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KIRK SPEAKS: Penn State Nittany Lions

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Can the Hawks make it 3 in a row against a struggling Nittany Lions team?

Iowa v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Floyd is back home in Iowa City, and all is well in Hawkeye-land folks. Two weeks of truly dominating performances from Kirk Ferentz and co. has me overall pleased with the state of the team (except quarterback), and it looks like the success should continue this week against a Penn State team who lost to Nebraska (lol).

But what does Kirk Ferentz think? As always, he spoke with the media yesterday, so let’s find out. Check out the full transcript here.

KIRK FERENTZ: We know it’s going to be a big challenge for us. It’s been a decade since we have beaten Penn State or close to a decade. We know we have a big challenge on our hands as we look forward, so we’ll do our best to get ready for it this week.

It’s seriously been almost a decade? Yikes.

KIRK FERENTZ: Also just want to take one minute and congratulate Zach VanValkenburg for being recognized by the Big Ten as Defensive Player of the Week. Really good story, tremendous young guy. Joined our team two years ago from Hillsdale College as a graduate transfer, Russian studies.

And really the biggest thing I would say about Zach since he’s gotten here, he really takes a mature approach, works extremely hard. Has a great attitude and work ethic and those things I think are what really surfaced on Friday night and he’s really been playing better each opportunity. You can see him playing faster, more comfortable now and he really works hard. He is very well respected by everybody on the team. Happy to see him get recognized for sure.

A huge surprise of the Minnesota game was the complete dominance of VanValkenburg - a really nice honor for someone who is turning out to be a key cog in a quickly improving defense.

Q. I think you’ve had six different sophomores as your primary quarterback over your tenure, and they have all had their ups and their downs. What’s kind of been the challenge with Spencer? Is he much different than, say, Drew Tate, Jake Rudock, Nate Stanley and some of the others, and what have you learned over the years with younger quarterbacks or your primary starters that you may be applying now?

KIRK FERENTZ: First of all, they are all different. You know, they are all different kinds of quarterbacks and they are all different personalities, certainly...

..I would say Spencer’s is probably the most unusual. Just kind of sided with the pandemic. Nobody could have even dreamt how the road was going to be since March 15th when we left campus here. You know, it’s just really been an unusual path....

...I think Spencer has done a really good job. He’s led our team and done a really good job out there and he’s learning weekly and probably the most impressive thing about him is just his awareness and composure out there. I think he’s done a good job that way. No game is easy, and there’s always ups and downs, all the situations that happen, and he just seems to have a good feel and a good grip on things. And it’s just like any position player, typically get better with experience and get better if they have a good attitude and good work ethic and Spencer has those things.

Spencer Petras remains your quarterback and mine folks, whether we like it or not.

Time for a Kirk talks about the past alert!

Q. You mentioned Penn State 0-4; that something that you have to guard against and your team not overlooking a team that’s 0-4 and thinking, hey, we can just roll into Happy Valley and roll past these guys?

KIRK FERENTZ: I thought about that a little bit and all you have to do is look at the film, and if that doesn’t get your attention, because as I mentioned, it’s been this way for, what’s it, 22 years I’ve been back here now, but I go back to 1980, that was my first trip there as a coach. I was a grad assistant. I can’t remember ever being on the field where their guys don’t look good and play well and play hard and they are good at every position.

So when our guys look at the film, unless they are just delusional, they are seeing what we are seeing, guys that are a lot of good football players, things are not quite just clicking yet and my guess is it’s going to at some point. I just hope it isn’t this Saturday.

We have to prepare. We haven’t beaten these guys there in a decade, right. That’s a long time and there’s a reason for that. They are a good football team. We are going to have to be at our best to have a chance to win.

As great as the last two weeks were, I also watched the first two weeks of this season, and if any team was going to give Penn State its first win, it would be this Iowa team. This team will need to come out hungry, and I hope the coaches are preparing them for that mentality.

Q. The amounts of interceptions, the consecutive games with interceptions, you lead the nation since 2017. What do you attribute that to?

KIRK FERENTZ: I’d like to tell you we have a drill for it. I’ve heard coaches talk about drills for turnovers and all that, different gimmicks and all that stuff, we don’t do that.

But we do try to coach just good technique and fundamentals. And film study is a big part of it. A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time. And a lot it is being an in-tune football player and then hustling, working hard, hustling. And there’s teamwork involved there, too. Tipped balls are great opportunities for interceptions, that type of thing. Obviously somebody has to tip it before you have a chance to go get it.

But I don’t think we’re any different than anybody else. We emphasize the same things I think and our guys have been playing well. They have been opportunistic. Certainly pleased about it, but I don’t know if we have any magic potion or pixie dust or anything like that...

Interesting that he doesn’t name drop LeVar Woods here.

Q. I know you’ve mentioned Zach to start the press conference, but as a whole on the defensive line what sort of growth have you seen over these last couple games?

KIRK FERENTZ: Well, Zach is a really good illustration of it, but I would say the same thing about Daviyon and I would say the same thing about Jack and I would say the same thing about Chauncey. That’s one of our mantras in the program is if our best players are not playing their best and if they are not improving, we’re probably going to be in trouble and Chauncey is a great illustration of the kind of guys that we typically work with.

...And he’s playing really well right now as a senior. That’s certainly what we hoped for and expected, but he’s playing at a high level and leading well. And then Jack, this is all new to him, our style of defense is very different than what he was used to. I’m sure it was the same way for Zach when he got here, and you know Daviyon is a guy who has been in our program and now you’re really seeing him play with confidence and he’s always play with a high energy and he’s starting to develop a little bit of confidence.

The entire group outside of Chauncey was fairly inexperienced and we were just hoping they would come along and they have made progress, especially the last two weeks, but it’s another big test this week. These guys have a good veteran line, very talented and very big. They know what they are doing. They have got a tough scheme and it’s going to be a big challenge for us again.

Still some room for growth from this defense, but as a whole I think they’re developing really nicely as a unit — particularly the defensive line. Also, does Zach VanValkenburg have the best name in college football?