Welcome to the bye week iteration of KIRK SPEAKS, where instead of Kirk actually speaking, we have Phil Parker and Brian Ferentz.
I’ve been digesting KF pressers for the better part of the past seven years, and I could probably count on one hand how often he’s said something of consequence. His son, however, is much more candid and I have to say reading his back-and-forth with reporters really was almost like a breath of fresh air. I love his attitude and candor and most important is he seems really genuine in his answers.
Phil Parker is a bit more forthcoming than Kirk, and I’m probably one of the bigger Phil fans out there, but he’s been doing this for so long that he’s full embraced coach speak. I remember a while back he called Drew Ott a “violent” football player and caught a lot of heat for that, for all the wrong reasons. He won’t be making that mistake again.
So without further ado, here are my highlights of what Phil Parker and Brian Ferentz had to say Wednesday afternoon:
I like this part of the opening statement. It tells me he’s keeping a close eye on snap counts
To me, I'm encouraged for the second half of the season. We're looking forward to the up front guys. I think they're getting some guys like Epenesa some reps in there, 34 reps it was last week. I think our guys up front will start getting a little bit of disruption up front, and obviously we're not doing a bad job with sacks right now.
It’s now Amani Hooker’s job to lose.
Q. Do you anticipate Amani being the strong safety going forward?
Yeah, as of right now I think he's doing a good job, and to that aspect, as long as he can keep up with what we're doing on defense and understanding what he has to do, I think he's been doing a good job. We've got three good guys that can play there, maybe four, so I'm very comfortable with the guys where we're at right now, but obviously I think Hooker has definitely earned some playing time.
Here Phil confirms that Manny hasn’t been healthy, which makes sense. I think we’ve all sort of known he hasn’t been close to 100 percent for a while.
Q. Manny turned the health corner, will the bye week --
It definitely gives him another week. I played him in one snap, probably shouldn't have. That was probably my mistake putting him in the game based on the personnel that was on the field, and I think another week would help him, and he's doing a good job with that. Obviously he's into it, and he knows what's going on. He's a very sharp kid football-wise, so I don't think not being on the field mentally is going to bother him. Him getting that thing better where he needs to be able to run and cover guys.
And here Parker confirms what I’ve suspected all along. He’s never happy.
Q. Are you happy with the overall secondary given the amount of turnover you've had this year due to injury, whatnot?
Well, you're never happy. There's not a game that you go through and say, hey, we played well. There's always issues on the field that you say, hey, we could have played this better, and I think you can look at that from the defensive line all the way to the linebackers and all the secondary. We can play better. Everybody can play better. And we can coach better. We can make better calls. We can prepare our guys better. You evaluate everything during this period of time, and I think that's really a plus for us going to the second half of the season with all this time that we can sit back and look at some of the things, how people are trying to attack us and to shore up of that stuff and obviously you get some guys some rest this week.
In all seriousness, that’s the kind of mentality you want to see out of your defensive coordinator.
I know I’m not the only one who’s missed the raider package this season. I get the feeling we may not see it again.
Q. Has that group made it so you don't really need to use the raider package, or is that something that's still kind of in your --
Well, the idea of getting speed on the field, and when you go ahead and put your -- sometimes we put four new fast guys on the field, and when you've got Anthony on the field and you've got AJ on the field and Parker Hesse with that speed up there, that gives us a little bit of advantage of, do you put another backer in or do you take a defensive lineman out, so I think it's a choice that we kind of made and said, hey, we still have a four-man rush and still can defend the run because just because you go over there and start playing the pass too much and don't have your defensive linemen in there, now all of a sudden somebody pulls out a run play on you and you can't defend it as well.
Definitely that is a thing that we lean more on nickel with four defensive linemen than our bandit or raider package.
And of course it wouldn’t be a Phil Parker Presser if someone didn’t bring up blitzing.
Q. What percentage would you say you guys blitz?
I don't know exactly, probably about 10 percent or something like that right now, but we're usually 17 to 19 percent. We blitzed 4th and 1 or something like that and we give up a touchdown at Iowa State, but then the next time we came back 4th and 3 against Wyoming, we run the same blitz, and it's minus two. It's a guessing game. You've got to keep them guessing.
That’s it for Phil. Let’s get to Brian Ferentz:
Bottom line is we're sitting at 4-2, and if you surveyed anybody on the staff or any of our players who I know you guys see every week, our expectation was to be at 6-0. Any game we play we expect to win it, and we don't have the liberty of worrying about Vegas lines and things of that nature or who's experienced, who's not experienced, where the game is, what time it's at. We expect to win every game we play, and we've had opportunities to win the two games that we didn't win.
We're frustrated and certainly disappointed by that but not discouraged. If you look at us moving into the second half of the season, from the offensive standpoint, the first thing we need to do is establish our run game with some consistency, and we're sitting at 3.7 a carry, and that's not going to help us win any Big Ten games. We have six Big Ten games remaining, the West division is certainly still up for grabs.
What we need to do is establish the run game, and probably just as concerning are our turnover numbers, and we sit at 11 turnovers on the year. Two interceptions, and both of those interceptions, I'm sure the quarterback would like to have them back, but he's sitting at 15 touchdowns to two interceptions, so we're not quite as concerned about the interceptions, but nine fumbles, 14 on the ground, nine lost, that's a real bad number, and I've never been around a really good championship level football team that's fumbled the ball at that rate. The good news is we've got six games to clean it up. We certainly intend to.
That’s the kind of stuff you want to hear. Everything he said is obvious, yes, but he’s not out here spouting execution or letting players and coaches off the hook. This is the kind of mindset you want out of a football coach.
It doesn’t sound like he’s got Nathan Stanley on a short leash.
Q. How would you assess Nate Stanley?
Right now I think we have a pretty efficient young quarterback who's exceeded our expectations and really has done a fairly good job for us. You look at the touchdowns, interceptions, you look at the completion percentage, he's right at about 57 percent. So just his efficiency numbers have been impressive.
One thing I'd say about Nate, I feel good about how he's grown as the season has gone on, and I think the benefit to a young guy like Nate who's 19 years old, he's in his first year as a full-time starter, and he's seen more defensively in six games than I think a lot of guys do maybe in two years, and that just is because of the schedule we've played and how people have chosen to defend us. That's a real positive. How he's handled it along the way, also very positive. We've had some real low lows. We try to kick into a two-minute situation there at the end of the half in the first game, and we can't get the snap. We can't even get the snap.
Then you fast forward a week later and we have two big tempo situations where we have to go score and get points, and he's operating like he's done it for five years. So you look at what he's done, you're real encouraged, but also he has a lot of room to grow. I mentioned the fumbles. Shoot, he's responsible for three of them, and two of them weren't even contested. He's got to do a better job taking care of the ball. He's done a pretty good job in the throwing game, now we have to have a little bit more ball security back there in the pocket, but he's a guy that's got us in and out of the right plays, and he's been extremely efficient throwing the ball as I mentioned. You look at 3rd down, he's gotten the ball out on time, and he's gotten it to where it has to go the majority of the time.
But I think the challenge for him is just like the challenge for a guy like Tristan Wirfs or Brandon Smith or Ihmir Smith-Marsette or Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson, go down the list, right, some of these young guys we're playing, can we continue to improve and how much better can we get. Because I think it's real easy sometimes as a young player to start feeling like maybe you've accomplished something or you have arrived, and we went through that after the Iowa State game. The goal around here is not to be 2-0, it's not to beat Iowa State. Just like the goal is not to come close with Penn State. We expect to beat Penn State, and that was the comment in the meeting room afterwards. I told those guys, was anybody here surprised when we were in the football game in the fourth quarter despite our best efforts offensively to not be in the football game? Was anybody surprised? And the answer was no, and of course it's not. We expect to win the football games we play. But I think young guys have to learn, right, it's so easy to be satisfied with things. I don't think Nate is in danger of that, but I know why you ask the question and I hesitate to say anything other than he's a young guy who's done well, but I think he has a chance to be a really good football player here, and I think that puts him in a club with a lot of other young guys we have, but are we going to go do that, or are we going to be satisfied with being 4-2 and being average? That's the question.
There’s just so much to like in that exchange there. Between his praise for Nate and his dissatisfaction with mediocrity (this may have been a good time to ask a follow-up about punching a wall in East Lansing, Iowa media) and his comment about Iowa State. Just really good stuff.
I’m including this about Nick Easley because 1. it’s a cool story and 2. I think he’s been Iowa’s breakout player this year. I’ve been really impressed by him, and he should get some more praise.
Q. In January Nick Easley shows up and I think he's your top targeted wide receiver, showing great body control, showing great courage. How did you find him?
We didn't find him. We lucked into him. He's a guy we called on Christmas and said, hey, would you be interested in walking on. I believe he was walking on at Iowa State. It was obviously a position of need, we were scouring some things. Tyler Barnes kind of dug his name up and we called him. We were down in Tampa. He said, yeah, I'd love to walk on. I believe his mom works in the University, so it was a little bit easier for him, and he did. And then we've said since day one, this guy is working hard. I know we mention his name a lot, and like you said, it doesn't mean a lot, but we saw him every day, and we saw the way he competed. I'm not saying he's Riley McCarron, but in a lot of ways he's reminding me of Riley since he got here. He's a guy who knows what he is and knows what he isn't, and he knows what he has to do to get on the field, and that is to have a little courage and go to some dark places, and he's done that for us, and he's been extremely reliable. He's been a nice little safety blanket.
He's moved into that Z position, which has allowed us to move Matt and really it gave some balance to our receiving corps where we knew we were going to be young. So we were fortunate. He was a little bit of a Godsend. And that allowed us to buy some time, too, to bring some of these young guys along. So Nick has done a tremendous job since he got here, but then you look at guys like Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, and Max Cooper, I'd throw in that category, too. We need to get him on the field a little bit more. But these are guys that since the day they showed up, they didn't worry about how old they were or how much experience they had or didn't have, Nick Easley didn't worry about how many schools recruited him or didn't recruit him. They come to work every day and they do their job. And it's amazing, if you just come do that, you get a little bit better each day.
These guys have really performed pretty well. Whether it's Nick whether it's Ihmir or whether it's Brandon or Max or Noah, go down the list, right, T.J., I'd throw Ivory in that group, too, young guys, Toren has played a little bit, we need to make sure we're not satisfied. We need to make sure that we have our eyes on something just a little bit bigger down the road here, and if we can keep improving -- I'm extremely optimistic about what I think we can be.
But at some point we have to go do it just like we can talk about ball security and we can work on ball security but at some point we've got to hold on to the ball because that's the only way to change those turnover numbers.
Of course, Brian had to bring up a former player. He is his father’s son, after all.