The stakes are pretty high. So how does Kirk Ferentz feel about it all? Let’s find out. Check out his full press conference transcript here, and my highlights (and snarky commentary) below.
Q. Thirty-six years ago you were coaching offensive line in a game featuring one against two. Is there anything you can take away from that game?
KIRK FERENTZ: I think the big takeaway from that game to today would be I tried to tell our guys yesterday, the energy, when you walk in the stadium, it’s rare... There’s certain games you can feel when you walk in the stadium, especially when the crowd gets in there. That part is really neat. You got to be prepared for that.
But, again, the fans aren’t going to play the game. They’re going to be to help us. The other takeaway, whether it’s that game, every game counts, every game is really important. There are obviously certain games where it’s a little bit more visibility. The more you can stay centered on what you’re trying to accomplish...
...You better keep your eyes on the target. The target is all about what you’re doing, your performance. The more you get wrapped up in the other stuff, the harder it is to be successful. That’s the trick, trying to block all the other stuff out.
...That’s part of it. Let’s play football.
Let’s play football, indeed. There’s a buzz about this game from the fans the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. It’s fun to be in this position. This is a big game, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not a season-defining game (to me, at least). However, I want a win. Bad.
Q. When you look at what Phil has been able to do at secondary coach, now as defensive coordinator, what is a distinguishing characteristic of how he’s able to build players and elevate not only them as individuals but the unit and be successful?
KIRK FERENTZ: ..When it came time to hire a secondary coach here, first of all Norm endorsed Phil strongly, he was not a coaching vagabond...
He was a no star, two star, whatever. So was Bob [Stoops]. Neither one of those guys were big recruits. They really learned how to play and relied on that and became really good players as a result.
I describe him as a pure coach. He’s a coach’s coach. I think any good football player appreciates a coach who is genuine, authentic and truly tries to make the player better but cares about the player, too. I think Phil embodies all those traits.
He does indeed. Pay Phil whatever he wants after this year. I am extremely fearful he will get poached for a better job somewhere.
Q. How special is it for you when these games don’t happen very often, to remember a game from 36 years ago?
KIRK FERENTZ: ...it’s what you want to play for. It’s fun. It’s fun when the chips are on the table. That’s good.
But still about trying to beat your opponent. That’s what it gets down to. It’s a match. We all have the same amount of time. Who can do the best job of getting ready.
I love this quote. Every week, Kirk talks about how much he respects his opponent. This kind of answer is a rare absolutely true statement from Kirk. He knows this isn’t just any other game, and it’s refreshing to see him say so. The chips are on the table indeed, and I. AM. HERE. FOR. IT.
Q. You say you’re still not quite sure how good this team is that you’ve got here. Is this week the week where you feel like you might have a better sense of that, or every week a little bit more information?
KIRK FERENTZ: Every year is the same in one regard. This year, I went on record a lot of times since August, probably before that, we do have a young team. I go back to that show of hands first day of spring ball.
The good news there is there’s more opportunity for growth. We’ve taken some steps certainly over five weeks. Some forwards, some backwards, too. That’s part of the process.
You never know about your entire team really. I think about ‘02, maybe as good a season as we had. It really wasn’t till late October when we really kind of hit stride. So that’s part of it.
Every team is like that, not just us. You’re always learning about your team. This thing could go a couple different ways Saturday. Whatever way it goes, we’ll learn about our team, too, afterwards, whether it goes good, bad or indifferent. How do you handle that the next week? How do you keep moving forward?
That’s why you play 12 games, then whatever’s afterwards. I’m not making fun of it, but I’m always entertained by the chatter starting in January, too early Top 25 polls that come out two hours after the last bowl game or even during bowl season.
I think this answer is interesting in a lot of different ways. I too am not quite sure how good this team is. At this point, I’m thinking if the offense continues to play like it did last week, and the defense continues to be the defense, the sky is the limit. Has the team hit its stride? We won’t be able to say for sure until the end of the season. But if last week was any indication, then yes, yes they have.
I don’t know how good Penn State is either, honestly. This is kind of a weird season in that anyone that isn’t Alabama or Georgia (and you could talk me into adding Cincy here too) seem beatable to me. Anyone from No. 3 down to 25 (and maybe lower!) can beat anybody. That’s what you want in a good college football season, honestly. It’s going to be a slaughter for 7 more games to figure out the true Top 25. This week will go a long way in deterring where Iowa should really rank.
Q. Turnover to points ratio has been a really big part of the team’s success. How would you assess the offense’s ability to operate efficiently on a short field?
KIRK FERENTZ: That was a highlight the other night. We were getting the turnover and there were points. That’s a good football team, what good football teams learn how to do. Getting the stop is great, getting the ball back. If you don’t show something for it.
That’s why I reference that one sequence, that pretty much took the heart out of their football team. That bang, bang, demoralizing. Get two scores before they even snap the ball. That’s a really good deal.
Kind of the same discussion as getting in the red zone. You want to come out with touchdowns if you can. Any points are better than no points, but you want to get touchdowns. Those are all good things. Opportunistic teams learn how to do that.
This is a huge part of this team’s success. Turning those turnovers into 6 points has been absolutely killer. In years past, we might have seen similar Iowa teams turn this into 3 points...or even zero.
Q. Some of the guys were saying on Saturday, they were texting their families, it’s going to be a huge game. What advice have you given these guys on everything that comes with this?
KIRK FERENTZ: I mean, I think you know how I feel about rankings in October and September. We just happen to be 5-0 right now, so do they. That’s the way it is.
Those things will be a lot more valid four, five, six weeks from now. I hope we are in that discussion, but we have to earn that. That’s really what the key thing is. It’s not a five-week season or six-week season. You don’t get any prizes. Nobody is going to announce a bowl matchup next week. They do the prognostications every week, I get that. They don’t really count those. They are paper money, Monopoly money. Nothing really counts until you get to the finish line.
These are two good teams. No debating that. We’re both good teams. Enjoy that part. But we have a lot of football ahead of us right now. This is a really important game because first of all it’s the next one up. That makes it the most important game.
But all you can do is give it our best. What we got to do is make sure we don’t leave the door open this week because we’re answering those texts, trying to get Johnny Smith tickets, all that stuff. We have to stay in our routine and practice and do the work you have to do.
Put me on the record (again) that this isn’t the season-defining game we might feel like it is. First of all, I’m not ready to talk College Football Playoff yet. I want a Big Ten Championship, first and foremost. A loss this weekend doesn’t do much to hurt those chances. A win does nothing but help, but I’m not going to sulk about a close loss. A blowout, well, talk to me Sunday. But still, there are six more games after this. This game has curb appeal, but it ain’t the end-all, be-all, by any means.