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KIRK SPEAKS: Wisconsin Badgers

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It all comes down to this.

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

Folks. I don’t know about you, but it felt kind of good to have a week off from Iowa football. This season has (mostly) been a delight, but I think after seven straight weeks, we all earned some time off.

And let us hope that the team took the time to get together to regroup and figure out some issues, because the season is essentially on the line this weekend, as the Iowa Hawkeyes travel to Madison for a showdown what pretty much will determine who appears in the Big Ten Championship from the West (I think).

But don’t take it from me, let’s hear what the man in charge had to say to the media today at his press conference. Check out the full transcript of Kirk Ferentz’s presser here, and my highlights and commentary below.

Let’s start with an injury update:

KIRK FERENTZ: Riley won’t make it. He won’t be ready to go.

Q. What is the prognosis with Riley?

KIRK FERENTZ: Again, it’s week by week or day by day actually. He’s gaining ground. We’re optimistic. Hopefully next week, but there’s no guarantees.

Well, not exactly what you want to hear, but it does seem like he’s close, which is good. We need him.

KIRK FERENTZ: Just like you’d expect, they want to feature the run. They did a great job of that last week. Two really good backs. Very good up front. Got veteran receivers. Tight ends as good as you’re going to find. Really good there. They play hard on special teams, play well on special teams.

It looks like they’re hitting stride right now.

A few things here: GRAHAM MERTZ ONLY PASSED 8 TIMES AGAINST PURDUE. EIGHT. TIMES. I don’t think Wisconsin will be able to pull that again, but also, the fact that we couldn’t just run the ball down Purdue’s throat two weeks ago shows that this offensive line is struggling more than we anticipated, and that’s frustrating (and maybe a bigger part of our offensive struggles than we thought). Also, Wisconsin is definitely playing well right now. But a smart gameplan that forces them to throw could get them into big trouble easily.

Speaking of the offensive line...

Q. You said throughout the year from the outside looking in, there are problems with the offensive line. You didn’t look at it from that lens. When you had time to go through the bye week, what did you see? How much growth did that unit make from then to now?

KIRK FERENTZ: ...We’re doing some good things ... Too many inconsistencies. That’s always a challenge offensively because it does take all 11 to have good execution.

...We’re still young, we’re still inexperienced up front. That’s probably our biggest challenge. You look at it coming into the season, have as good a center as there is in college football. Two other guys that are pretty veteran, but both those guys are limited by injury ...Those guys have a chance to improve more dramatically than a veteran player typically. That’s the race we’re running.

Hopefully we can take a step forward this week. It won’t be easy. These guys are really good on defense. The run game especially where they average 55 yards a game. 200 is probably not realistic, but we have to run the ball to have a chance to win.

Too many inconsistencies is an understatement here. And while I think that the offensive line is a weak spot on this team for sure, we have definitely seem them improve over the first seven games. Maybe they’re just too young to be an elite line. This weekend will tell us a lot, I think.

Q. When you saw how Wisconsin prospered on both sides of the ball against Purdue, compared to you guys the week before, what struck you about what Wisconsin was doing and how it applies to what you have to do against them?

KIRK FERENTZ: ...They played, just watching the tape to me, pretty much flawlessly the other day. I think you can say the same thing about Purdue two weeks ago. That’s an illustration of football. It’s not automatic.

...I think certainly Wisconsin, I don’t want to speak for them, but I can’t imagine that wasn’t their best game this past Saturday. They looked impressive in all three phases. Again, I’m not saying I know what they want to do. I’d be happy running the ball like they did. Both backs, just about 300 yards between the two of them. Their line played really well. Tight ends, the whole nine yards. They played a good game. The turnover battle was clearly in their favor.

That’s what you’re shooting for. I’m sure they’re looking to do that each and every week out. We’d love to do the same thing. We all do things a little differently in our personalities. The idea is to play great football, not turn the ball over, play clean football. Wisconsin’s done a really good job of that since the early ‘90s.

KIRK TALKS ABOUT THE PAST ALERT! He’s also right that Wisconsin played their best game against Purdue last weekend, but that was primarily because, again, GRAHAM MERTZ ONLY HAD TO PASS THE BALL EIGHT TIMES. SPENCER PETRAS THREW 32 TIMES AND THREW 4 INTERCEPTIONS.

Thankfully, our run defense is pretty solid. It will make it difficult for them to get momentum (I hope) and Phil will force Mertz to pass. Hopefully the turnovers can come back to us this weekend, as well. But it just goes to show that, if our running backs and offensive line were operating at high efficiency, we should not have had any trouble against Purdue.

Q. Your freshmen wide receivers seem to have accelerated in their development. Do you feel as comfortable with them now as you do with your veterans who are in that high rotation?

KIRK FERENTZ: I’d say pretty close, yeah. They haven’t hit the wall. Maybe it’s coming. Hopefully not. But they’ve been running around, doing good things in practice, good things on the game field. We’re encouraged by both those guys. They really have grown and done a lot of good things ... We’ll keep rotating them.

More throws to Arland Bruce IV and less throws to Nico Ragaini, please. I’ve been especially pleased with Bruce — I think he’s going to be very talented for years to come. I can’t help but wonder what we would see this season if we just took Ragaini out of the equation for Bruce.

Q. How big they are, especially on the offensive line, what do you foresee in terms of challenges or keys to stopping that rush offense? Does it help coming off a bye week that they are able to be fully rested?

KIRK FERENTZ: ... they run it for two, run it for three, then all of a sudden there goes that one, somebody doesn’t fit where they’re supposed to fit, these backs both find it really well. You got to tackle them, too. The next play, when they scored the touchdown, Purdue had it defended, they couldn’t tackle the back, the guy is in the end zone. Two plays, 85, 90 yards, doesn’t matter. That’s the pressure they put on you. They love that game. They just love to make you feel that pressure. They’re going to mix some pass in with it, too. You can’t just sell out totally.

It’s a different kind of pressure than, like, somebody just throwing the ball every 23 seconds, one of those deals. That’s hard, too. It’s just a different way of trying to torture you, I guess.

Obviously these programs know each other very well. You know what Wisconsin wants to do. But I am encouraged at least by Kirk mentioning this. There will be little room for error from the defensive line, but I think they’re up for the task. I trust Phil.

Also, last but not least, a fun question — with a boring, Kirk Ferentz answer:

Q. Coach Leach down at Mississippi State despises candy corn. Are you in the same idea with that? What is your top three ranking for Halloween candy?

KIRK FERENTZ: I’m not that colorful. I mean, he’s a fascinating guy. I highly recommend his book.

I’m thinking about Wisconsin’s line right now. That ain’t candy corn, I know that. We’ll see what we can do.

Mike Leach is right. Candy corn is trash.

Check out the rest of the transcript for some other good nuggets of info, especially Kirk’s thoughts about the 9OT spectacle that was Illinois/Penn State. Go Hawks.