Last Saturday night sucked, folks. Iowa lost a winnable game to Wisconsin and more than likely lost its chance at a Big Ten West division title, along with a second shot at winning the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. To make it worse, it was the last game before Iowa’s bye week, leaving no opportunity to get the bad taste of a loss out of the Hawkeyes’ mouth quickly.
But at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for the bye week for one reason: it means we get to hear from the assistant coaches in-person instead of Kirk Ferentz. And boy, did y’all have some opinions about the assistant coaches, particularly Brian Ferentz and LeVar Woods after Saturday.
Let’s see what they had to say, shall we? Full transcripts available here. Note: given there were three separate press conferences, I will probably be only including answers to the questions that seem most important to me, or those I think everyone will want to see. Also note: I don’t put the questions in the order they’re asked.
First up was Brian Ferentz. Let’s get right into the meat of what you want to hear:
Q. How often do you second-guess your play calls? You’re inherently in a position where people second-guess you.
BRIAN FERENTZ: Never. We spend a lot of time on this we spend a lot of time being ready to prepare for these things and ready to execute them when the moment comes. If you’re going to spend time second-guessing things, this is not a good profession for you. If you’re going to spend time evaluating things and being very honest with yourself, and being hyper critical of your decision-making, and wondering if it was the right decision, and then being very analytic in how you look at that, then it’s probably the right profession for you.
I don’t think I’ve ever second-guessed anything I’ve done. There are certainly things I wish in retrospect I would have done differently or called a different play. If one play works, it’s probably a good call. If it doesn’t work, you probably should have called something else.
But I don’t want to spend a lot of time second-guessing those things. You prepare for the moment when the moment comes. The decisions have already been made. You put them in the game, and if you’ve done your job properly, then things work. If you haven’t, then they don’t, and you need to go back and evaluate why it went wrong.
“I don’t think I’ve ever-second guessed anything I’ve done. There are certainly things I wish in retrospect I wish I would have done differently...” -insert thinking face emoji here-
Q. In the heat of the moment, like a 4th & 1 or whatever, if you have just a few seconds to decide, how many plays are you usually -- does it come down to maybe two or three plays?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I think that’s the misconception sometimes. There is not just a few seconds to decide. I don’t know how many hours are in a week. How many hours are in a week from Sunday at 2 p.m. to Saturday at 7:40 p.m. when the ball is kicked off? A lot of hours. That’s when all those decisions are made. That’s when you take a look at what you think you’re going to see, what you have available.
You practice it, you prepare it, you execute it, you rep it. You do it again. You rehearse it. You rehearse it in your mind. Then when the situation arises, the decision is already made.
So, that QB sneak was going to happen no matter what? Yikes.
Q. So no spur-of-the-moment decisions?
BRIAN FERENTZ: There’s never a spur of the moment decision. When you’re going for a fourth down in the spur of the moment, you’re making a mistake, because you’re not prepared. So when we go for it on fourth down, we know we’re going for it on fourth down on Friday afternoon when we sit down and meet and make our strategy for the game. We know exactly what it is.
You look at the most recent fourth down attempt that we had, and we’ve had quite a few this season, but the most recent one we had were 3rd & 9 on the 14-yard line. We’ve gone backwards on second down, unfortunately. We’re 3rd and 9 on the 14-yard line, and we put a certain personnel group in the game, we run a 3rd & 9 call that we felt good about. We knew that if we got to 4th & less than 1, it was an automatic go. There was no decision.
I get what Ferentz is saying here, that they know ahead of a drive whether they’ll go for it on 4th down, but he’s dodging the question here of how many plays are in the wheelhouse for such a situation.
Q. Have you been pleased with the running game so far?
BRIAN FERENTZ: Yeah, at times it’s been good. But a major key for us moving forward is continuing to establish that running game early in the game, and our offense, whether it’s the throw or anything else that we’re doing, is going to be determined by how well we can run the ball when everybody in the stadium knows we’re going to run the ball.
I think at times we’ve done a nice job with that. Other times we haven’t established it with maybe as much authority as you’d like. So if we can keep that going and we can continue to build on that, I think it’s a really positive thing, and it will certainly help our football team.
Key words here to me? “At times.” There’s definitely room for improvement, especially in regards to who get carries.
Q. You guys have struggled out of the bye the last couple years offensively specifically. Anything you’ve identified, tweaked or changed to be more prolific early in those games?
BRIAN FERENTZ: ...it’s like anything else, whether it’s game three, you know, go back to the UNI game, we had put an emphasis on starting a little faster. Didn’t feel like we had started very fast in either of the first two ballgames. So we tried to tweak some things, change some things up, take a little different approach just with how we were doing everything from the hotel to pregame to how we were emphasizing what we were working on in that first drive. So we felt that helped us a little bit, got us on track.
But same thing last week, we wanted to try to get a fast start, and we did that. It will be the same thing coming out of the bye. We’ve certainly tweaked the schedule this week, but the emphasis will remain next week. What are we doing to help the players get going a little bit faster?
For a man saying many words, Brian Ferentz is just like his dad in that he’s saying a lot to say nothing. At least his dad is succinct about it.
Q. Are teams taking away Noah Fant a little more than we can see, how would you evaluate how he’s done?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I don’t know what his stat line is. I don’t know how well people are taking him away. He’s been pretty productive for us. He’s scored a few touchdowns and had a few receptions. Then it’s like we talked about in the off-season. Certainly if you put good players on the field, people are going to come for them. And if they’re accounting for them, can we get the ball to other guys? And I think we’ve been able to do that. I think it’s opened up some of the rest of the offense, and that’s all been positive.
I’m pleased with the production Noah has done. He’s a guy we’ve tried to create match-ups at times, and we’ve been successful at times. Not as successful at others. But in the Wake of those match-ups, other match-ups have developed on the field for us and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of taking advantage of those.
Am I the only one that thinks it’s weird he doesn’t know Noah Fant’s stat line?
Onto Phil Parker. Let’s pick things up with him in the middle of his opening statement. He summarized a lot of things we’ve been saying on this blog and in the comments very well:
PHIL PARKER: We had a chance to win. We didn’t win. Everybody is at fault. We lose as a team, win as a team, and I think our guys really learned some lessons from that game, and I think it’s going to make us stronger here in the future.
...our D-line, is the strong point of our defense. We have enough guys up front that we can rotate and keep guys fresh so they can be productive on the playing field. Then also at linebacker, we’ve been having some changes go through there, but the ironic thing is the positives of the linebacker group, it really doesn’t matter who starts the game. They’re all in, and it’s been very exciting to us.
Then on the back end, we do have some experience, so I think that’s really been carrying out and helped us in between. We’ve got the guys up front. We’ve got the guys in the back that have probably the most experience, which takes a little bit of pressure off with the guys in between with the linebackers.
Obviously, when we go back and look at this, defensively what do we need to work on? Don’t give up explosive plays. I know I talk about explosive plays all the time, and 25 yards to me is an explosive play. The first three games we gave up, maybe two -- one or two in a total of three games, and we were giving up eight points per game. Last week, we gave up three or more, and we gave up 28 points, so we definitely need to work on that.
On the positive side, the scoring defense overall, I think we’re okay. We could be better than where we’re at with 13 points a game. Our rushing defense is better, but I think we could also be better in that situation.
I think the opportunity for takeaways will come. We haven’t got as many as we wanted, and we’re looking forward to improving that.
Finally, a coach who actually says something in his answers. To me, that’s a pretty frank and accurate assessment from the guy who should know best. As I’m sure you’ve seen on Twitter, Nick Niemann is out for a bit, so of course Parker was asked about that:
Q. What is the plan at linebacker with Nick out?
PHIL PARKER: I think Barrington Wade has been playing out there, and he’s been doing a good job in practice. So we’re pleased to see where he’s going. We’ll probably move Kristian and he’ll be taking some reps there at outside backer. He played there early in camp, and he has flexibility, so we’re confident we can move him out there too. So he’ll be taking reps at both places.
Q. Early in the spring Amani Jones seemed to have a lot of equity in the program as a starter. He was mentioned throughout the spring, certainly in the summer. Then within a couple series of the first game he was pulled and Jack Hockaday was in. Was it anything that you anticipated that he might struggle with as far as whether it was just recognition or being in the right place at the right time? I mean, what happened?
PHIL PARKER: Amani Jones is still an important part of our program. He’s done a great job in the special teams, but he’s also been a great leader....
...there’s been sometimes that we say, hey, we’d like to be a little bit better in this, a little bit better in that. But everybody could say that about every position. It’s just right now we feel that Jack is the best guy that can help us move forward and have a chance to win every game. Not saying that Amani won’t get back in there, I think he has a lot of upside and we like his energy, and we like the way he can find the ball. Sometimes we’re going to have to put him in there and we have to live with some mistakes that goes on. But we’re very pleased with the way he’s handled the situation and how positive he’s been.
Again, very frank!
Q. Has Epenesa shown you the first four games he’s an every down guy and his role can increase?
PHIL PARKER: Yeah, the way he’s been working is really good. The one thing about it, we always want to make sure the depth of our defensive line, and the multiple positions that the guys can play inside and outside and make sure that our guys are fresh, I think has been more productive.
If we played him more, would he be as productive? That’s the thing you’ve got to really watch out.
I really think the way we’re handling the situation, and it worked out the first four weeks, is that 25, 26, reps a game has really been his potential to really make some big plays.
Now, obviously, you want to keep on doing that and pushing them forward, and I think he will the more you go on in practice.
Q. Is he playing the run?
PHIL PARKER: Yeah, he’s playing the run. He’s starting to play the run the way he should. So we’re pleased with that. He’s making progress, and I think it’s a matter of -- the decisions are made, when do you put him in, what series, how long did the series go? Sometimes they rotate by series. Sometimes they rotate -- what was that series? Was that an eight-play series or was that a three-play series? And the rotation sometimes you’ve got to make sure you keep track of how many reps they’re getting.
#FREEEPENESA (that’s a lot of E’s). There’s more actual breakdown from Phil Parker, but you can read that on your own if you’d like. This is getting to JPinIC blogpost length and it’s weird.
Levar Woods time.
LEVAR WOODS: I think if you watch us and study us over the last three to four weeks, I think there are some times where you’d say, hey, wow, they’re on track, and there are some other times where we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit.
A LITTLE BIT?
Here’s the stuff you want to see:
Q. What were the two most recognizable errors the other night on special teams? What was the film review of each of those with Shaun Beyer?
LEVAR WOODS: Yeah, I would say this, with Shaun, it’s just bad ball security. Or not Shaun, excuse me, with Kyle it’s bad ball security. He’ll be the first to tell you that. You should always have the ball on the outside arm. He’ll be the first to tell you that. It’s a deal where he had a really good return, had a really good thing going, and boom, the ball pops out. I know he’s sick about it today as we all are.
But Kyle is an accountable kid. He’s the first one to step up and say he screwed up. He’s always out there fighting for his teammates. I think the guys out there like blocking for him, because they know he could be a force back there for them and for this team, and he’ll be the first to tell you that, myself included.
With Shaun, it comes down to communication. And I’m not going to say that that’s Shaun’s deal. That’s a team deal on our part. All of us involved in communication, all 11 guys on the field, and all of us on the sideline are involved in communication, and that’s something we’re working on.
Q. Is that regarding more the returner, because he’s the one that can see the ball, kind of like a center fielder, if you will? And he kind of lunged toward the ball at that point, so it almost looked like nobody knew what was going on?
LEVAR WOODS: Sure, he’s like the quarterback back there. The quarterback gets all the glory when things go well, and he gets all the blame when things go poorly. It’s no different than being a returner. It all starts there. But it’s a team deal. It’s 11 guys on the field all working for one common goal. We’ve all got to recognize it and be able to see it. But it starts with the call, starts with the communication, and all of us are involved in that.
Again, I bring up the sidelines as well, because we all have to scream it as well from the sideline.
Q. From your vantage point, was Shaun blocked into the ball?
LEVAR WOODS: I think Shaun was working, hustling, knowing he had a good returner back there, and kind of got knocked into it.
Q. Do you think there will be changes on the return team?
LEVAR WOODS: No, I don’t think that. We’ve all seen some really good stuff from Kyle. He has made some plays that we’ve all been happy with. That being said, there are some things that we’ve got to fix, and that’s not just him or one person. It’s a team effort. It’s all of us involved, starting right here, and then we’ve got to get it fixed.
I think too, if you’ve watched and studied us close, we’re very, very close to being a dangerous return unit. A couple things, we’re talking about turnovers from the other night, you also go back a game or two that there are some opportunities that we gave up from a penalty standpoint. We negated a 30-yard return or negated a 23-yard return. Those are hard to come by punt return-wise. And you have a returner back there that can do that, and those are things that we need to take back and get back.
There you have it, folks. No changes on the return team. Also, quick props to Levar here. He was in a pretty lose-lose situation and it seems like he’s answering the questions as authentically as you can, and owning up to the coaching mistakes. It doesn’t change the result, but it’s something.
Also, I’d certainly love to see a punt return touchdown and so would you, so don’t be calling for those fair catches. We saw how calling a fair catch on every punt return worked, too. It wasn’t great!
Q. How much have you had to arm wrestle Phil or Brian to get guys on special teams?LEVAR WOODS: I just go to the head coach, and he says yea or nay. We look at everybody on our roster, who can help on special teams. I try not to use guys that I know are key to a certain play or key to a certain position that, hey, if we were to lose -- let’s say we put Nate Stanley back there as a returner, that would not be very smart, okay.
But that being said, we’re trying to do everything we can to help this team all three phases, offense, defense and special teams, so we’re trying to find the best guys for that role.
It’s not always a starter that’s the best for that role, if that makes sense. There are some guys that maybe don’t get the opportunity to play on offense or defense, they may be better suited for a specific role on special teams, so we look at them first.
But both coordinators, offense and defense have been very forthcoming, very willing to say, hey, go ahead, use them, whatever you’ve got. So our thought right now is we’ll try to use the starter for two, maybe three phases at the most, then after that we’re not going to use them for six phases, if that makes sense.
This seems like a rare look to me into the inner-workings of Iowa football.
And that’s all I got that I think is notable. At the end of the day, I’ll take a coaching staff that seems to be owning up to its mistakes. Will that result in an instant win next weekend in Minnesota? We’ll see.