, and on defense not always, but when it does, it’s pretty obvious, like pop, there goes the ball, and what happened. And usually it’s kind of like those two penalties, it usually is a matter of like just inches or a foot or two as opposed to — and then you pay for it.

It’s one of the challenges. There’s a lot going on out there, a lot of communication, and I tell our guys all the time, if everybody is playing the same call, it may not be the best call, but at least if everybody is playing the same call, you’ve got a chance. It’s kind of like play calls. If everybody just does what they’re supposed to do, it may not be the best play but at least you’ve got a chance to make it successful. But when you’ve got a little bit of a split court there, that’s not a good thing.

Q. You said that’s nowhere near crisis mode, either?
KIRK FERENTZ: No, I don’t think so. The way I look at this whole thing, we’re building a team right now. We’re trying to build a team. It’s not the same as or just like, but we’ve gone through a lot of things historically where the one commonality is we’ve never been a smooth, crisp, really smooth team in September. That’s really kind of unusual.

I think October is coming, so it will be a really good time to get in that gear. But we’re just — that’s part of the deal, so you’re working through those things all the time, and we’ve had good teams that were 2-2 at this point. But the key thing is to try to move forward every week and see if we can make some improvements, significant improvement, and if you do that, the results — you kind of get what you deserve usually, but when you’re not pushing it forward enough, then that opens the door for some disappointment.

Q. You had Toren Young dress and he was working out with the second unit, I think. Was that just in case of emergency?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, Derrick wasn’t with us last week, so you’ve got to have somebody ready, and Toren is a young guy we really like. He’s done a good job, as has Toks. Both those guys have done a good job since they’ve gotten here.

Yeah, that’s a good way to describe it. Hopefully we weren’t going to have to play him, but if we did, we were going to let him go.

Q. Did you find out if anyone had the authority to fine you for the comments last week?
KIRK FERENTZ: I haven’t heard a word, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I don’t want my wife mad at me. Not that that would ever happen.

Q. This week there is homecoming, is there difficulty getting their attention?
KIRK FERENTZ: Actually the good news is our seniors went out in force on Sunday and did a little community deal, signed autographs, all that kind of stuff, which we used to do midweek and they’ve moved that to Sunday, which I think is great, just for obvious reasons, so they’ve done that, and will have a couple guys go to a luncheon with me on Friday, otherwise I don’t think any of our guys are in the Homecoming court, I don’t think, but I don’t know, we’ll see.

Q. One thing this week in the Big Ten that really kind of landed was the protests. I know we talked about that earlier. Have you built in a protocol for dialogue?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I actually coincidentally talked to our leadership group about that on Sunday. I wanted to make sure we were all together, how did they feel, and I think the guys — I think we’re all together. Just, again, my personal — and this is my personal feeling, it’s not a mandate, but to me when we’re involved in a team activity, we do things the same. We’ll dress the same on game day, players dress one way, coaches dress the other, but we’re all uniform, we’re all together, just like the swarm. That’s what that’s all about.

But when we walk out of this building, as long as guys are lawful, moral and all those kinds of things, that’s life. Everybody has got opinions about things, religiously, politics, all that stuff, and I’m all for that, and especially for college guys. You’re thinking about stuff, and that’s all good. I’m all for it. That’s part of growing up, and that never ends quite frankly.

But when we’re doing this, we’ve got to be together, and that’s just — I don’t know if that’s old school, new school, whatever, but to me that’s how team activities ought to be, and then we’ve all got to be respectful of each other and our personal lifestyles, our preferences, all that kind of stuff, and that’s one of the beauties of football in my opinion. You’ve got 100 plus guys, plus a bunch of adults running around here, but we’re all kind of together on one thing, one area, and then when we walk out, hey, we’re all different, and that’s good. That’s healthy.

Q. Is it kind of surprising to you that watching people, what they do during the anthem is now a thing?
KIRK FERENTZ: No, I mean, surprise is a strong word for me. I don’t get surprised by much anymore. But that’s one of the great beauties of our country, I think. I grew up — my brother was in the Vietnam — all the crazy stuff that was going on in the ’60s, Woodstock, all that stuff. I was kind of right after that a little bit, so I got to watch it out without being in the — but that’s why we’ve got the greatest country in the world. Expression is a good thing. It’s healthy. But there’s also boundaries, I think, for everything, and again, we all volunteered for this as I said a minute ago. We all volunteered for this activity, so we’re all hopefully on the same page that way.

Q. A couple of defensive linemen have been out since August, Jake Hulett and Michael Slater. How have they progressed?
KIRK FERENTZ: Michael Slater is back practicing, so he’s been back a couple weeks now, and Jake is still — he’s out of his cast, but he’s still weeks away from actually being able to do something here.

Q. Jon Wisnieski, is he —
KIRK FERENTZ: He’s practicing now, too, so he’s starting to get back into it a little bit. He missed a lot of time. All those guys have missed a lot of time.

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