It’s that time of year again! With the Hawkeyes set to face the Wyoming Cowboys this Saturday at 11 AM, Kirk Ferentz came out of his office in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center to talk playing a real opponent, the depth chart, and a western Pennsylvania middle school. Here’s the full text.
In Kirk’s opening remarks, he talked through how he was excited with the progress throughout the preseason. The injuries the Hawkeyes incurred weren’t ones which had a huge impact. He went on to name Josey Jewell, Matt VandeBerg, Sean Welsh, and Kevin Ward as captains. While all of the guys named are deserving and difficult to argue against, it’s always curious for me to see the starting quarterback not as captain.
Going with Nate Stanley
Though Gary Dolphin broke the news on Monday, we learned today through Stanley and Ferentz, that the decision was actually made Thursday of last week. Ferentz referenced the tight nature of the QB competition and spoke highly of the character displayed from both Stanley and Tyler Wiegers. One sentence did stick out to me: “Hopefully they’ll both be ready to go.”
I’m sure Ferentz is alluding to a potential injury where Stanley cannot take a snap. However, it makes me wonder if there is any sort of leash Ferentz and company might be working with come Saturday. Hopefully we don’t find out - the best case is Iowa never needs to see such a horrible performance out of the quarterback position that they need to move onto the next one.
Facing Josh Allen / Ben Roethlisberger 2.0
Kirk was highly complimentary of the Wyoming QB, referencing his ability to flip the field with both his arm and his legs. Something to look out for is the latter part, should Iowa struggle in pass rush. Ferentz specifically mentioned containing in that phase of the game:
If you're not on top of your game with the rush, keeping your contain and those types of things, you're going to get hurt.
Yeah, if you give him a lot of time he's going to find somebody open, and somebody is going to be open because you can only cover for so long. So yeah, you want to disrupt him if possible, and preferably, like every coach, you'd like to do it with four guys. It would be nice if you could do it with three. But the danger is if you get out of your lanes and are reckless, he'll pull it down and run. He's done a nice job that way converting into good 1st downs for them.
This scares the living daylights out of me. I’m already getting flashbacks to Easton Stick highlights. Thankfully, I think the horses exist up front to rush with four but if the ends get overeager and flush him out of the pocket, all bets are off.
Ferentz unsurprisingly played coy about the impact of having former NDSU coordinator, Tim Polasek, on staff. Right after providing a non-answer regarding the “family tree” and saying lots of things are personnel-dependent, Ferentz talked about the new defensive coordinator. My thought: Iowa is definitely leaning on Polasek.
He referenced the 2003 game against Roethlisberger on three separate occasions and offered a potential template for how this game might go:
I'm flashing back to that '03 game right now. That was a little dicey, that early part of the season was a little bit dicey. We had some interesting plays from guys that hadn't played a lot, but we found a way to win. We found a way to win that first one.
Looking back at the box score, it really checks out. Iowa went ahead, 7-3, on a TD to FB Aaron Mickens and it stayed that way for another quarter. Though Iowa went into the half up 14-3, it took another 20 minutes before the game was put away, 21-3 with 10 minutes left. By the way, Nathan Chandler’s stats that day: 12-19, 129 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs. I’d take that from Stanley.
For this week in Kirk Ferentz ancient history: he said when playing a Mountain West opponent (and college sports in general), Iowa could not assume they were “Fort Couch Middle School.” His reference to the Pittsburgh-area school made me chuckle.
Reporters mentioned five true freshmen (Geno Stone, Tristan Wirfs, Brandon Smith, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Max Cooper) and Ferentz seemed like they’d play all five. On Stone:
He kind of made a later charge, if you will. Started out okay, but when we scrimmaged, especially a week ago Friday ... he had a big night that night, and basically shows up where the ball is, and that's a good trait for a safety. We're still teaching him some responsibilities, some things he can't do before he starts attacking the football, but he showed up where the ball is in several ways, and I think Phil alluded to this last week in the press conference, he made some plays that you don't see guys make every day, too, just getting the ball out, that type of thing. He just seems to have a good feel for the game.
It may just be my inability to separate players from where they are from, but Stone really reminds me of fellow Pennsylvanian Bob Sanders. If nothing else, I’m hopeful he’s going to lay the wood on special teams.
On Wirfs, Ferentz seemed like, in an ideal world, he would keep the redshirt into next year. However, his talent is just too much, evidenced by his inclusion on the depth chart. If Iowa can get through the season without experiencing lackluster tackle play, there’s a slim chance Wirfs might not see the field, saying:
That's one we'll probably tread water on a little bit, but right now our plan is to go ahead and push forward, but we'll see.
Kirk was much more open about the freshman wideouts and was also talked up grad transfer Matt Quarrels:
All three of those guys, you could see them out there in some capacity this Saturday. I would imagine somewhere in the next 13 weeks you're going to see them out there playing. Our plan with all three of those guys was to push them forward.
Matt is kind of late to the game right now, so he's really learning on the fly. Before he was accepted into school, he really couldn't do anything. He could come out and watch practice, but he couldn't sit in a meeting, learn the technology, get a playbook, all those kinds of things, so he's definitely in catchup mode right now, but he's learning quickly and doing some good things. He's been impressive out there. Like James he has a real good demeanor, I think both those guys are really good additions to our football team.
Punting/Kicking/Returning is Winning
It took until the second to last question - come on Iowa media! - before Kirk talked punting, but said we might see both Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde punting. As with everything, consistency is key, and that’s what he’s looking for from this position and kickers.
We may split those duties just like the PAT field goal stuff. There may be some mix-and-match on that stuff, and see how that goes. Both the guys have done well.
The thing I'd say about the kicking or any new position, that consistency factor. Obviously all the guys have shown flashes of doing things really well, now how consistent can we be and can we do it when we're in a game situation. That's the next test.
As he referenced the kicking game above, Miguel Recinos ended up as the starting kicker with “the edge on percentages.” I’ll be curious to see if Keith Duncan receives any run, perhaps as the full-time PATer. Kirk is not afraid to use both, especially because they did the same last year
The last thing I’ll touch on is how I see a distinct difference in the kickoff and punt return games. With Akrum Wadley fielding kickoffs, it offers Iowa an opportunity to flip the field:
I think we're all in agreement we need to do as well as we possibly can on special teams, all phases, and I think if we have an opportunity to use a veteran player where it might give us a little bit more octane than it would otherwise, then we really need to look into that, and hopefully that'll complement some of the inexperience that we're working through.
But with Matt VandeBerg returning punts, it’s about being smart and regaining possession:
He's dependable fielding the ball, and then even before that making good decisions. Judgment is a big part of being a punt return guy, so it starts there. He fields it well, and he's got some run ability afterwards, too, so we're hoping that we can get something.
It’s certainly hard to disagree with this logic. He sees what everyone else is seeing - an offense which may at times struggle to move the ball [like every other Iowa offense]. Putting a big play maker at kickoff makes the offense’s job easier, but putting the more reliable punt returner back there eliminates the possibility of the defense returning to the field.
That’s all I got - how about you? Let us know down below!