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KIRK SPEAKS: Illinois Fighting Illini

Can Kirk’s squad make it 5 straight wins?

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

Four straight wins for Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes squad. Six straight wins against Nebraska. It’s a good time to be a Hawkeye fan right now. Up next, it’s Lovie Smith’s Illinois squad, who themselves have had a rough go of a season, standing at 2-3 heading into this weekend’s matchup due to their matchup against Ohio State last week being cancelled due to COVID-19 complications from OSU.

So what does Kirk Ferentz have to say about the matchup heading into it? As always, he met with the media yesterday. Check out the full transcript here, my highlights below:

Q. Obviously how have you seen of Tyler and Mekhi in the backfield and how much does it help you that you have both those guys back there rather than just one featured back?

KIRK FERENTZ: ...They are very unselfish. They pull for each other and I say it frequently, I look at Ivory Kelly-Martin as a starter, too. In most years he would be starting. We have three guys that are veteran guys and have been around, played a lot of football and really good players.

Both Tyler and Mekhi, last two weeks are good illustrations because last week it worked out that Tyler got more yards than Mekhi. Week before it was the opposite. The guys are positive and work with each other and help each other and that’s what you hope your whole football team does. Anybody wants to model their behavior, it’s a good thing for our football team, it’s good for our young guys, and again, I throw Ivory in the same group.

The offensive line has been crucial with this as well, I’d personally say, but the running backs have had a superb season so far, especially given the...erratic play at quarterback. Having some consistency is nice on the offense. Am I the only one who thought the struggle to get the run game going last week might have been more because of the offensive line shift?

The next few questions were a string related to the shortened season and COVID. I will edit them down significantly for length, but I find logistical stuff about this season really fascinating, personally:

Q. Have you heard any guidance from the Big Ten on what Champions Week is going to entail for you guys?

KIRK FERENTZ: Probably the last time I’ve heard anything about that would have been...September...

...there’s so many moving parts out there; a lot I’m not aware of, but we’ll just take it a day at a time and selfishly, we want to make it to Saturday and be able to play Saturday, when both teams are healthy and able to play and then next week, as that comes, too.

Q. Would you be open to hosting a game?

KIRK FERENTZ: I’m open to anything. Selfishly, if we can get these next two games in, I think that’s great, and win, lose or draw, but just a chance to compete...

Three months ago it looked like we had no chance of playing. Just the fact that we are playing, we appreciate that and if we can get to the end of the regular season and have a chance to play one more, we’ll play anywhere. It doesn’t matter to me....

Interesting insight here. Nothing super surprising by any means if you've been following along with this stuff, as well as how the season has unfolded, but it leads well into the next question...

Q. Two-part question really quick. How have you guys managed to stay healthy COVID-wise, when you look across the rest of the Big Ten right now and half the league has had at least one game canceled. How have you managed to avoid that?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s kind of the question they give you on turnovers and takeaways. I don’t know that we are doing anything magical or anything like that ...

...I think part of it is luck, I really believe that. As a human being and coach, I certainly believe there’s an element of luck involved. That’s just a non-scientist, non-scientific background looking at this whole thing.

The only thing everybody has been hearing since March, just try to do the obvious things. Try to practice good hygiene. Try to keep your distance from people. And I don’t want to speak for all of our players, but I think most of them are probably doing what we do as coaches: We come to work and go home. I don’t think anybody has got much of a social life right now.

But I would also say this, when they dropped the season or punted the season back on August 11, we had a big spike right there, and I think that was a clear indicator; the players basically said the hell with it, and we were feeling the same way as coaches. Fortunately didn’t get COVID at that point but that caused a spike and guys said, hey, screw it, we’re going to do whatever, whenever we want to do. Not everybody, but some guys did. It opened the door for the likelihood maybe of contracting this thing a little bit more....

I wondered about this when we got the athletic’s department COVID numbers earlier this fall. Obviously, taking the human aspect out of it and looking at things purely from a data perspective, maybe it was good for the team that things got bad sooner rather than now? Again, that is completely disregarding the human aspect, and I hope no one on the team is suffering any long term complications — it’s just something interesting to look at in hindsight.

Q. Do you feel like a true champion will be crowned in the Big Ten with the discrepancy in games played?

KIRK FERENTZ: No idea. Not to be smug, but I really don’t care quite frankly. I just hope we get to keep playing games. Looked like we weren’t going to have that opportunity. Just the chance to practice, to compete, to be with the team on a daily basis, this is what we all like doing ... But like all this rhetoric and al this chitchat you hear, it really doesn’t matter right now. What matters is playing the next game.

Interesting language here from Kirk. “I don’t care.” To me, that’s a big old “no,” and I agree. We haven’t reached NFL levels of tomfoolery, but as at the cancellations pile up, the season more and more loses its luster from anything more than pure entertainment value. Which is fine!

Q. At quarterback, what did you think of Spencer’s game plan the other day, and would you feel comfortable if Alex had to go in for a series, a half, for whatever reason?

KIRK FERENTZ: Well, he’s good enough to win. That’s the No. 1 goal. That was good and he’s continuing to move forward and continuing to improve. Every game he’s got good plays and every game he’s got some I’m sure he’d like to correct or do a bit better.

As far as Alex goes, I think he’s been improving significantly over the last, whatever, it’s back in the preseason, actually, looked like it was starting to click for them a little bit. I’m never anxious to see the second guy in there unless it’s for a good reason.

So keep our fingers crossed that we can keep playing with the guys that we have. If he goes in there, I think he’ll do a good job. He’s worked hard for it and seems a lot more comfortable.

All that being said, though, it will be the first time he’s been in there when it counts and that’s different.

Your weekly reminder that whether we like it or not, Spencer Petras remains our quarterback. :|

There’s more interesting stuff in the transcript, particularly about Jack Campbell — check it out with the link above if you’d like. Go Hawks.