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KIRK SPEAKS: Maryland

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It’s Homecoming, y’all!

Northern Illinois v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Happy Homecoming, Hawkeyes!

It’s a good week to be a Hawkeye. Last weekend’s game against Indiana was a lot of fun to watch (and rewatch!), and it propelled the Hawkeyes back into the Top 25 for the first time since 2016. The consensus around Hawkeye-land is good.

This weekend, the Hawks are back in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium for the first time in nearly a month. Yesterday was Tuesday, so you know what that means: Kirk Ferentz met with the media. Let’s see what he had to say. Full transcript here.

KIRK FERENTZ: I think also one thing they saw, when we execute and really focus, we have a chance to have a good football team.

KIRK STILL ONLY THINKS HIS TEAM HAS A ‘CHANCE’ OF BEING GOOD!

Injury news!

KIRK FERENTZ: Injuries real quick. Brady left the game the other day, Brady Ross. He’ll be out this game, probably a couple. We will see how that goes. It’s going to take a couple weeks at least to heal.

I mentioned Jack [Hockaday], doesn’t look good. I guess doubtful is the right term. I would not count on him being back with us.

On the positive side, Ivory [Kelly-Martin] started practicing yesterday morning with us. Nick Niemann the same way. I think both those guys will be ready to go on Saturday, bearing the week.

Well, that’s mostly positive! Nick Niemann coming back is going to be a very good thing for this defense.

Kirk had a lot to say about Maryland, even though he claims he ‘doesn’t know much about them.’ Maybe he’s just speaking historically?

KIRK FERENTZ: As we look at them, first thing that stands out, a little bit like last week, we don’t have a lot of familiarity with them, haven’t played them since ‘15. Only played them in a two-game series. Almost like starting over again, a non-league game in some ways.

...They’ve got good size, good speed, good athleticism. They can do a lot of things very, very well I think in all three phases.

The special teams, they play hard. Have a lot of guys that present problems for you, good return guy on the kick team, their running back is a very dangerous return guy....

You move into the defense, they play a three-man front up front. Again, they’ve got big, physical guys in their front seven. Good secondary, those guys play well. Our focus is going to have to be really good and preparation is going to have to be good there.

Flipping over on offense, it’s not like playing Georgia Tech exactly, but there’s some parallels, primarily their strength is in running the football. When they throw it, they tend to be real big plays. I think the parallel to Georgia Tech is there’s just a lot of things going on.

It’s a really important week for us mentally. It’s a different preparation than we’re used to. Do a lot of shifts, a lot of motions, a lot of things to different sets to catch you off guard.

The thing that jumps out at you is how many big plays come out of it. If our guys aren’t on the same page, communicating well, you open the door for some really big plays. That’s a big danger of playing these guys...

It’s going to take a good week of preparation on our part. We’ve got to finish the week out...We really have to do a good job of making sure we know all we can. I’m sure they’re trying to do the same thing. Go from there.

This seems like high, very specific praise from Kirk to me. Sounds like he has the team preparing a bit differently once again this week to prepare for an unfamiliar foe. Seems smart to me!

Q. Is there one thing you can point to in particular, the passing yards game is as good as it’s been since ’05, is that just a matter of things coming together at once?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, me personally, I just think we’re a little bit more experienced than we were. We were really inexperienced last year at the receiver position, tight end position, quarterback position. Other than that, we were doing okay (laughter). We had backs that had some experience.

I think just kind of a combination of those guys being more experienced. I’d throw our tackles in, too. Those guys are both freshmen, when Boone and Ike went down, that was pretty early in the season. Just had a lot of young players last year on offense. I think it showed at times. We were very inconsistent. Sometimes we looked really good. At least right now we’re a little bit more consistent. We certainly can improve in that area. I think we just have a little bit better balance now, better experience.

Q. It feels like you guys are getting more explosive plays, without a fleaflicker, have you seen an improvement in pass protection?

KIRK FERENTZ: Part of that I think is we’re a little bit more cohesive right now. Offense, as you know, is so intricate. One guy can break down. It could be an opportunity for a good play, one guy breaks down, just looks like nothing. Whereas on defense, you can blow something, if the offense doesn’t catch it, you can get away with it sometimes defensively. I think especially in the passing game, that’s true.

Kirk loves cohesion and experience, and so do I.

Then the other component the other day was just the coverages we caught a couple times. Feast or famine situations for both teams. We were able to come out on top on those.

Q. Obviously the passing game stole the show Saturday. Your running backs both averaged over five yards per carry. Seemed like from the beginning you established tempo in the running game. How important is that for your offense?

KIRK FERENTZ: It sure helps. As you know, we want to be balanced in a perfect world. If that opportunity is there, hopefully we can get that established. You can take one thing or another away if you choose to. You can take the run away if you need to.

Saturday I thought we did a good job of being balanced. One of the better plays we ran, third-and-12, whatever there, going to the right of our bench where we hit just a little run in there for whatever it was, 13. Got the first down on it.

If we can play that way, it makes us a better football team. Sometimes you can. It’s more fun when you can. But that’s not always easy to do.

Q. Who would you say your best corners are in run support to date?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t know. I guess we’re going to find out, aren’t we. We’ll just keep going with the guys we have, keep practicing, seeing how they look.

They’re all going to have to be able to step up and do that. It’s not the same as, but I remember playing over at Pittsburgh, not when Coach Canada was there, the first half of the ‘14 game, they were wearing us out into the boundary. That was part of our problem, corner support was not very good. We kind of got that corrected in the second half, played much better.

We’re going to get tested everywhere this week as far as coming up and run support, also tackling, most importantly tackling. They have guys that are tough to get down.

Q. Start freshmen again?

KIRK FERENTZ: That’s our plan right now. I think Hankins is pretty close to being about there, same thing with O.J. At least we have some guys to pick from. We’ll let them compete this week.

I’m overall ok with the job the freshman have done at corner. It hasn’t been pretty, but it hasn’t been as big of a liability as it probably could have been.

Oooo Brian Ferentz question!

Q. The offense is playing pretty well right now. Take me back when you promoted Brian to offensive coordinator, was there maybe a different kind of pressure on you and him because he was your son? Did you feel that when this promotion was made?

KIRK FERENTZ: Not really. I think probably it’s like we’ve had three of them play here, three sons play here. It really hasn’t affected me or impacted me in a great way, other than I feel fortunate that way to watch them every day, be around them every day, even if I’m not working with them directly.

But really it gets down to them having to do their jobs. I think the pressure was really on them, all three of them, to prove themselves to most of all their teammates, prove their worth to those guys, show they deserved to be on the team, then also deserved to get whatever spot they got.

I think that’s probably fair to say it’s more on their shoulders than mine. But really what it gets down to, I’ve got a job to do, he’s got a job to do, he had a job before that to do. When they’re playing, they have a job to do, too.

I think most of us involved, we’re trying to bring our best to the team, do what we can to help the team be successful. I think that’s how he looks at it. I don’t want to speak for him. Been around him a while, so I think I understand how he thinks pretty well.

Classic non-answer there.

Q. Are there times during the games when he makes a call, you think, Not sure?

KIRK FERENTZ: I’m a great second guesser, you kidding me? I’m like a fan.

No, it’s amazing. I mean, it’s unbelievable, but it is. We operate like we’ve always operated. Whether it was Greg or Ken, fortunately we haven’t had eight million play callers. Whoever is doing it, that’s a really hard job. Appreciation for that at a young age. There’s always, Geez, I’d do this or that. It’s easy to say that, I’ve learned that real fast.

Whoever it is calling plays, we all correspond a little bit between series. When the guy is in a series, that guy is going with it. Maybe it’s a situation where we’ll say, We’re going to go for it on fourth, those types of things, give him information so he can do his job as well as possible. I try not to second guess. That’s a hard job. Boy, it’s a hard job.

Now there is some interesting insight. And it’s consistent with what Brian said during his availability about when it’s determined that the team will go for it on fourth, the game plan for each individual job. That’s all well and good. But what does Kirk mean when he says he tries not to second guess? Look out for my 5000 word think piece on that sentence later this week.

After last night’s NFL game that featured an abundance of Hawkeyes, Kirk was asked about his program’s history of successful NFL players, despite the lack of draft pedigree.

Q. Do you have a lot of guys drafted too low?

KIRK FERENTZ: They’re probably the guys we recruit. You think about Micah. We stole him from the MAC, right? Daniels was going to Villanova, which would be impressive if he’s a basketball guy. Obviously he’s not at his height.

I guess they don’t quite fit the parameters, whether it’s size, speed. Desmond King, same way. C.J., weighed I think 170 when he got here. They don’t all fit the mold maybe. I think what we see is they end up being really good players.

Marshal is probably the centerpiece for that discussion. Marshal never looked pretty in his stance. I told guys, He won’t look pretty in shorts, but when you start playing football, your line coach will be pleased you drafted him. They don’t maybe tick every box. When it comes time to playing, doing what you’re supposed to do, they’re pretty good at that. Almost sneaky good sometimes.

I believe Micah Hyde has sneaky speed, Desmond the same way. You don’t see people running them down, catching them. They got enough speed to get to where they want to get. Part of that is understanding.

All those guys we’re talking about, they understand what it is to show up and work every day. That sounds pretty mundane and boring. Six years in the National Football League, it was amazing how many guys didn’t understand that concept. They got by because they had great ability, great this and that. At some point that road ends.

I think our guys do a good job of giving themselves a chance to stay alive, be productive for the team they’re with.

That sounds exactly like what everyone who follows this program thinks about every guy that’s gone on to have a successful NFL career. It’s not surprising to us. We’ve seen that story plenty of times before.

Q. When you look at the chemistry of this team, it seems evident they maybe not individually but collectively like each other, genuinely feel a bond that you don’t always get. Do you see that? How instrumental is that to success?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think it’s huge in success. I think it’s huge in any team activity or group activity. I do see it. It’s been ongoing.

It’s interesting. I think teams develop personalities, good bad or indifferent, as the season goes on, year goes on. I said it back in April, I’m not sure what our personality was. It was kind of bland. We had good guys, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think the team started. Took place over the summer. Usually does, because it’s a really intense period of training.

Things show themselves a little bit I think during the month of July. But as it went on, the guys in front have been so consistently doing a good job. We don’t have many of them. As I said the other day, I think we got a lot of guys in the junior, sophomore class right there with those seniors. That’s kind of come together a little bit.

We’re going to get tested the next six weeks. We’re only halfway through the season. There are going to be more bumps in the road, more adversity to face, those types of things. We’ll find out more about the team.

I feel good about the guys we have. They’re all committed to doing things well. I haven’t seen any cases of ego setting in or that kind of stuff, this or that. Those are the kinds of things that get teams off the track sometimes.

I don’t think we’ve talked enough on this website about the chemistry of this team, especially with the Fanta “drama.” It’s clear that this team is still figuring out its identity, but they’re bought in to the gameplan from the coaches, and they like each other. And that’s paying dividends.