Kirk Ferentz talked to the assembled media Tuesday. Here's what we learned.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Josey Jewell, who reportedly injured his hand on the eve of last week's game, will not play this week against Ball State. Jewell had been mentioned by Phil Parker this spring as a potential contributor. Ferentz hopes to have him back for Iowa State on September 13.
Don't look for any other true freshmen anytime soon.
Q. Are you toying with any other true freshmen playing?
KIRK FERENTZ: No, we're probably about where we were last week, so hopefully‑‑ if somebody emerged, that would be a possibility. On the flipside if somebody gets hurt, which I hope we're not dealing with any time soon.
Linebacker Ben Niemann got some action off the bench Saturday, and Miles Taylor is desperately needed in the secondary. I didn't see Aaron Mends in the mix, but he is supposed to be available at fullback if needed. One expected freshman contributor, defensive end Matt Nelson, might be redshirting after all.
Ferentz attributed the defensive struggles against Northern Iowa, particularly UNI's three long pass plays, to a breakdown both in the front seven (he doesn't mention linebackers, but it's obvious) and secondary:
You know, any time you have something like that that involves someone on the front end and also the secondary end, as well, because any time you give up a big play, unless it's just a bomb down the field, which I know none of us were‑‑ it's something we'll continue to work on. It was probably the most displeasing part about the ballgame, giving up big plays, particularly in the passing game, and if we're going to have a good defensive ball club we're going to have to eliminate those things, and that's a team thing.
Yes, the rest of that answer is consonants and vowels mashed together without meaning, but what he said confirms what we saw, particularly on the second half touchdown pass to David Johnson. Middle linebacker Quinton Alston did nothing to slow Johnson's seam route, and Iowa's coverage -- which looked to be pure cover 2 -- left a gaping hole in the secondary that should have been filled by a safety.
Ferentz was happy with first-time starters Sean Welsh (LG) and Greg Mabin (CB), as well as Jordan Lomax, who was making his first start at free safety.
I think I'm safe in saying just about anybody who really hasn't played that did play I thought did some positive things. Not that they can't get better, that's for sure, but at least there weren't any just major gaffes or terrible breakdowns.
Mabin recorded the interception with one minute to play that cemented Iowa's victory, while Welsh was key in the running game. Ferentz also praised right guard Jordan Walsh for playing "probably his best game" at Iowa.
Ferentz did mention that he expected Lomax to become increasingly comfortable at directing the secondary as he adjusted to his new position. "It's kind of like being a linebacker or a center or a quarterback," he said. "You have to be involved in the communication aspect, and he's certainly capable of that." Given the secondary's repeated communication breakdowns last week, let's hope he adjusts quickly.
Former walk-on Bo Bower, who didn't start but had an interception and sack off the bench, was also singled out for praise.
But Bo really just‑‑ we just always liked his attitude and we thought he was a pretty good player, so really happy he came, and he's competed well. This past year he's worked hard. Last fall he really did a good job on the scout team, and that kind of flashed back there, I think about Grant Steen, our first year here was a walk on from Emmetsburg that was just a pain in the butt on the scout team and just worked all the time and ends up being a three‑year starter for us at that same position.
Probably some parallels there, you just see some things in players that they draw attention to themselves in a really positive way, and in time and with good work and all that, they end up being pretty good football players. I'm not ready to ordain Bo, but those were two really nice plays. The interception was a really good play, and those are the things you need to do if you're going to have a good defensive team, so it was a good start for him.
With Jewell injured, Bower is in line for serious playing time, and this defense could use another Grant Steen even if I haven't yet forgiven him for 2001 Iowa State.
Ferentz addressed the hot topic of the week: The lack of downfield throws by Jake Rudock. His answer matched what we thought we saw: That while Rudock might have missed some downfield opportunities, most were taken away by UNI's three-deep zone.
[T]hat's how they're built. They're pretty much a deep zone team and have been, so that's what I said a week ago. Typically their style is to make you earn it and work for it, and I think that's a good defensive strategy personally, unlike what we did. That's a good thing when you can make people drive the ball 10, 12 plays, that's typically a good strategy, and they did a nice job, so we didn't expect many clean shots down the field that just going into the game didn't look like part of the possibility.
In the aftermath of Rudock's 250-yard performance -- the most yards he's put up since throwing for 256 against Northern Illinois in his debut last season -- the grumbling has somewhat subsided. Don't expect Rudock to get much crazier this week against Ball State, which runs a lot of zone and looks particularly vulnerable to the running game.
Of course, the question had to be asked: C.J. Beathard. Ferentz was noncommittal.
Q. Do you go into this weekend thinking maybe you've got to get CJ out there at some point?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I mean, when is it happens, it's going to happen, and it'll happen. I can't tell you when, I can't tell you if it's going to be this week, next week, but it'll happen. It's not a knock on him, but the game the other day was just one of those deals. We'll figure that out, and we've talked about it, but whenever it happens it'll happen.
We have a zero percent belief that Ferentz actually intends to use a separate package of plays for Beathard to get him into the game periodically. It's so against character -- and Beathard's skills are similar enough to Rudock -- that a two-quarterback system feels like a waste of precious time. Remember, this is the man who refused to bench James Vandenberg for even one play in 2012 despite the season spiraling out of control.
Ferentz has a crush on Ball State. He says all the right words: "Balanced" on offense, "aggressive" on defense:
But they're very balanced. They want to be balanced. They've got good play action off their running game. Their running game is really very effective and very strong. Both backs are very productive. So I mean, they looked like they were able to operate the way they want to operate, which was just‑‑ they make you defend, make you defend them in all regards.
It was a good start for them. Like I said, they're very well coached and well coordinated, and then defensively they've got a new coordinator, and it's hard, you only have one game to look at, so it's a little bit difficult there, but schematically looked fairly similar to what they were, and it looks like the idea is to be aggressive with the secondary and be a really‑‑ they're going to try to get up the field on you a little bit and be disruptive with the offensive line.
New Ball State defensive coordinator Kevin Kelly has said he basically adopted the team's existing scheme into his philosophy, so that makes sense. But Tuesday's press conference was far more about continuing storylines from silly season than next week's opponent.