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KIRK SPEAKS: Nebraska

For the love of god, keep Nebraska out of bowl contention

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

Folks, for the second time in three years, your Iowa Hawkeyes are Big Ten West Champions. Exciting! And nerve-wracking! But mostly exciting! (I think).

But, before that, we still have a matchup with our friends in Lincoln, Nebraska. And their bowl eligibility is on the line. So we really, really, really need a win.

Anyway, let’s see what Kirk Ferentz had to say about it all, yeah? Full transcript here, and my highlights and snarky comments below for the last time this regular season (womp womp [jk no one will miss this column]).

Let’s start with some brief injury updates:

KIRK FERENTZ: Injury-wise, about the same as last week for the most part. Looks like Diante Vines and Beau Stephens will not be able to make this one. Outside of that, everybody’s got a chance. We’ll see what that looks like, short week here.

Well that sucks for both of these guys, but also, we’ve seen our best offensive line play since Stephens got injured and the Vines injury is basically how Kaleb Brown finally got the go-ahead to actually catch balls, so while these injuries are unfortunate, somehow good things have actually come from them in this injury-plagued season.

Let’s talk Deacon Hill:

Q. I wanted to ask you just about the strides that Deacon Hill has made. His first three starts and then the Michigan State game, he completed around 36 percent of his passes. He’s kind of flipped that around to 63 percent the last three games. That’s the huge strides. How much of that has to do with him just being more comfortable in his position versus you guys devising a plan to emphasize his strengths and get the ball out of his hands more quickly?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think it’s probably just a combination of both. When we threw him in there, we all knew he had basically zero experience, game experience. I mentioned that. Scout team a couple years up in Wisconsin, and then got his first work starting last spring with us.

So it’s been a process all the way through. Mentioned his tempo wasn’t the greatest, certainly in August, and a little concerned about that, but he’s improved each and every week. Then got thrust in there the Michigan State week with Cade going down. It’s been a long haul. I think the credit goes to him. It’s everybody working with him, though. We know him better. He certainly has improved dramatically. I knew the stats weren’t great, and that reaffirms it, the suspicion. It’s just a credit to him sticking with it, just kept on going. Certainly his ball security has gotten better too. That’s the other part about it which is important, and his awareness. I thought the last two weeks he’s made some really nice throws, some clutch plays. Probably goes back to the two-minute drill against Northwestern. We were hoping he’d come out of that with a little bit of confidence because that was a good football play, certainly a big part of that game, that victory.

It’s been a process. We’re not out of the woods yet certainly. I can’t say enough about his attitude. Easy to get down, and that’s a position where everybody notices, everybody’s got an opinion. It wasn’t going great. He could have gone south on that one, but he stayed positive and kept working. Just nice to see him get rewarded a little bit, kind of a little bit representative of our whole football team.

I’ve been extremely impressed with Deacon the last few weeks. He had some definite rough spots against Illinois but overall, he’s shown so much improvement in the last few weeks. It’s night and day. That doesn’t mean that calling for his benching wasn’t merited, because it absolutely 100% was, but we’re here now, so whatever.

Q. A lot of guys talked about the importance of getting a ten-win regular season. There are a lot of programs that have never gotten ten wins. You’ve gone it seven times. This could be your eighth, I believe. But only four have done it in the regular seasons. Can you speak to the importance of that and what your message is to the team.

KIRK FERENTZ: I was wholeheartedly joking on Saturday. When I was in the NFL, we were never in a position to sit anybody down. We were always fighting for our lives there too.

I’ve always looked at it every game is important. I know it’s not always that way. When I coached at Worcester Academy, that was the most important thing going on at that given time when we played, and it’s just how people are wired. We have every intention of doing all we can to win Friday knowing it’s going to be really tough.

To the other part, with all due respect, I think people don’t understand how tough it is to win games at any level. I had to jump in my car a week ago Monday — had to run out and do something real quick. Brady was on. They got that show with apparently him and Jim Gray, and there’s about a 60-second clip in there, where you wonder why this guy is just the greatest. Just talked about how everything is just so close in the NFL, and people don’t appreciate what it takes. He talked about how the team he played for is going through a tough spell right now.

He said it’s an organizational thing. When teams win, there are a lot of people involved. Same thing when they lose. Big picture, he talked about the NFL where it’s geared to bringing you back towards the middle. College football, it’s kind of the same way. It’s hard to win games. Sometimes we get a little spoiled and think it’s going to be easy or we’ve done this before so we’ll do it again. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s really competitive.

Nebraska is a great illustration of it. They haven’t been to a bowl game in a while. I don’t know how long it’s been, but they’re playing like a bowl team right now. They’re playing well. Yeah, I think sometimes we all lose sight about how tough it is and how many things have to go right for you to win.

I can’t think of too many times, at least hopefully, where I’ve ever assumed things are going to happen. It’s usually pretty tough. If we could get ten, that would be really special, but it’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure.

Listen folks, he’s not wrong here. It’s hard to win football games. The Big Ten West is trash, yes. Obviously this Iowa team with even an average offense all year long is probably running through these other teams. And yes, it’s going to suck watching this team most likely get their asses whooped in the Big Ten Championship. But still, the fact that this team didn’t manage to collapse with everything that came their way is remarkable. It truly is. I’ll give Kirk infinite credit for that.

Q. Tyler Elsbury, a guy who’s played at guard before, almost used him at tackle earlier this year, now at center. How much of an asset has he been to have a guy that you can call on in a situation like this?

KIRK FERENTZ: Same story. You lose Logan Jones, who’s one of our best players and one of our best guys, to a core guy. You lose that, and you wonder how many of these pings can we keep taking here? As I said the other night, me personally, I think Tyler’s been capable of this, but now hopefully he’s seen himself for himself that he can do this because I think there’s a little shadow of a doubt somewhere in the back there.

At some point you have to get in the water and swim, and he’s done that very well. It’s a tough position to play. So just a lot of credit to him. You touched on he’s one of the few guys that we’ve had that can probably play all five positions. That’s rare.

The thing that was lacking for him was that confidence. I’m not saying he’s there yet, but he sure should be further down the road now.

Elsbury being The Guy at center has been huge, absolute huge, for this run game. I’m surprised Kirk mentions confidence here, because he doesn’t play like he’s unconfident. He’s been the night and day difference for a previously struggling offensive line.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Kaleb Brown. Was there a point when the light turned on for him, or was it just a matter of once he got the opportunity, he made the most of it? 14 targets, 10 catches the last two weeks has been incredibly productive.

KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t think it’s accidental. It’s been a process. It’s not the same as Deacon, but similar. I think I said this a couple months ago. You consider him, he was a good prospect out of high school, but he’s a running back. He’s going to be a conversion guy, go to receiver. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s where he belongs. He’d probably be a good back too, though.

He was okay, like in August, he was okay. He was good, but right now he’s playing really well. I think it’s just a tribute to his hard work. He’s really paid attention. He’s got good ability. He works hard. He’s smart. I think right now it’s just starting to make sense to him, like it feels like, okay, I should be doing this and all that, whereas I’m not sure it was that way in September or August.

Again, that’s the fun part about coaching is watching guys push away, whether it’s Elsbury or Deacon, they’re pushing, pushing, and all of a sudden they start having success. I was teasing, I actually walked in with him this morning, and I said, it must be good to have a chance to be a good player. I wouldn’t know. I never had that kind of ability. It must be fun. I assume you’re having a little fun, and he said he was.

But that’s the fun of it. They have to figure it out. They have to learn it and get a taste of it. If they’re football players, I think they kind of like that, and he’s on that path right now.

Kaleb’s productivity could also not have come at a better time. The gripes about him needing so much time to learn the offense are valid — if you have a guy with this kind of talent, you work around him, not versa, but I digress. I’m just glad to hear that he’s having fun — I think there’s a chance he could be a really special receiver for this program if he sticks around. He’s already made some hugely impactful plays in the last three games alone. Watch out when he gets a confident guy throwing him the ball.

Let’s end with this:

Q. I wanted to ask about Phil Parker, a semifinalist for the Broyles Award. What he means to you, what he means to this program, just an assistant coach, doesn’t get all the recognition, all the accolades as a head coach, but how much he’s brought to the University of Iowa.

KIRK FERENTZ: I swear this is true. I’m not making this up. When I was an assistant here in the ‘80s, certain players jump out at you. Michigan State was a team I was in charge of scouting, so I followed them through whatever it was, the East Lansing Journal, I believe. I followed their team closely. When we played them, they’re a tough defensive ball club. That’s kind of my connection to Norm, if you will, because he was part of that staff.

I always watched Phil Parker back there on the back end, and he always reminded me of a Stoops. He could be a cousin of the Stoops family. If he came here, he’d have to be a Stoops, so there would be four of them starting at safety. So they’re similar, outside looking in. He’s a smart player, a tough player. He was a three time All Big Ten player. That’s hard to do, guys, throwing terms around. There aren’t many guys who are three time All Big Ten. I don’t think he was a combine guy, but, boy, he was a football player.

I just kind of followed him for whatever reason. Move on. He got done coaching. He went to Toledo, first full-time job. It’s the only job he had until he came here. I didn’t hire Norm with this in mind, but after we made the decision to make Norm our coordinator, we started talking about secondary coaches. First position you talk about, and he brought up Phil’s name. I was like I’m all for it. Let’s bring him in here.

And that was based on just watching the guy and how he operated. I personally like the fact that he was a stable guy, like he wasn’t jumping around to this job, that job. It worked out well. Long story short, we’ve had two coordinators in 25 years, and I go back to my time here. I think one of the great unsung heroes of our program under Coach Fry was Bill Brasher.

He was an assistant. I thoroughly appreciate the value of assistants. One guy can’t coach a football team. It’s not like a basketball team. You have 100-plus players. If you don’t have a strong coaching staff, you’re dead in the water.

Phil’s been great. He’s the best secondary coach I’ve dealt with bar none. Now that he’s a coordinator, he’s fantastic too. We’re lucky. We’ve got a great coaching staff. We’ve got a bunch of guys who care about the right things. They’re team guys, not me guys, which is what I had in the ‘80s when I was an assistant. We had a great working relationship and environment, and it’s huge.

I’m so appreciative that Phil’s been here all this time and can’t say enough about the job he does. If he was here right now, he’d tell you it’s his whole staff, and that’s true too. Somebody’s got to lead them, though.

Some fun tidbits in here. Phil is the absolute best and I think we as a fanbase are all extremely appreciative of the job he does. Give him all the money in the world to keep producing defenses like this.

That’s all for now, folks. For the love of God, BEAT NEBRASKA. Go Hawks.