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A tough challenge on the road made even tougher with injuries

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, here we are: Week 4! And with that comes Iowa’s biggest challenge of the season yet (and maybe all year): a road trip to Happy Valley to play Penn State. In their White Out game. At night. On CBS.

No pressure, right?

We’ll be a quarter of the way through the season after this week, and we know a lot and yet a little about this team. The offense: still a work in progress but improving (I think?) Defense? Improving for sure, but put us through a bit of nerves in the first half against Western Michigan.

Obviously, this will be a big challenge that I don’t think this team is ready for at this point in the season. I just hope it doesn’t get out of hand. But don’t listen to me. Let’s hear what head coach Kirk Ferentz has to say about it all from his weekly press conference, shall we?

As always, check out the full transcript here, and my highlights (and my snark, which is obviously what you’re here for) below.

Let’s start with the bad news (that we were expecting):

KIRK FERENTZ: Couple of things, unfortunate news to touch on. Certainly not happy about losing Luke Lachey. Feel most badly for him. He’s the person most affected. It’s an unfortunate development.

But he’ll be fine in time, but it is a significant injury. He’s going to be out for quite a while.

And then the more week-to-week type basis, both Jaz and Kaleb won’t be available this week. So we’ll evaluate it each week as we go forward, but they’re both going to be out Saturday. We’ll go with the guys we finished up with the other day.

Not great, Bob! Losing Lachey really sucks (although I might be in the minority that thought he was struggling a bit this year despite being the leading receiver), and the No. 1 and 2 running backs in a game where the run game will be crucial is a major blow. I think the running back room is actually really strong this year so I’m not as worried as I might be other years, but still, this sucks.

Q. Luke Lachey, you said he’s out for a while. Do you consider it season ending?

COACH FERENTZ: Most likely. It’s unfortunate. He’s going to be fine, but tough development.

Not surprising, considering how gross that injury looked in the moment.

Q. It was such a gruesome looking injury. Was it a clean break?

COACH FERENTZ: If there’s such a thing as a good situation than a bad one, that’s what we had here. That’s the good news. It’s routine if it’s somebody else’s — I hate that word when you talk about medicine or medical procedures. There’s nothing out of the ordinary there.

You think about a guy like Scherff or Drake Kulick, I know they had something similar. He should be fine. Hasn’t slowed Scherff down at all, nor Drake once they came back, but it’s tough in the meantime.

This is good to hear - again, this injury did not look good in the moment. Or on replay.

Q. Want to ask you about passing game with Cade. Have you seen that develop over the first three weeks, and do you feel it’s moving in the right direction?

COACH FERENTZ: I definitely do. Just talking about injuries. When guys can’t practice or they can’t practice full speed it impacts everything. And that’s players at all levels. NFL guys are no different. If they’re not on the field getting the work they need to get at some point, it catches up.

So I think that’s been the biggest deterrent. That all took place back in August, and it was a random injury but it was real. And had to deal with it. And the good news it’s gotten better week-to-week and he’s been able to do more in practice.

So there’s more to it than just throwing the ball. You also have to call the plays, be involved in the cadence, all those kinds of things. So it’s like a lot of things; it’s just a matter of us keep chipping away here. And feel good about the people involved right now. It’s a matter of trying to improve our execution week-to-week.

Hopefully with each week at practice we’ll see better execution out there. And this is going to be a tough test here because you’re going into a tough environment against a team that’s really athletic and very opportunistic on defense.

It’s going to be another step up. But good news is he’s a veteran player who has done it. And at least he’s got that to draw upon. But you still need to be in the here and now in terms of practice.

I do actually take Kirk at face value here when it comes to Cade not being able to practice. I think he’s look ok in the first few game but not great, but when you consider how little actual football he’s played in the last year, it does make sense. I hope that it means better things are to come if he stays healthy.

Q. Seemingly wherever your range, wherever Penn State is ranked it’s been a competitive matchup. Four of the last five within one possession. What is it do you think that leads to such competitive Iowa/Penn State games?

COACH FERENTZ: I don’t know. It’s one of those deals. It’s funny in conference play, sometimes some teams match up that way and some don’t. The 2016 games is a real good reminder what it can be like if we’re not ready to go. That was really ugly really fast.

It’s just a reminder. They have a talented football team right now but that’s not totally new to them. If we’re ranked or not ranked, where we’re ranked, if you’re past probably eight or 10 right now it doesn’t matter at this time of year. It will be more significant in November.

But if you’re in the top 10, you’re probably a top-10 team, I don’t think anybody is surprised Penn State is up there right now just because of the way they played last year, the way they finished.

And, again, it was a good quarterback, but they have a guy that might be better right now. When you’re in a position to do that kind of stuff, it’s not a surprise they’re ranked the way they are.

But, again, we’re at the other end and we need to be thinking about the what-ifs and we better be ready to go here.

The 2012 game was pretty miserable as well, but I feel like hopefully, our defense is good enough to keep this game close at least. I didn’t think that they looked like worldbreakers last weekend against Illinois offensively. So we’ll see. I’ll just take a good game, I guess.

Q. That long touchdown that Western Michigan had, what all did you see go wrong?

COACH FERENTZ: Obviously a breakdown in technique and communication. One thing I do know, you can’t play good defense if you don’t tackle. The other thing, if you give up big plays — and they usually go together — but we didn’t have a chance to tackle on that one because just miscommunication.

And all three phases, it’s like electricity in the water, it’s just a bad combination. Bad things can happen fast if everybody’s not on the same page. It’s really what happened there and some poor technique on top of it.

We better not do that again because we won’t be able to survive easy touchdowns like that.

This play made me very nervous on Saturday. They cannot afford to have one of these plays on Saturday. Like Kirk says, they might not be able to come back. The defense has so much talent. But plays like this make me extremely nervous that they’ll happen again against better talent.

Q. When we’ve talked about the wide receivers, you’ve mentioned staying patient, staying with the process. With Luke going down and his injury, does that kind of accelerate maybe the process a little bit with the wide receivers to get them more involved, or how are you kind of approaching it?

COACH FERENTZ: Penn State will dictate what happens there. But the receivers are doing a really good job. I just think they’ve really practiced well. I think they’re doing well on the field. And I have total confidence in our group. Confidence in our tight ends. Still have good group there. We’ll be better with Luke, obviously, but we still have a good group.

We’re not going to just change our whole approach by any stretch. We’ll just keep trying to figure out what’s the best way to maybe give us a chance to move the ball against these guys.

There’s no way they cannot involve the wideouts more now. They just can’t. We all know that I am not a fan of Brian by any means. But if he for whatever reason cannot get the wideouts involved with Lachey gone, I don’t know what other excuse you can make for keeping him. Penn State will not dictate how much the wide receivers get targeted (I mean they will, but yiou know what I mean). Our wideouts are flat out underutilized. That needs to change and that comes with playcalling first.

Let’s get this win on the road. Go Hawks!