Kirk Ferentz talked to the press Tuesday. Here's five things we learned.
1. Rudock is the quarterback, but the battle might not be over. Iowa has named Jake Rudock as the starting quarterback, but don't count out C.J. Beathard or Cody Sokol just yet.
Q. Do you consider this like a snapshot in time for this position, whereas if the trajectory of say CJ Beathard, who's only a red shirt freshman really soared throughout the season and workouts then next year that he'll have that opportunity to compete? (Scott Dochterman, Cedar Rapids Gazette)
COACH FERENTZ: He has an opportunity right now. Nobody has played yet. That's the one thing we do know. So we'll just kind of like what we've done through August, we'll let the scenario play itself out, and that's what we're going to do starting Saturday.
And again, I don't envision us making this a three ring circus or anything like that. But if that's what it takes, that's what it was in '87, so if that's what it ends up being, that year was a three man competition, '08 was a two guy competition, and right now we're just going to see how it unfolds, see how things go.
This is in line with comments made by Ferentz and Greg Davis during the three-horse race this August, but it's still somewhat surprising. Ferentz has only had two full-blown in-season quarterback controversies in 14 seasons. I don't think he would welcome a third, and Rudock is going to have a long leash (Ferentz also said he doesn't want Rudock looking over his shoulder and that the staff would "let him play.")
I don't see Rudock freezing up when he hits the field Saturday. He's probably got the most relevant experience of any of the quarterbacks, Sokol included, and he's well-trained for precisely this task. Iowa's always had fairly decent luck with first-year quarterbacks -- though those were with KOK -- and I'm guessing that will continue this year.
2. Kirk's trying to make my head explode again. One of the great ongoing questions about Iowa football is why Ferentz continues to try to play for close finishes despite being objectively horrible at them. As we wrote in 2011following another close loss to Iowa State, Iowa was 12-19 in one-possession games from 2005-2010, one of the worst records among top programs. Since then, Iowa is 3-7, somehow decreasing its already-hideous winning percentage in close games. If you take 2009 out of those nine seasons, Iowa is 11-24 in one-possession contests. In 14 seasons, Ferentz is 29-39 in those games.
So how does Iowa improve? Um, we don't know:
Q. Is there anything else that you've found has been the difference between winning those three point games versus losing them? (Jared Aarons, KGAN)
COACH FERENTZ: That's kind of the story of our history, if you will. I go back to the '08 season. I think we lost three games there by 10 points or 13 points. I'd have to look it up. It's been a while. And then lost at the buzzer there at Illinois.
Conquering the close game thing is, if you can do that, you're going to have a really good year or a chance for a good year, and if you can't, you're going to come up short. That's one of the challenges, things that go into it, and it's something we certainly try to point out to our guys on a continual basis, what it takes to be successful in those situations.
Kirk Ferentz pointing out things that make a team successful in close games is like Tim Beckman teaching a class on how to remember your mom's birthday. He doesn't know how to do it, and yet he keeps doing it publicly as a matter of course.
3. LeShun Daniels is going to be a thing. There was always the possibility that LeShun Daniel, who dominated the running game in the team's open practice two weeks ago, would go the way of so many August prospects: Great in scrimmages, fifth on the depth chart, never seen. That's not going to be the case:
Q. Freshmen, made any decisions on true freshmen? (Tom Kakert, hawkeyereport.com)
COACH FERENTZ: Yeah, I think right now it looks pretty obvious and apparent that LeShun is going to play, LeShun Daniels, and defensively we're still mulling a couple things over. We have a candidate or two, but we haven't finalized that yet. And then Damond Powell obviously, we didn't recruit him to sit on the bench, so he'll be playing some, too.
Ferentz later said that Iowa has four guys who can play. He didn't say who, but presumably that's Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock, and (based on the response above) LeShun Daniels. It would not include Michael Malloy or Barkley Hill. That's not nothing. That's the sort of move up the depth chart that launches a couple of transfers.
The Daniels situation feels like Shonn Greene in 2005, where Iowa had no choice but to use a talented true freshman even though it had two capable starters returning. Greene ran for 116 yards on 16 carries against Ball State. He only had 21 more carries through the rest of the season, but it set the stage for Greene's resurgance three years later.
4. KCCI hasn't been paying attention in class. This week's "Oops, I brought a list a questions from December" Award goes to...KCCI!
Q. How has Scherff handled rehab and where is he right now? (KCCI)
COACH FERENTZ: Really well. I mean, it was pretty much a non issue with him in the spring and kind of stays that way, I think.
Brandon Scherff broke his leg in October. He didn't miss a day of practice in March or April. He's been out of rehab for, like, six months. I really wish Ferentz would have responded with, "Where is he right now? He's over there," and point at some dude in the back of the room.
5. Saturday's game lives or dies on the defensive front. Just once during his press conference did Ferentz go out of his way to mention Saturday's opener against Northern Illinois. Interestingly, it was a question about the defensive line:
Q. How do you feel about your defensive line? (Steve Batterson, Quad-City Times)
COACH FERENTZ: I think we're gaining ground, but it's going to be a great test. I think the one thing about Northern Illinois, if you just focus on the quarterback you're missing the boat. There's three years of success there. There's more than three years, but the last three years, tough to match those numbers.
So they've got a lot of good players, a lot of spots, and where I'm going on this, they've got a Big Ten a good Big Ten offensive line, not just a Big Ten offensive line. All their guys are back. They're big, physical guys.
It's going to be a real it's not like we're waiting four weeks to see how we match up with anybody. This is going to be a quite a test. We've got more tests coming, too; I know that. But this one right off the bat is going to be a real challenge for our guys up front.
NIU is replacing most of last year's Orange Bowl team, but run-first quarterback Jordan Lynch is still there. Iowa's defense did a fantastic job of shutting him down in last year's opener, and this defensive front should be at least more talented, if not better, than 2012. If the defensive line keeps discipline and doesn't give Lynch lanes to run, Iowa should be successful Saturday. Lose that discipline and let him scramble and it's going to be an extremely long day.