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KIRK SPEAKS: BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP

Ferentz talks Kaleb Brown and Gennings Dunker health ahead of the Big Ten title game, as well as all the outside noise surrounding the matchup.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Nebraska
the look of a man who knows he’s in for a long day at the office
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, it’s gonna be a long night.

Last week, a loyal reader (they exist! Hi alex) told me last week that it was probably the most positive Kirk Speaks he’d ever read from me.

That was last week. This week is exciting, but there’s also that looming sense of dread when you absolutely know something is going to suck and you just want to get it over with. Literally no one expects Iowa to beat Michigan. There are even bets on whether they will score more or less than .5 points in both halves.

That’s not great!

But that’s me. What doe Kirk Ferentz think? Let’s check out his presser from Indy to see. Full transcript here, my highlights below.

Let’s get injuries out of the way:

Q. You’re mentioning on Sunday having a little more of an injury update this afternoon. Are you able to comment any more on Diante Vines and Logan Jones?

COACH FERENTZ: They both practiced two days now, so keep our fingers crossed, but it looks like they’ll be able to go.

Some good news! However, and I said this last week, it’s imperative that Kaleb Brown stays wideout 1. At this point, Vines is a noticeable downgrade from Brown.

Speaking of…

Kaleb Brown talked to us. It’s usually a good sign he’s going to play. He says he’s good. How has he helped elevate your passing game in the past month, this month, to maybe give you a chance on Saturday to move the ball that way?

COACH FERENTZ: I think it’s representative of our team. We found ourselves short of some veteran experience real fast this year, and then it seemed to compound itself.

So, the next guy in. Deacon hadn’t played a lot, high school or college — hadn’t played at all in college. And it’s been a while since he played in high school.

Kaleb, as I said, two years ago he was playing running back, good running back in Chicago, and goes to his next school. I don’t know how much he did last year. I doubt much because I know the guys that were playing for them.

So that’s the first time where he’s getting extensive work at the position. We’ve seen him improve each week. And he looks like he’s having fun now because he’s starting to figure it out. And he’s done some really good things.

One of the best plays he had the other day was the block on Stilianos’ run, that run he had down to our boundary.

He’s a good skill guy that way. He’s had the ability and skill. Now I think he’s starting to learn how to play. And to each of those guys, must be nice to know what it feels like to be a good player. He’s starting to experience that. I never had that experience as a player.

So it would be pretty cool. I think he seems to be enjoying it.

It’s obviously still a relatively small sample size, but man, I have truly forgotten what it feels like to have an Iowa wide receiver to actually be excited about. It makes me look back at guys like Martin-Manley with more fondness than I had at the time, because back then, wide receiver catches were commonplace.

I love that Kirk says he’s having fun and enjoying the game. That gives me a lot of hope. I said it last week and I’ll say it again, good things seem to be ahead with Brown as Iowa’s top wideout.

Q. Just the kind of culture you’ve built in terms of — seems like maybe this year more than ever you’ve really locked into people inside the building and shutting out the noise; and a lot of the players have commented on that. Is it just the culture you’ve built? Do you attribute it to the type of guys you get in the program? Or is it just maturity of guys going from freshman to senior year, maybe they stop searching their name on social media?

COACH FERENTZ: Not everybody does that. I heard this morning someone who has an unhealthy habit of maybe being too active on that. It’s nothing but a waste of time, in my opinion, if you’re serious about competing.

That’s maturity too, trying to get a guy to understand it’s not going to do a hell of a lot of good for him.

But I’ve been saying it gets back to having the right guys on your team. And I’ll take it a step further. We talked about Kaleb maturing as a player. He’s starting to get a good feel for things and having some fun doing it.

Maturity is people, too. I think back to last year, which was a really tough year, it was a challenging year for all of us, and proud of that team, the way they fought through.

We’re sitting there at 3-4, and I know everybody was probably dumping on us a little bit. But that’s not a new phenomenon. But we had two choices last year. The guys chose the right path.

I bring that up in that clearly some of the younger guys on our team right now were paying attention to the older guys last year. You think about Campbell standing up in front of everybody and saying, hey, we’re a team. Seth Benson, his running mate, you have Kaevon in the back end, you had Riley, LaPorta. You have a good group of guys who knew how to act and how to do things.

And clearly the guys that have stepped up this year that maybe weren’t as prominent last year as leaders, they’re watching those guys. That’s something I talked to the guys all the time; if you want to be good, look and see how good people are doing whatever the profession or vocation may be.

It’s part of plan, part of the planning how they train and the mental side how they handle things. We’re fortunate we’ve had guys teaching each other a little bit.

Interesting peak behind the curtain here from Kirk. I’m sure there’s gotta be some behind the scenes stuff, but in the face of the public, this program has done a remarkable job of showing a sense of unity in the face of outside adversity. It’s why it also simultaneously sucks when Kirk sometimes lets his players be the ones who have to stand in front of the media and get barraged with questions about an incompetent offensive coordinator week in and week out instead of letting Brian take the mic. But even then, the players do a good job. That takes effort, it really does. It’s clear that, at the end of the day, these guys have respect for the coaches and the program.

Q. Let’s say Saturday we stand here and you guys are our Big Ten champions, what do you think happened in the game to get you guys over the finish line?

COACH FERENTZ: What we’ve been saying. We’d have to do everything right and probably force a couple mistakes. You can’t worry about all those things. You have to worry about what you can do and your performance. That’s what the week’s for. It’s us trying to know our opponent really well.

I’m not too worried about us having the respect it takes to win a game, in this game. I’m not worried about that one, but just knowing our opponent, knowing what we have to do.

And doing it with real precision, like a real high level of precision. I think, too, when you get into a game like this with an opponent like this, it’s got to be right on the — Raymond Berry said, you don’t aim for the bulls-eye; it’s the center of the bulls-eye.

And it’s really appropriate in a game like this, because if you’re off a little bit, chances are it’s not going to be good for you.

A little bit of heightened awareness, I guess, and not so much appreciation but awareness and detail on what you’re doing — steps, footwork, eye discipline — all the things you have to do to be a good football player.

Very fair question here, and a fine answer but at the same time, come on. With how bad the offense is, this is basically David vs. Goliath. I know Kirk isn’t going to come out and reveal everything here, but also let’s not pretend that perfect fundamentals are the only thing standing between this team and hosting a trophy in Indy. Forcing mistakes, yes, obviously. But then he also says ‘you can’t worry about all those things?’ So how are you planning to win, then?

Q. Remembering back to, even like 2015 when you were at 12-0, you seemed to have more scrutiny attached to your program, more than any other team in the country for whatever reason. And it seems like this country loves underdogs and Cinderella stories except for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Can you figure out why? Is it because you’re not flashy?

COACH FERENTZ: People love not to love us. That’s okay. It is what it is. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. I think I’m a decent person. I don’t know. But whatever.

We don’t broadcast. We’ve had some success, but we just try and let our play speak for itself.

And I’m extremely proud and I think all our players are proud of what we’ve done here the last three, four, five years. If you look at the numbers, they’re not bad.

I think there’s also a stylistic part and maybe we’re not pretty enough or whatever it may be. The objective is to win games. Try to find a way to win, that’s what you try to do. Our guys have done a pretty good job of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve done and proud to have earned our way into this thing. And now we have a hell of a challenge on our hands.

I don’t know why. We’ve got great colors. Iowa’s easy to spell. So I don’t know. That’s a good question.

Good question here. Kind of a funny answer, but also, the truth is in these words right here: “[We] let our play speak for itself.”

KIRK, THAT IS THE PROBLEM.

This is beating a dead horse at this point for so many reasons, but the offensive issues at this point go beyond “style.” Whether nepotism was entirely to blame or only a part of it, something in the Iowa offense is fundamentally broken and literally holding the team back. In 2021 and this year, these defenses and special teams are good enough that a stronger offense puts this team with Big Ten Championships and College Football Playoff contention. Not caring about that and then also saying the Objective is to win games is an oxymoron at that point.

So yeah. I know why. It’s because if Beth Goetz hadn’t stepped in, I have no doubt in my mind that Brian would be back next year, and we’d probably be having this exact same discussion.

Q. Drew Stevens is the kicker for Saturday on the depth chart. I assume he’ll be the guy that we’ll see out there. After having a couple of rough weeks for him in the kicking game — special teams is such a head game, seems like it’s a mental aspect where you have to build up confidence in those guys and they have to keep that confidence. How do you build up that confidence with Drew after what happened on Friday and after the last couple of weeks he’s had?

COACH FERENTZ: It wasn’t a real long talk, but my encouragement to him was just to recognize the fact that he’s performed well. Feels like he’s been here three years or four years, but he hasn’t. He started in January.

Think about how bad he was a year ago spring and how good he was last fall. He was excellent last spring. He’s had a good year this year. And my encouragement to him was to just recognize the fact you’ve done it at a high level here at this level.

Whatever happened Saturday, put it behind you and move on. It wasn’t a great day. There were a couple of things involved but bottom line it wasn’t that good, and that part of our performance.

You have to move on. It’s like being a relief pitcher, left tackle or quarterback, if you had a bad play, everybody in the world knows it. And you’ve got commentary on it.

But name a great player in those positions who hasn’t missed them. And as good as Nate Kaeding was, he missed a few too. Just gotta move on. Block it out. It’s the trick. It’s not a matter of can you do it. Can you block it out, move on? The game in ‘16, Penn State, that wasn’t much fun.

But if you dwell on that, forget about next week because you’re going to be terrible. And we’ll find out next week, hopefully he has a great week of practice.

A few quick things here:

  • I still like Drew and think he deserves to still be the guy…for now
  • How long of a leash will he have on Saturday/bowl game?

Let’s end with this:

Q. I think you’ve mentioned Sunday, like this season has brought more hurdles maybe than any other seasons of your coaching career. In what ways has this season challenged you as a leader? Are there ways you maybe feel you’ve grown as a leader with having to deal with what you have throughout the season?

COACH FERENTZ: Good question, I think the only one that would be remotely comparable would be ‘04, injury-wise, but this one is more significant, I think. And then to your other point, yeah, everyday challenges, you hear, quite frankly, if you’re thinking about things. That’s what I try to think about stuff.

And there’s a lot of days — I’ll say this publicly, there are a lot of days where I have, over 25 years, wonder do I have any idea what the hell is going on; is anybody hearing anything that I think is important?

And it’s kind of like being a parent. Same way. Then your kids surprise you every now and again. But a lot of stuff, there’s no concrete answers. So you just have to do what you feel is right and try to get input and feelings from people in the building, people you work intimately with, and your players, too. You just try to get a gauge of what might be realistic and try to shape it in a way that’s good for everybody.

But you think about it all the time. And I’m telling you, I have doubts all the time. It may not look like it, but you don’t want to know what’s going through my mind, it’s not good, probably not healthy. Somehow some way we’re still here.

Great question here, interesting answer that we talked about in our Black Heart Gold Pants Discord today. I can’t decide if he’s talking about the players here and responding to injuries or about Brian, or both. I thought it was more about Brian and if you look at it in that lens, it’s weird. But I don’t know…let me know your thoughts, because something about it just seemed weird to me, especially when he got into what it’s like in his mind lol.

Also — he didn’t answer the question about growing as a leader.