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KIRK SPEAKS: UNI Panthers

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Come for the insights into improving the offense, stay for Kirk’s story about playing quarterback without wearing his contacts!

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

I can’t believe that Week 3 of the college football season is already here. I also can’t believe that we still have so many questions about Iowa’s offense heading into this weekend’s matchup against Northern Iowa. If you want a full breakdown of last Saturday’s game, check out our Rewatch here.

It’s also the first of what we now know will be two consecutive night games in Kinnick Stadium. Electric.

As he does every Tuesday, Kirk met with the media yesterday afternoon in advance of the game. Let’s check out the highlights (as determined by me), shall we? Check out the full press conference transcript here.

Let’s get things started with the obvious. Kirk summarized last week better more sufficiently and succinctly than any of us here at the Pants have or could:

KIRK FERENTZ: Obviously the defensive line played well. They were relentless out there and really set the tempo for our team, our defense. Offensively we still have work to do in terms of timing and tempo, developing a rhythm, but that’s just going to come from practicing and good execution in practice.

Yeah, that’s about all you need to say. Let’s hope he mentions more about his plan for the offense going forward in this press conference.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but next, Kirk praised the UNI Panthers and mentioned the past.

KIRK FERENTZ: I think all you’ve got to do for us is look at the last three series we’ve had Northern Iowa, whether it be in ‘14, whether it be in ‘12. Both of those, 11-point and 8-point wins, but more specifically the 2009 ballgame where we had a really good football team and were losing 13-3 in the third quarter, and basically it was a miracle finish for us to win the football game.

That’s what we expect when we play them on Saturday. They’re going to come in here looking to win the football game, playing tough like they always do, and really it’s up to us to make sure we’re ready to go, make sure we’re improving and ready to kick off.

That all seems par for the course. Kirk has played UNI enough times to know that this has all the makings of a trap game, and he was asked about that in his first question. To save you some reading time, yes, Kirk has told his guys not to sleepwalk through this game.

Let’s talk offense!

Q. Right now the passing game, is it just a matter of just kind of growing things almost where it’s a young wide receiver that gets rerouted or takes the wrong release or the quarterback not adjusting necessarily to when a tight end gets rerouted?

KIRK FERENTZ: ...Your profile of it is really fair right now....but it really gets down to execution. Typically one thing affects another. So yeah, if a receiver doesn’t run the right route or take the right release, those types of things, he’s not where the quarterback expects him to be, it’s not good. Sometimes the quarterback doesn’t make a good decision or read things out properly, protection can break down. There’s so many things that can go haywire in the passing game. And the bottom line is we haven’t been consistent enough at this given point. That’s hopefully something we’ll keep gaining ground. To be a good offensive football team you’ve got to be balanced, and that just helps everything if we can get that going.

To me, it seems like we can expect to see a lot more running on early downs this week to get that balance going.

Q. Is the passing game always the hardest thing to take from a practice field to a game?KIRK FERENTZ: Again, I kind of see everything kind of collectively because when you’re throwing the ball well, it makes the run game a little bit easier and then vice versa. It all kind of goes together. I don’t think there’s necessarily a pattern to it. Every team is a little bit different. A year ago at this time the sky was falling defensively for us, right, we gave up 40 plus points. It’s just a different circumstance now. But the bottom line is there’s always something to work on. There’s always a challenge. The big thing is how do we attack that challenge, how do we get better during the week. Repetition is really important but good repetition is more important, so that’s what we’re trying to get on the practice field right now.

Repetition is good! Sounds like we could be seeing a combination of young receivers forgetting their routes, an offensive line struggling to open up holes for the run game, and a constrained quarterback as a result. Or maybe Nate Stanley has just regressed, too. Or maybe both?

Kirk seems to think some of it is certainly Stanley’s own doing:

Q. When you watch the tapes on Sundays, what have you observed with Nate and maybe why he’s struggling a little bit early, especially in terms of accuracy?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I think he looks like he’s pressing to me a little bit. I’ve never played quarterback. I did throw one pass -- yeah, one pass in 10th grade. I completed it, too. I didn’t have my contacts in and I couldn’t see. I just hauled it out and some guy caught it; it was a miracle. That’s a long story, we won’t go there. But I did throw one pass in my life, but I’m not a passer. But I know a little bit about throwing a baseball, and you can’t aim a ball, I know that, when you throw something. I think he’s doing a little bit of that right now, trying to be too perfect, and then the points earlier we’re just not quite there in terms of sync. Just going to keep working at it. There’s no pixie dust or pill we give a guy or something like that. It’s just working through it and developing confidence.

Man, I wish Kirk would have elaborated on that story. That’s honestly fantastic. On a serious note though, that’s the second time that Kirk mentions sync between Stanley and his receivers. Get some more practice reps and a game like this weekend that should be a tune-up, and I think we’ll see the passing game start to click as the season progresses.

A quick update at linebacker:

Q. Has Jack Hockaday cemented that middle linebacker role?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, right now he’s working No. 1, and that’s remained pretty constant. He’s done a really nice job, and we’re just going to keep moving everybody forward. Djimon jumped in there. We’ll see how that goes this week, how they both practice. But everybody gets graded during practice, but Jack is doing a good job, and he looks confident out there, and that’s great to see.

Kirk went on to mention in a follow up to this question that he uses in-game performance as a big determinant on who plays and who sits, as well as practice experience. Makes sense to me, but it’s refreshing to see in-game performance getting the nod over practice. That hasn’t always been the case!

That was the biggest meat of the press conference to me. Here are some other quick hitters:

Q. You’re starting to get some contributors from Iowa Western. Can you describe what it’s like to kind of foster that relationship with a junior college and have -- I don’t want to say a common line all the way in...

KIRK FERENTZ: I’m only smiling because the first one was almost accidental; I’m thinking of Nick Easley right off the bat, and thank goodness that accident took place. We just kind of stumbled into him. My first conversation I remember vividly I was in my room at Tampa in the bowl game and spoke to him right before or after the holidays. I guess it was after Christmas. He’s just come in and done such a nice job -- he’s such a good guy and a good football player.

Then Mekhi is a little bit off the beaten path, too. It wasn’t like he was hot in demand, but KB saw him, and the more we got to know him, the more we liked him. We had an opening, and just so glad he’s here, too.

Yeah, it’s all good stuff, but I think it speaks highly of their program. These are two guys that have really fit in with what we’re doing, and they’ve done it really kind of seamlessly. They’ve just come in and gone to work and really done a good job.

Count me in as someone who hopes this is a relationship that continues, given the talent from IWCC currently on the roster, and the guys that are coming next season.

Injury update!

Q. Was Ivory back at practice?

KIRK FERENTZ: He’s not. He’s gaining ground, and we haven’t rolled him out yet for this week, but he’s gaining ground, and we’ll see day by day.

Q. What about Smith-Marsette? You said you got good news on him...

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, the X-rays were fine, so things are good there, it’s just kind of day-to-day right now. He didn’t work today, either, so we’ll see where he’s at tomorrow and take it day by day.

Well...that’s not terrible news, I guess! But no Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the long-term could really hurt. Really, not having both of them really hurts in the long run, but maybe things will change next week.

And finally...

Q. The schedule, starting the season with four home games and then you have one home game in the next six Saturdays, what do you think of this?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s funny, I haven’t been asked that yet. I’ve been waiting for months. But I haven’t been asked that one.

I don’t think too much about the schedules...my answer would be like at least in the second part of the season we’re not going to Japan. We’re playing in the Big Ten. The road trips aren’t that big a deal. They’re easy, and you go there, you play and you get back out.

Don’t tell me I’m the only one that would pay an abhorrent amount of money to go watch Iowa football play in Japan. I have a lot of questions, but sign me up!