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KIRK SPEAKS: Northwestern

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It’s time for the yearly Iowa football vs. Apathy matchup

Iowa State v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Ugh. I’m not going to rehash all of the words that have been written on this great website and on our great podcast about the state of this Iowa football team or the Iowa football program. Those do a more than adequate enough job describing how I feel about this Iowa football program. Who really knows what this team is, where they’ll end in the all-time pantheon of ‘What if?’ Iowa football teams, or where they’ll go from here. There’s essentially nothing left to play for except each other. And Kirk Ferentz seems to be pleased with the way his team responded to that adversity in his meeting with the media today. Full transcript here.

KIRK FERENTZ: Nobody in our camp is pleased with the outcome certainly, and that being said, as I said the other night, really proud of our football team. They’ve worked hard. They’ve played hard and competed hard nine games, and the task now is try to continue that, find a way to come out on top in our next challenge...

...The biggest thing for us to move forward right now is moving forward, and that takes mental toughness. We can’t be looking back or worried about the what-ifs. We have to do what we can to get ready for this ballgame and do our best to prepare. We got two days under our belts, and so far, so good. Happy about that. Need to finish the week out right now, and I think all of us are looking forward to getting out and having another opportunity to compete this week against a really top-notch opponent.

Do you think this was Kirk Ferentz’s favorite question of all time?

Q. How much do you feel like people publicly don’t think Northwestern is Northwestern from the ‘70s and ‘80s and don’t realize how good this program has been under Fitzgerald?

KIRK FERENTZ: I’d say they’re living in the past if there are people like that. I don’t know. I think people that follow college football closely probably wouldn’t be of that opinion. But neither one of us were very good quite frankly in 1999. I think they might have notched us out record-wise. I know they did in the Big Ten. We didn’t win a game. I think might have won one against us on a two-point play.

But you know, that’s the past. They really had a resurgence in the ‘90s, had some great football teams, which Pat played on and captained, was an outstanding player on them, and then dipped a little bit, but really found their identity I think in 2000 when they converted a little bit to where they’re closer to what they are now offensively.

I think the other real significant point, from my vantage point at least, is they’ve really developed a defensive identity 2007, 2008, and to me since that time they’ve been a really tough opponent and have played very well. And you can just go back and look, a 10-win team last year, I think nine the year before that, or 7-9, whatever it is, but they’ve won a lot of football games.

But bottom line is when you put the film on, they’re extremely well-coached. Those guys play hard, and they play good football. If anybody is in that mode, that was in the ‘80s. I was here then, and that’s a long time ago. I can tell you that. A lot of things have happened since then.

Oh man, that was a lob to Kirk’s favorite press conference tendencies. Let’s get into what the people want to hear.

Q. When you’ve had teams finish strong like down the stretch, what have been common characteristics of those versus maybe like 2010, 2014 that maybe faded down the stretch?

KIRK FERENTZ: There’s no magic formula. It’s like winning any game. It starts with your preparation during the week. Then you’ve got to go out and compete. But I think when you shift into November really, it deals with -- that’s the one thing about football just in general. Circumstances change so much. I’m not following the NFL very closely right now, flip it around, but you kind of just hear these themes, and I know back in September it looked like Jacksonville was playing well and Houston was on their way down the skids. Now it’s just flip-flopped as I understand it.

In college football there’s a lot of examples of that, also. The bottom line is circumstances are always changing. You could be on a real good streak where you’re winning, or you could be coming off two tough losses, last-possession losses.

What it gets down to, the circumstances are a little different that way, in the mental games that can get played. It really gets down to your ability to focus on what’s important. It’s like playing a game; when it’s game time, the only thing that counts is that game. Right now I think the teams that can focus on their preparation and keep their eyes there and then go out and compete on Saturday are the ones that give themselves a chance.

Obviously injuries factor in there, obviously some other circumstances can factor in, but those are things you know are going to happen in August. You don’t know how they’re going to surface or what the challenges are going to be, so how do you deal with those things.

Ok...that’s not the worst answer I’ve ever heard from Kirk. What he fails to mention is that his team is on the wrong side, just like the Jaguars in his NFL example.

Q. How important is veteran leadership in moments like this?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s always important. It doesn’t have to be veteran, but it sure helps when you have veteran guys that are really committed. If they’re focused, chances are the other guys might come with them at least, and then if you have veterans and encourage guys to come with them, that helps, too, and I think we have that.

That’s one thing about this team. We necessarily didn’t have that in the spring, but it’s emerged, and we have a really good group of guys that are committed, and they’re showing other guys and telling other guys what we need to be doing.

I hope this bodes well for the future, especially for the young guys that have struggled this season. Injury and redshirt news!

Q. Matt Hankins, has he kind of reacclimated?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, he’s back with us and good graces, and yeah, he is healthy finally. Last week he kind of turned the corner that way, so he’s back practicing right now. We’ll see what happens.

Q. Do you plan to use him?

KIRK FERENTZ: Absolutely.

Q. You’re not going to redshirt him?

KIRK FERENTZ: No, we’re playing him. I don’t know if he’ll start this week, but he practiced today, practiced well, and hopefully he can make it to Saturday, and I’m not saying he’ll start, but my guess is he’ll play.

Q. Do you know what you’re going to do -- do you know who your two starters are at this point

?KIRK FERENTZ: Not yet. It’s only Tuesday, so we’ll let the week pan out and see where we’re going to go.

Well, if nothing else, this is encouraging!

Q. Is Brady Ross healthy?

KIRK FERENTZ: Brady is not. I didn’t mention him, but no. I’m guessing maybe next week, but I doubt it, so we’re probably looking at another week. It’s one of those ankles, and those are bad.

Q. You had Tracy out there the other day. Are you kind of thinking four games with him

KIRK FERENTZ: Absolutely, yeah. He’ll probably use the four, yeah. I think he’s not in the Army yet, fully enlisted, but he’s got a foot in the water for sure.

Q. You wouldn’t plan on -- he’s not at the point where you’d plan on crossing into five?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t think so. We’ll see what happens, but I don’t think so.

Q. The freshman playing four games, has that changed evaluations of them, and is that the type of thing that opens doors more than it would have?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think so, yeah. I think it’s been a good thing. Again, I would expand it and just make everybody eligible. But yeah, this is better than nothing certainly, and we’ve been able to use some guys on some special teams. A couple weeks ago we were really thin, so Dillon Doyle was in the water there swimming a little bit, and now we’ve pulled him out, and I think we’ll be able to protect him as long as we don’t have any more issues at that position.

That part has really been good, and now it gets a little tricky in Tyrone’s case because we’ve used up two, we’ve got two left. But we’re playing for today, so that’s our first thing is we’ll play for today and then we’ll make the decision when we get there if we have to.

Q. Did you get the impression this summer that Riley and Julius were going to be in the mix and maybe start a lot of games?

KIRK FERENTZ: No, no. I mean, just -- what we saw and evaluated early in the camp was that these guys were really competing well, and we don’t usually have very many preconceived ideas about people. We try to let things unfold in front of us and see what they do once they start practice.

You know, you have perceptions of people certainly from recruiting and going through the summer program, but until they really start playing football, and Yanda is the greatest example, right; I thought we really blew it when I saw him in our winter program, and two days in shorts, was okay, but then when he started blocking, like that’s what he does best, which fortunately for us that’s what we want him to do.

So the same thing with those two guys. They’ve really handled camp pretty well, competed well, did some things -- it wasn’t perfect, but they did some things that showed up and kind of gave us the encouragement maybe to keep working with these guys and see where they go.

Q. Going to be an open competition again in a year?

KIRK FERENTZ: Oh, yeah, absolutely. The thing about our corner position, I don’t know how many games Matt started coming into this year, one or two. So it was hardly like he was a veteran, OJ wasn’t a veteran so we had no veteran. All the focus was on the linebackers, but really it was linebackers plus corners. We had five spots we had no experience at coming in.

A lot of good nuggets about the future of the Iowa football program in those paragraphs. Open competition for corner again next year, continued use of guys for the four games allowed of them and then redshirting the obvious choices, unless injuries changes things...all seems good to me.

Q. When you look at Northwestern offensively statistically there’s not much there, but then you look at success, and that’s the most important thing, 5-1. What about them has kept them in the Big Ten race?

KIRK FERENTZ: You just answered the question right there. Really the most important stat is wins and losses, first and foremost, and the next -- to me are points scored and points allowed. If you look at statistically they’re not going to be in the top 10. We weren’t in ‘04, either, in a lot of categories, but you find a way to win, and that’s what good teams do, and that’s what they’ve done. Basically to me they went through a tough period of growth and trying to find their -- get their footing, and then they had their bye week, and since then they’ve been a really tough team to beat.

When they have been beaten, they were beaten by three points and beaten, whatever it was last week, 10 points, I guess, by two teams that are going to be on that show tonight, that fascinating show that comes on at 9:30 or whatever. But both of those teams will be on that show. These guys are gritty, they’re tough, and they play good football, and they get back to situations. They find a way to win when it’s important. They do what you have to do to win, and that’s a big challenge in anything you do.

Ugh, this answer is like a kick in the face. THIS COULD BE YOUR PROGRAM, KIRK BUT INSTEAD YOU’RE TRENDING THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.

Sorry kids, no alternate uniforms this year, just “playing good football.” Wait...

Q. Alternate jersey is sounding like it’s not happening this year; how much time do you spend thinking --

KIRK FERENTZ: I’ll have to walk down the hall and check on that. Right now I’m really a little bit more focused on some other things like us playing good football. But yeah, part of it was like we didn’t give them a three-year notice. You’ve got to give Nike three years to get something. I didn’t understand it. I’m not really that concerned or maybe I’d look into it harder. But we’ll do our best for next year, but we’re going to try to win the next three games. That’s what I’m more focused on now. I hope our players are, too.

And finally, let’s talk officiating. Iowa getting a few bad calls late in the game was not the reason they lost to Purdue, folks. Let’s be realistic.

Q. I know you talked a little bit Saturday about your players talking to officials. Talk about you and your coaches -- how do you not lose it? How do you?

KIRK FERENTZ: It can be a challenge, and I learned a lesson. We played -- it doesn’t matter where we played, but it was in 1994, we got totally absorbed in the officiating and the game didn’t end -- it probably cost us the game. We lost five games. We were 7-5, and one of the losses was because we just got so absorbed in what we perceived to be the officiating.

Lesson learned there. When the players start getting worried about it or the assistant coaches get worried about it, that’s not a good thing. That’s really my job. I’ll handle that and hopefully I can compartmentalize it, and the reality is you’re not always going to agree with what’s being called or not being called. That’s the way it goes. I think all of our hopes are typically -- I don’t want to speak for other coaches. My hopes would be there there’s consistency and good judgment, discretion. That’s a big part of law enforcement, too, consistency and discretion.

Time-of-the-game situations, those kinds of things I think should factor into it. It’s like baseball, if an umpire calls them high for strikes, you’d better adjust your strike zone if you’re a batter, but if they’re high and then they’re not high or low and not low, that really gets hard to follow the bouncing ball. It’s hard to be a good hitter if that strike zone is not real consistent. That’s what I think all of us hope for, and we all have different ways of looking at things.

Q. Did you talk to the Big Ten after Saturday?

KIRK FERENTZ: We typically converse. We converse. We’re moving on.

And now, we’re moving on from this blog post, folks. We’ll converse in the comments. The sky is blue, water is wet, and Iowa football is headed for another 7-5 season.