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KIRK SPEAKS: Illinois Fighting Illini

Who will start for the Hawkeyes? Why did Keagan Johnson move up the depth chart over Tyron Tracy? Check out what Kirk Ferentz had to say about it all in our press conference recap.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Folks...I don’t know what to tell you. Iowa won its 7th straight against Minnesota, which is, undoubtedly, great. But they did it in the most frustrating way possible, and it remains just a strange, strange season for Iowa football fans. If you told any of us we would be 8-2 at this point in the season, I wouldn’t believe you. And yet, here we are, but the team poises a lot of questions that we probably won’t get answers to, and weaknesses that are bound to be exploited at some point.

But I digress. As I write this, it’s Tuesday, which means Kirk Ferentz met with the media today ahead of this weekend’s Bret Bielema-less matchup against Illinois. Check out the full transcript here, and my highlights — and snark!! — below.

Let’s get things going with what you want to hear about: who will be under center?

KIRK FERENTZ: And Spencer, I think, has a chance to be fully healthy. He’s had two pretty good days of practice. So we’ll see how it looks here this week and go from there.

OK, but...

Q. If Spencer is healthy is he your starting quarterback or is it Alex?

COACH FERENTZ: We haven’t had that conversation. Alex has been running with the 1s. We’re just trying to get Spencer back in the groove a little bit. He’s there mentally obviously, and just working through some missed time.

And he’s missed some throws he probably would make. We’ll see where it goes. We’re real comfortable with both guys.

Ok, well that’s reassuring.

Q. How much is Spencer doing? You said he had two good days of practice. What does that mean?

COACH FERENTZ: Took all the reps with the 2s. He’s gotten a lot of work done. Looks good. Key thing he wasn’t sore today. Curious to see — hasn’t been tackled yet. That’s another wild card, so there’s a couple of wild cards out there. But he looks good. Hopefully we’re gaining ground. I think we are.

Gaining ground toward what? DO NOT LET HIM START AGAIN, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

Q. He has a big arm and he can hit just about any pass on the field, depth wise. Is that taking a hit, with his shoulder, working his way back?

COACH FERENTZ: I’d say it’s more accuracy right now due to missing that time. So I think that’s probably the biggest thing, timing and accuracy. That’s probably the biggest thing he’s got to get back. A week ago he couldn’t throw the ball down the field. It’s like a lot of medical things. It’s day-by-day. You never know what the timing is going to be for the response, how guys heal, that type of deal. Looks like his strength is good. It’s a matter of getting back in the groove a little bit.

Here’s where I’m confused about what Kirk is thinking/looking to do here. No doubt Petras looked abysmal against Northwestern, and didn’t practice last week. Does Kirk use vagueness about his progress, accuracy, whatever to cement Alex Padilla as the starter going forward without outright “benching” Petras? Or is he working toward him coming back as the starter? I honestly have no clue.

In other news that’s been getting a lot of traction this week:

Q. What led to the move on the depth chart from Tyrone to Keagan in the starting spot?

COACH FERENTZ: Keagan has been performing really well. We like both of those guys. Tyrone is a really good football player. It’s not that big a deal, quite frankly. It depends on personnel groups, which we’ll not list all of those.

But right now we’ve got a pretty healthy group of receivers, probably four or five guys that we have an awful lot of confidence in. And obviously Arland has made some plays. And Charlie has shown he’s developed into a really good receiver too. Tyrone has been a good player. And Nico has been a good player, seems like forever. We have a pretty healthy group going there.

Of course, this is a very Kirk Ferentz coach-speak answer, but let’s try to read between the lines a bit. If it depended on the personnel groups, why make the move at all? Because Keagan is Padilla’s guy, for one, and because for whatever reason, Brian and co. refuse to give Tracy opportunities, and he can’t make the most of the touches he’s getting in the run or pass game. Don’t be surprised if you see him hit the portal this offseason.

Q. You heard about his tweet with some frustration about the Swiss Army knife. What was your reaction to that?

COACH FERENTZ: Yep. I think that’s a young guy who wants to help the football team. I think that’s his way of expressing it. And it’s the common way people express things these days, I’ve been told. I’m not sure I understand that part of it, but, you know, I’m not that interested in understanding it either.

So, you going to do something about it?

Q. Did you look and evaluate what Alex did after watching film? What were your impressions, and low completion percentage but the yards per completion were off the charts because of the way you attacked down the field. What was your overall impression?

COACH FERENTZ: Especially this year, we’re not a big stat team and so you don’t focus too much on that. If we want completions, more bubble screens, that’s one way to do it, or whatever.

But I thought he played effectively ...

I think he’s played with poise for as little as he’s played for two games. I think that’s been our impression. I was thinking about this a couple of days ago. One of the most impressive things, I think, and it sounds like kind of routine, but his ability to throw the ball away.

There were a couple of plays the other day where he threw it away. He was on the scramble or on the move. Got outside and just got rid of the ball instead of taking a negative yardage play ... It shows an awareness mentally, I think, too, it’s impressive. I’m not shocked because we’ve been watching him for two years now working a lot with the offense.

I think he’s worked hard and paid his dues, and it’s showing up with good, solid play out there. So I’m happy about that.

This answer is ‘We’re not a big stat team.’ I mean, we know this is true, but also, wow. Ok. The throwing the ball away thing is so Kirk Ferentz it hurts. Let’s not talk about how his mobility has opened up the play action at all, let’s talk about the fact that he was on the move and threw the ball away. Granted, with Petras it would have been a guaranteed sack, so maybe that’s a dig, but come on.

Q. How much difficulty is there when you have a player with as much equity as Spencer’s had, and especially in that position, unlike the others because you can move guys around? You’ve reached this part where you’ve got two guys. But potentially something is going to be in play. You had the same issue seven years ago with Jake Rudock was kind of in the same position, really accomplished player. How difficult is that for you, especially with that position, to kind of deal with that?

COACH FERENTZ: If it’s a problem, it’s a good problem, because it could have gone the other way, too, where oh, my God, how long is this going to last?

So that’s good. Right now we’re kind of living in the moment. If it ends up being a discussion, we’ll have that discussion when it’s appropriate. But it’s a good thing.

...The way I’m looking at it, I think we have two guys — I think I speak for everybody — I think we all have confidence in both players. They’re good guys; they’re invested and good players. Spencer’s got a good resumé and now Alex has got one started here and so that’s a positive for us.

I’d say it’s NOT a good thing to ‘live in the moment’ with something like this, but I guess, when you don’t control your own destiny in the division, you can mess around with things like this.