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KIRK SPEAKS: Nebraska

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Which Iowa team will show up for the Heroes Game?

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 season has proven that the Iowa Hawkeyes are capable of beating inferior teams. See: Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Maryland. Put a team that is slighlyt better than Iowa in front of the Hawkeyes and it wll result in an infuriating loss. See every loss from this season for examples.

That begs the question: what category does this year’s Nebraska team fall into? A terrible start to the season for Scott Frost has turned into wins, including an ugly 9-6 win over Michigan State last weekend in a snow storm. Nebraska has momentum, and Iowa...doesn’t, despite a 63-0 win against a God-awful Illinois team.

This game will determine whether this Iowa team and its coaches are above-average, like we thought, or downright mediocre. There’s still a chance for this team to win nine games and end the season on a positive note. Who knows what happens with a loss on Friday.

How does Kirk Ferentz feel about all that? Let’s check in on his media availability from yesterday. Let’s check out the highlights; the full transcript is here.

KIRK FERENTZ: This game is extremely important to us. It’s got a lot of weight, a lot of value, and we’re giving it our utmost intention. Hopefully we’ll have great preparation all week long. You look at Nebraska, they’re a team that’s really riding high right now, playing with really good momentum. Like any new staff, a team with a new staff, teams go through transitional periods, and you could see that early with their play. But if you look at the last half of the season, you’re seeing the team really come together. They’ve jelled, and they’re playing really good football right now.

Well, it seems like the importance of this game isn’t lost on the coaching staff. It’s a start!

Q. What is it that makes Nebraska’s offense go?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, they threaten you in a lot of ways. It starts with the quarterback. He’s not McSorley, but there are probably some parallels in there. He’s really a very threatening guy, running the football, throwing the football. They’ve got designed runs, designed options, those types of things, and then also he’ll pull it down and go. You really have to respect that part of it, and he’s done a good job throwing it. He’s got good guys to throw it to.

That’s a big part of it, and they’ll take chances. They’ll push the envelope. They’ll go for it on 4th down, those types of things, and they just do a really good job of keeping pressure on you in all areas.

If last week’s defense shows up, Martinez should not be an issue for this team, particularly the defensive line. Yes, he can use his legs, but I don’t think that will be an issue for a sprinting A.J. Epenesa, do you?

Q. How do you feel this rivalry has grown, and is it a game you enjoy playing, kind of an old-school Big Ten team like Nebraska?

KIRK FERENTZ: I like playing on Friday this time of year. I would not like it early in the season unless it’s the first game. But I think when you’re in the months of September and October, every minute is really extremely important.

At the end of the year, I think it makes sense. It’s doable, because it’s more of a mental thing at this point. And it makes perfect sense for us to play a neighboring state. For years we didn’t play Illinois, which was kind of strange. But it was all a byproduct of the expansion. To me it made sense. It might have been a little forced at the front end. I know that was the feeling of some people, but it seemed like it’s settled in as kind of a natural match-up, and it’s a shame it’s not going to go on in the future, at least continually.

But that’s the way that went, and it looks like it will at some point gain gravity again, a little traction, and hopefully it’ll be in place for the rest of the way. It makes too much sense not to do it.

Remember when Nebraska players and fans claimed this wasn’t a rivalry? Oh how the tides have turned. This series has truly become a staple of my Thanksgiving weekend, for better or worse. I think everyone’s response when the future Big Ten schedule came out with Iowa ending the season with Wisconsin shows just how much fans in both fandoms have grown to love this game.

LET’S TALK TIGHT ENDS!

Q. How have your options been -- you guys have gotten a lot of explosive plays out of tight ends. Not a lot of people can do that. Is that the players or what you guys are trying to do?KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, we’ve always tried to utilize our tight ends, and then when you have guys that have some abilities -- T.J. is not your average bear by any stretch, and Noah, I’ve floated the term specialist out there. It sounds like that gained some traction.

But I guess my inference there was like, he runs like a specialist. There aren’t many tight ends I’ve ever seen or been around, certainly, live that can run like he can. He almost effortless when he runs. So it puts him in a little different category in my mind as a tight end.

So he can take a 10- or 20-yard gain and he might go the distance with it, and he has done that, and T.J. has done the same thing. Dallas Clark had that ability, too, that 5-yard pass against Purdue that year ends up being a huge play in the game.

But not every guy has the ability to do that. Some guys can make the play and make the catch and get turned and all that, but to finish a play like these guys do, both these guys have the capability of, that’s a really unique thing.

Q. Is there any key to getting them loose like that for those big plays?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, sometimes man coverage helps a little bit sometimes. That helps. And because it is a tough match-up, whether you’re a safety or a linebacker. And then corners are probably going to have a hard time size-wise. It’s a nice thing to have a tight end that has that type of ability. Yeah, so it helps.

It’s amazing what happens when Iowa gamelans for its tight ends!

Q. You’ve had a lot of young players who have played well in the secondary. You had your true freshman corners out there, Riley and Julius, and then you also have Matt, who’s not exactly old, either, and Ojemudia and D.J. Johnson has played and Kaevon Merriweather has played. What does that set the stage for for bowl prep because generally you guys take a second look at a lot of that. Are you going in with a fresh set of eyes at some of those positions?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, hopefully it’ll be good competition, and better competition because they have been on the game field. Once you’ve been on the field, you have a little better feel for what it takes, the what the tempo is and just how hard it is, how challenging it can be. I think we have a chance to have really healthy competition. We’ll be able to rest some of the guys in early December that have been accumulating a lot of snaps and keep working the guys that haven’t. Hopefully we’ll be a stronger team here by the end of December. That’s part of it. But yeah, it’s a nice opportunity.

This has certainly been an up-and-down year for the Iowa secondary, so it’s interesting to hear that the open competition will continue into bowl season. I’m sure matchup will be a big factor into that as well, as well as health, but this has been a good season of opportunity for young guys. Hopefully the extra practice and games will pay off for next year. We've been critical of these guys a lot, particularly in conference play, and I think it will pay off in the future.

That’s really all the meet from this week. If you want to hear Kirk gush about Jake Gervase or Parker Hesse and their leadership, by all means check out the full transcript above. Happy Thanksgiving, and go Hawks.

I hate Nebraska.