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KIRK SPEAKS: Wisconsin

Bring the bull home

Northwestern v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Well well well! Is Iowa starting to put things together? We’ll see! I will remain skeptical probably until the very last down of the season but hey, what we’ve seen is encouraging! I was pleasantly surprised for one half of football against Purdue last weekend. Who’s to say we can’t beat Wisconsin now?

I’m gonna go on the record that this is going to be an ugly as hell game. But sure, a win is a possibility. But you’re not here for me. Let’s see what Kirk Ferentz thinks about it all from his press conference today!

Check out the full transcript here, and my highlights and snark below.

KIRK FERENTZ: Just coming out of the weekend, we talked after the game and after seeing the film, no question I think it was our most complete football game as a team so far, so that was good to see.

Offensively I think we showed more growth, played with good balance and just seeing some good efforts out there. Good to have our receivers get involved, more involved. I think we’re improving up front, so those are both positives, obviously.

I agree with Kirk here. I have qualms about the second half playcalling and the overall lack of aggressiveness for an offense that is trying to figure out its footing after nine games, but hey, whatever.

Q. Long-term injury standpoint, any update on Terry Roberts and Keagan Johnson?

KIRK FERENTZ: No. I mean, they’re both trying to work back. If they’re getting ready to get there, we’ll let you know, but nothing new.

Sucks for Roberts, unsurprising for Keagan. Next.

Q. Do you see anything differently in their offensive approach now that Jim Leonhard is in charge versus what Paul Chryst’s offense presented?

KIRK FERENTZ: No. I mean, to me they look pretty much the same in all phases. They’re just playing at a really good level right now. They had a couple tough losses a while back, but they’re three out of four now and playing with pretty good momentum. Looked really good against Maryland.

For whatever reason we’ve been kind of following Maryland, or at least our opponents have been playing Maryland, so we’ve been watching them, and they’ve got a good football team this year.

That’s the worst Maryland has looked, and I think it’s got probably something to do with the opponent. I think Wisconsin did a good job of taking some things away from them and making it difficult on them to be successful.

The interesting part here comes when Kirk analyzes Maryland. “That’s the worst Maryland has looked.” Maryland has a LOT of talent on offense and the Wisconsin defense (and the weather) made them struggle. This is going to be a defensive slugfest for sure.

Q. How valuable has it been to have a guy like Kaleb Johnson who seems to keep on gaining yardage even after he gets hit?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, you know, that’s everybody’s best friend, if you have a back that can do that. We see him improve each week, we see him improve in practice, and it’s really started when he got going in August. It’s been fun to watch him.

I think probably the — don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind — didn’t mind watching him get yards the other day and score, but the other thing about him, I always think first he’s just a delightful young guy.

Our younger guys are in the early group in summer training, and Rai would tell me both he and Jaz Patterson come by every day, 5:40, 5:45 smiles on their faces, hey, Coach, how you doing, all that kind of stuff. That’s really unusual for young guys to be on top of things on a consistent basis like they were.

It’s kind of really how they operate. They both operate the same way. They practice well. Got a really good attitude, good demeanors, and yeah, it’s been great to have them on our team.

I absolutely love Kaleb Johnson. He has no doubt been the brightest spot of the offense by far all season. The sky is the limit for this dude and I absolutely love it.

Q. Do you feel like Kaleb has kind of separated himself a little bit as the No. 1 guy now?

KIRK FERENTZ: Short-term, yes, but not ready to ordain him as the next Shonn Greene or something like that. But, he’s doing a good job. My experience is we’ll probably need all three before the season is up, so we’ll keep pushing for it with all three guys.

I kinda call bullshit on this. Listen with your eyes here and it’s clear that Kaleb is the guy. I’m honestly ready to ordain him as the next Shonn Greene, tbh. I’m fine with Leshon Williams getting carries but Gavin has been absolutely terrible and I feel like he should not be getting any carries, but that’s just me.

Q. With Gavin and Leshon back full speed, how do you envision the carries?

KIRK FERENTZ: We don’t have a quota or number on those things and haven’t had that discussion; probably won’t. But I envision all three of them playing. Jaz probably won’t be, but both those guys back, we have total faith in both guys, just like we did a month ago.

The only thing that’s really different now is Kaleb has inserted himself a little bit in the discussion, but we’ll play all three guys, I’m pretty sure of that.

‘Kaleb has inserted himself a little bit in the discussion’ lolololol yeah, a little bit. Seriously though, why do we need Gavin? Give Jaz more carries instead.

Q. It may be dumb luck, too, but you’ve had probably more special teams mistakes and miscues against Wisconsin than pretty much everybody else combined over the last three or four years. I’m thinking of the ball hitting the leg, but then there was the punt returner who bopped it out here two years ago, and then up at Wisconsin last year. Is it because of the opponent, or is it just — that just happened that day?

KIRK FERENTZ: I can’t say 100 percent, but when you play a good opponent, things like that happen sometimes. I think our record over five years is the same as it was the team we played last week. The good news is this year is this year and it’s our ‘22 team and their ‘22 team playing, so you’ve got to be mindful and respectful of the past, but also this is a whole new season, new opportunity and you can’t dwell on it.

But the point you’re bringing up, ball security, special teams, miscues, to think that we’re going to experience those Saturday and be victorious, that’s not realistic. That’s every game, but especially when you’re playing in a game like this where you’ve got a team that’s really good at capitalizing on things you do wrong.

Good question, boring answer. If I’m Kirk I’d just say ‘yes, we’ve emphasized this in practice. We can’t ‘dwell’ on it but we can focus on it. But whatever.

Q. When you look at their defense, it’s so unique compared to just about everybody. They still also seem to be really gap sound in how they attack. Also, they loop and stunt in a way that really throws people off. How do you feel about your communication up front, and is there anything different that goes involved just because they’ll loop a standup defensive end inside and do some things that other teams don’t do?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, some of those stunts that you’re referring to are not totally unique, but they’re challenging just because they do a really good job. I said in the opening statement they’ve typically always been a very fundamentally sound team and they are — it’s no different now.

The defense has morphed. Used to be a four-man line going back, and then that changed over when Coach Anderson got there, and then Coach Leonhard has taken it to a whole different level, I think.

It’s a little bit different preparation because it’s a three-man front, but their backers are capable of rushing very well and they’ve hurt us. And then they can also get back and do a good job in pass coverage. So they’ve got a lot of moving parts, and they swap out or sub out, if you will. Dropping an outside guy and bring somebody from the inside, and those guys have been pretty effective, too, and it looks like it’s kind of the same thing, even though there are some new faces involved.

Everybody has got to be on the same page, communication has to be good, and that’s just the starting point. Then the execution, picking up those stunts is where it gets challenging.

Like most good defensive teams, they give you enough to — you kind of think you’ve got it and then you don’t got it because they’ve got something else that comes off of that and makes it a challenge.

This is a fun question and a fun answer from Kirk Ferentz. We don’t always get to see him actually talk about X’s and O’s, and it’s interesting to see how his brain works. This is definitely going to be a tough matchup for our offense.

Q. A bit of a two-part question on quarterback Graham Mertz. What have you seen in terms of his development over the last two years? And for your defense, what do they have to do in order to make it difficult for him on Saturday?

KIRK FERENTZ: You can’t let him get comfortable. Starts there. With any quarterback that’s a big thing. Because he’s a good football player. Feels like he’s been there for like five years, six years. I know he hasn’t, but it feels that way.

He’s played really well for them. They have good receivers, too. They do a good job off the play action. But he can make every throw there is. It’s going to be a challenge.

Then they have the balance, the ability to be balanced and the ability for play action. He certainly knows what he’s doing. He’s got a good feel for the game. Hopefully we can get him off his spot a little bit so he doesn’t get comfortable.

I’m going to be very interested to see what Phil dials up for blitzes against Mertz. I don’t think he’s a great quarterback, and I’d like to see a similar gameplan to what we did last weekend against Purdue. Again, this is going to be a defensive slugfest.

Field position and defensive capability to score points is going to be huge. Big Ten football, baby.

Speaking of, let’s end with this:

Q. Iowa and Wisconsin seem to be the only two programs to still use a fullback. Why do you think that’s died out elsewhere?

KIRK FERENTZ: I can’t really speak to that other than it’s maybe not fashionable. I don’t know. It’s all about what works for you. It’s certainly worked very well for them. They’ve won a lot of games over the years, and we’ve won pretty many, too. I don’t know if it’s a regional thing. I am not quite sure. But it’s just something both of us are comfortable with.

Ultimately you try to figure out what’s going to work for you and your program, and that’s kind of where you take it.

Great question, boring answer. FREE THE FULLBACKS BABY!!!!