Yes, you read that subheader right: the battle for the Big Ten West is happening this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. I may be a known Hawkeye pessimist, but I just don’t think there’s any way that the Minnesota Gophers can beat Iowa or Wisconsin.
And thus, this game is a battle for the top of the division. Is Iowa up to the task? Now that the bye week is over, Kirk Ferentz was back at the podium yesterday to preview the game. Check out the full transcript here.
Let’s get started with injury news:
KIRK FERENTZ: As far as injuries go, Brandon Smith is going to be out for a while. We’ve covered that. We were hoping to get Welch and Wieting back. Right now they haven’t done much so far, so I’m not optimistic we’ll have those guys as the game gets closer.
Kyler Schott has been able to practice the last two days. So far, so good, looks like he’s fine. So that’s encouraging certainly.
NOT GREAT BOB. None of this is surprising, but it’s still not great either, particularly the Welch news. But none of these are new, at least.
Q. Is Kyler Schott on track to start if he’s healthy?
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s a possibility, yeah. I mean, he was a starter before he left, so yeah. We’ll find out. He has two days, and so far, so good. But at least if nothing else, it adds to the mix in there.
Q. Will he stay at right guard?
KIRK FERENTZ: Probably, yeah.
Hopefully this leads to a bit more stability on the offensive line. No sacks allowed plz.
Q. Is the timeline for Brandon Smith still pretty much the same that it was last week?KIRK FERENTZ: His rehab is going well, but I don’t know what that means exactly. It’s an ankle injury, and it’s going to take some time.
This certainly hurts, but Toren Young certainly stepped up admirably against Northwestern, but if this game comes down to a missed catch, it will certainly make me wonder if Brandon Smith would have been a difference maker.
Q. What’s going on with Kristian Welch? I think they said a stinger, but it’s been lingering.
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s like a concussion, but it’s not a concussion, just for the record, because it’s such a sensitive thing ... stingers, concussions, could be three days or it could be three months. I’ve seen it go both ways on both those. Some injuries are a little bit more predictable, stingers aren’t, and it’s just a matter of regaining strength and being able to maintain it ...
If he was a placekicker we’d have a better chance, but right now I don’t know that it’s realistic he’ll be able to play this week.
“It’s like a concussion, but it’s not a concussion” -insert confused emoji here-
Q. When you look at Tyler Goodson in the last game, I think he was only on the field five plays maybe in the first half, and then in the second half the first major series you fed him like eight times and he seemed to have a really good run there. How has he grown on the field ... and is he in a position where he might be kind of the No. 1 back at some point?
KIRK FERENTZ: ...He’s done nothing but just keep putting positive credits in the bank, so we’re certainly gaining confidence in him. He’s playing well out there on the field and learning with every snap, and it’s really, really important for young players. We feel really good about him. We have no anxiety when he goes in the game, or at least no more than you would normally, and feel good about all of our backs right now. All three of those guys are really doing a quality job and I think they all have a role on our football team.
Ah, the classic Ferentz sidestep of a direct question. I don’t disagree that all three backs have value, but it’s definitely pretty easy to say that Tyler Goodson is the best pure playmaker of the three. GIVE. HIM. MORE. SNAPS.
Q. Do you copy off Lovie’s plan at all? Everybody saw the way their defensive lineman broke down the line of scrimmage and kept their linebackers clean?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, we try to keep our linebackers clean. That’s kind of how we’re built. Our guys up front, that’s their job is to keep those guys clean and then our linebackers and safeties have to get there and make plays. That’s going to be the deal.
But, they’ve only really had a couple competitive games, and that’s one of them certainly, and then the big factor there was turnovers, too, and that was a big factor in our game last year. We had two really costly turnovers in the kicking game that just really impacted the game in a negative way for us, and that’s -- but to Illinois’s credit, too, they did something with them. When they got those turnovers, they cashed them in and got points.
What a weird world. Kirk Ferentz is being asked if he’s emulating Lovie Smith’s gameplan for Illinois football. But Kirk is right here: the defense will need to make some plays if this game is going to be a win. I think that’s possible. But the offense cashing in and getting points? I’m not so sure.