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KIRK SPEAKS: ILLINOIS

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Brandon Snyder is super human, Iowa’s mentality was lackluster, and another deep cut

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In the time I’ve been reading Kirk Ferentz press conferences, this is the first instance I’ve sensed some real frustration for a good portion of his back and forth with the media. Maybe it’s just me, but the first portion of his presser was particularly curmudgeony. Take a gander at this week’s offering and let me know how on point or off base I am. But first, the standard depth chart update.

“Breakdown”

  • Michael Ojemudia over Manny Rugamba is the only real change and reflects how Saturday started and finished against Michigan State. Kirk Ferentz lamented Rugamba’s injury, which occurred early in the first half against Penn State but not disclosed until mid-week. He was concerned it might be an injury similar to Greg Mabin’s last year (broken ankle) but said it was only a soft tissue injury. Maybe he’s back this week, maybe not! In Ferentz’s words: “Injuries are really hard to predict.”
  • Not listed on the depth chart is Brandon Snyder, who is officially cleared to play. The time it took him to recover from an ACL tear is “going to affect those numbers when they’re doing their studies.” Joshua Jackson disclosed Snyder is practicing at FS. What that means for Amani Hooker and Miles Taylor is anyone’s guess. Mine? The safety rotation Ferentz mentioned last week starts to take shape this week.
  • The staff has an “open mind” for punter and letting Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde duke it out in practice.
  • Jackson’s place as punt returner seems safe despite the ill-advised return from the 1 on a last minute kick. “He’s doing a good job back there.”
  • James Butler might not return after the bye week: “They're going to reassess it next week and see where it's going to go, but it could be a couple more weeks.” Could he be in line for a medical redshirt if it goes much longer?

“Straight Into Darkness”

He opened the week running down Iowa’s woes from last week, emphasis mine:

Just going down the list, obviously ball security, the turnover issue is something we're going to have to address, handling the blitz, and then just overall developing a kind of confidence and grit it takes to be successful home or away. But that was our first away game in Big Ten, and I don't think handled the whole thing very, very well. That's part of the equation with some newer players. I'm certain that factored into it a little bit, and we're going to have to get over that and learn how to play a little bit better, so that's the next challenge for us.

[...]

Obviously we've got to be a better fundamental football team this week. That's something we'll work on like we do every week in practice. Take every rep and hopefully start building a little cumulative advantage on that, and then the other part is just being ready mentally to go kick off. I'm not sure that we were last Saturday for whatever reason, so that's a challenge, and that's something we'll have to learn, as well, but it's all about being ready, preparing during the week, giving ourselves a chance to be fundamentally sound, and then most importantly be ready to kick off and execute and handle whatever challenges pose at us.

Unsolicited, he addressed Iowa’s mental state against Michigan State. We are not inside those walls so we don’t know how the players were going about last week but outside the walls, there was a ton of confidence for Iowa against Michigan State. My guess is Iowa looked at a team 5-11 in their last 16 games and didn’t think they would bring the muscle they brought in the 17th game. Ferentz chalks it up to youth, and that’s fair since maybe 25% of the two-deeps were there for the ill-fated Big Ten Championship game against Michigan State. Hopefully this is the only time Iowa takes an opponent lightly.

“Runnin’ Down a Dream”

Kirk was similarly disappointed in the run game and chalked that up to opposition and injuries: “It's just all about trying to develop more consistency, being able to sustain a little bit, and part of that is we've just got to keep working and get our lineups settled in and get the guys working together a little bit more cohesively.”

One reporter was so bold to declare this season’s offense, with arguably the most dynamic playmaker in Kirk’s time here, along the lines of 2004’s, whose feature back was Sam Brownlee. Ferentz scoffed at it:

But I don't envision us being on that path right now, and our goal is to be balanced. It always has been. You go with what you have to go with and whatever is working, and if you're in a game where you just can't run it, and that happens sometimes, then you'd better be able to throw it or you're going to be in trouble, and sometimes it goes the other way, too. But over the course of the season, our goal is still to be balanced, and at this given point I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be or couldn't be.

(Another - or maybe it was the same? - reporter asked if Iowa was reassessing quarterback. It bears mentioning but not elaborating.)

“I Need to Know”

Could Iowa help out Akrum Wadley, though? He’s getting the lion’s share of snaps and touches as the lead back with Butler out and it isn’t producing like Iowa would like: “It's just a matter of shifting things around. The other backs have to get involved and more involved as we move forward. The receivers, same way. So you just kind of spread those touches around and just got to improvise. That's part of coaching, though.”

If we’re to believe Wadley, some change is likely.

I’m particularly excited because I think the ideal number of carries for Wadley, as a running back, is 12-15. (Rob Donaldson thinks I’m crazy) But, if he gets those touches plus another 4-5 receptions as both an RB and slot receiver with some run as a jet sweeper, it gets him to 20 touches. But in space. He’s not a monster truck, he’s a Ferrari. Treat him as such.

“The Best of Everything”

In arguably Kirk’s deepest, but not oldest, cut of the season, he waxed poetic about Will Lack, a reserve offensive lineman from Iowa’s 2002 team. His answer about taking “pride” in former players in the NFL took a turn we should remember:

And then on the other side, though, there's a lot of other people doing really neat things, too. Jay Bickford is teaching somewhere, I think Eastern Illinois. I don't want to screw that one up. Will Lack is over somewhere doing a mission; he and his wife were doing a mission in Mongolia maybe. I got an email maybe about a month and a half ago from him. I think he was at the game two weeks ago out here. And Will got beat up, and it's kind of funny when Fred Barr was talking about Will Lack and how much respect he had -- okay, Fred is a starting linebacker, four-year starting linebacker, the respect he had for Will Lack, who basically got beat up every day by him and Colin Cole. So those are the neat things. So you've got guys like Colin and Fred that really had prominent careers, but a guy like Will Lack, who just being part of the team was so important to him, and now you look at what he's doing, he does a lot of good things, he and his wife are really community oriented, that type of thing. So happy for all the guys that come through here. We've had a lot of really good stories. Not all of them get to play in the NFL, but they do a lot of neat things.

Like Jordan mentioned in his Sunday recap, the perspective Ferentz gives with this anecdote is these guys’ have their whole lives in front of them. Yes, we love them and cheer for them and rip our hair out on Saturdays, but it’s about more than wins and losses. Even if that’s largely how we remember them.