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KIRK SPEAKS: Illinois

Are the Hawkeyes ready to follow up their biggest win of the season?

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Just as we all thought they would, the Iowa Hawkeyes ended Minnesota’s hopes of an undefeated season last Saturday. It was fun! It was also meaningless in the grand scheme of winning the Big Ten West Division!

But hey, it was time for Minnesota to snap back to reality. I didn’t like living in a world where Minnesota was ranked in the Top 10. It was weird. It’s also weird that this weekend’s opponent, Illinois, comes into the game...on a four game win streak? This game has trap written all over it.

Thankfully, it appears head coach Kirk Ferentz and his coaching staff have noticed and are prepared, if yesterday’s press conference was to be believed. Let’s look at the highlights below, full transcript here.

KIRK FERENTZ: We face Illinois this week, and obviously they pose a really significant challenge for our football team. Right now they’re the hottest team on our side of the division or our side of the conference ... one of the first points we made to our football team was this is a totally new Illinois football team. Anything that we may remember from the past or seen on film from the past really you can kind of discard at this point because they’re playing at a really different level right now. A lot of the same faces, but they’re playing at a much higher level right now.

No kidding! Remember, this is a team that Iowa beat last year SIXTY-THREE TO ZERO. And yet, it feels like this is Iowa’s game to lose! Momentum is a crazy thing.

Q. You have two veterans you can trust at running back in Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young. When you made the switch to go to Goodson this week, what’s behind that and how do you see his progress moving forward?

KIRK FERENTZ: ... We’re not unhappy with any of our running backs. I think it’s been one of our strengths on our football team. I think all three of those guys are very capable, and I’d throw Ivory in there, too. He decided he wanted to redshirt, which I think is a smart decision at this point. Those are the three guys in the mix. They’re all doing a really good job. We’re happy with all three of them in the game. Just felt like last week it was time to get Tyler a chance to start, and I think he responded really well.

I feel like it’s rare to see Kirk make a decision like this so late in the season, but it’s unquestionably the right decision. Tyler Goodson has been nothing but an X-factor all year, and I’m excited to see where he goes with more snaps.

Let’s talk injuries quick, from Kirk’s opening statement:

KIRK FERENTZ: Injury-wise, I think it’s encouraging that both Brandon Smith and Mike Ojemudia are back working, and I don’t want to say they’re full speed but at least they’re moving in the right direction. Hopefully they’ll be able to play at least partially on Saturday. We’ll see how the rest of the week goes, but it’s encouraging from that standpoint.

Q. Is Tyler 100 percent? I know he went out with an ankle.

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, he was sore yesterday and Sunday, but he looked pretty good today, so I think we’re good to go.

Q. How about Tyrone?

KIRK FERENTZ: He’s fine. Yeah, he’s fine.

This is all good! Let’s hope Brandon Smith in particular sees some more of the field this weekend.

Q. Minnesota comes in here last week, top 10 team, the win may be more significant in the eyes of others than normally. Illinois comes in here, a lot of talk about them, what they’ve done in the last month. Is the Big Ten changing -- is it going to get harder for you to win Western Division titles?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I think it’s been hard. I’ll start there. But I think college football in general has really gotten competitive ... We’ve seen that coming. We knew this would be a really competitive year. I’m not at all surprised by Illinois. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, but my sense was it was going to happen, and it is happening now, and again, I’ll go back to when we were getting ready for Wisconsin looking at film, like that was not a fluke. They earned that one the hard way. That’s what you have to do. But yeah, they’re doing a great job, and pretty much everywhere you look that’s what you’re seeing in our conference, and we’re not the only ones.

There’s some other good stories, but I think our conference is a really competitive conference, and if you’re a coach or a player, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to be in the Big Ten. To me it stands for everything that’s great about college football.

While I think it’s a trap game, I think it’s encouraging to hear Kirk say that he isn’t surprised about Illinois. Could anybody say that? Yeah. But with Kirk’s experience in coaching, I honestly believe it coming from him here.

Q. Lovie Smith’s teams forever have been known for takeaways and trying to score on defense. I think they have six touchdowns this year on that side of the ball. How do you approach -- you guys are always good about low turnovers. Do you discuss it more frequently with them based on what they’ve been able to do?

KIRK FERENTZ: Not really ... the goal has got to be to play clean football on Saturday. That’s the bottom line. That’s really a huge factor in any game we play typically. It was a big factor Saturday. There was only one turnover differential but it made a big difference, so we have to try to be as clean as we can knowing this is a very opportunistic, aggressive type of defense.

I would agree with this statement.

And finally...

Q. I know recruiting takes you a million different places. Moville, Iowa, I don’t know if you --KIRK FERENTZ: Oh, yeah. Quite a breakfast, as you might imagine.

Ok????????? Can someone confirm/expalin this? Go Hawks.