Carbon Copy: Kirk Ferentz Q & A

In part two of our weekly 'Carbon Copy' coverage, Kirk Ferentz talks about Penn State, center/quarterback exchanges, Nathan Chandler, Eric Rothwell, Fred Russell, Jermelle Lewis and much, much more. Is Lewis ready to take the next step? Is there any heat on Chandler? We've got the main man's quotes.

Q: Do you expect to see both Mills and Robinson at quarterback?

"I would not be surprised to see both. I am not sure how healthy Mills is. I believe that he was dressed for the last ballgame. He has had good success against us so I would not be surprised and then Robinson is a guy that is very, very talented. My guess is that we may see both of them in some combination."

Q: You have not only had more injuries this year, but they have lasted longer. You said that Champ Davis and David Walker might only miss a week or two, yet they have been out a long time

"One thing about medicine, there is no exact formula. The only way you find out is to get a guy out there in practice. The bottom line is that if a guy is not performing close to 100%, I don't know if anyone is 100% this time of year; they may be cleared medically, but if they don't have the confidence necessary and can practice and play at the tempo that you have to play at to be successful in the Big Ten, you have to hold a guy out. That is what experience has taught me. Those things go in cycles; this has been a tough year that way."

Q: Can we expect to see Jermelle Lewis get more carries?

"I think that is fair to say that we are hoping that Jermelle can increase his workload each and every week. Part of that is getting confidence. We were not sure what the best situation was to put him in there on Saturday. In retrospect, there probably wasn't a perfect situation. But the good news is that he got through it and we can expect to see his workload grow a little bit."

Q: Will it be easier for Mike Jones this week because it wont be so loud to hear the calls?

"It will be easier for everybody. I said this Saturday; there wasn't much that I was surprised about other than our let down on special teams. We knew it was going to be tough to play at Ohio State. That is a tough stadium, like Penn State and Wisconsin, etc. Then to play a defense like theirs; we knew from film that they were good. They were good last year. They may be better this year, I don't know. They are awfully good. It is not optimal circumstances to break a guy in or a new guy at center, but we didn't have any choices. You go with what you have and there were not a lot of surprises there. The surprise was on special teams and that is where we have to get things cleaned up."

Q: Will you be working overtime on the center snaps?

"We have a 20 hour rule in the NCAA, which is a good rule by the way. (Note: teams are allowed just 20 hours of practice per week, per player You can only do so much and I think we exhausted every possibility going in to the game. We will continue to do that. That is why experience is so important and there are a few things that you have to live through. We lived through a few of those things with Brian. I remember living through those with Joel Hildenberg. I have talked about his deep snap at Nebraska that cost us a touchdown. That is part of a new guy in a new environment. Eric (Rothwell) is a quality guy and we will continue to work."

Q: With the bad snap and some other things, it seems that there are a lot of guys on different pages…does that upset you at this point in the season?

"Again, if you examine the circumstances, I think common sense would say that could happen. You are in the closed end of the end zone; it is not unlike the closed end at Penn State. I have seen teams get trapped down there before. Think about it. We are down at that time by seven points with 80-some yards to go playing against a very good defensive football team with some guys that are not as experienced as you would like."

"That would have been tough for last year's offense, although they would have been better suited to operate under those conditions. I knew all week that was a possibility and I kind of banked on that, though I was hoping like heck that it would not happen. You are not banking on breakdowns in special teams involving veteran guys that have done things well before. That to me is where the focus has to be."

"You go into every game knowing that we could take a punch or two in one area and you know that you have to compensate in some other areas for that."

Q: Does repetition help that?

"It does. Again, you cannot simulate those conditions. A lot of bad center-quarterback exchanges come in periods of duress in a situation like that or if you have a defender over your head that is really hard to block. I have seen that circumstance before, too. You can try to simulate some things in practice, but it is not the same. That is where game experience becomes important."

Q: Even when the quarterback is under center?

"One was an audible, and not everyone was on the same page there. Again, when you are shuffling lineups, you are going to pay the price for that."

Q: Do you find an solace in that they almost still had a chance to win the game, even with a dropped pass here and a few bad breaks there?

"Yeah, those things happen. But again, to crystallize it for me, if you go into a game like that, you are talking about two pretty good teams. Typically if you give up one special teams play, you are going to come out on the short end. I think that we could have survived one of them the other day, I really do. But we couldn't survive two. Take both of those out of the game and we have a heckuva chance. Statistically, and statistics don't mean a heck of a lot; we had more yardage than they had, our defense played a great game and their defense played a great game. I thought that would be the case. I thought that would happen in the Michigan game too, but it didn't. But I thought going into this game, that is what we were looking at. They are an excellent defensive football team and our guys played excellent on defense as well."

Q: How is Nathan's health?

"He is fine. He is a little sore, he will be all season, but we expect him to be 100% today, other than being sore."

Q: Given Penn State's giving up a lot of yards against the run, can this game be a springboard to get the Lewis-Russell combo going again?

"I don't think we are that far down the road with Jermelle. Again, it's baby steps with Jermelle. It's Fred's team right now and that is the way it should be. He is a senior and has done the hard work this year. We need to get him going again, obviously. He had some very good runs the other day and some that were tough, so we need to get things moving to avoid those negative yardage plays.

Q: Where did the mistakes on Fred's negative runs come from?

"It was a combination of things. Some breakdowns, sometimes you can run a play into a dead defense, we had one of those against Michigan and it turned into a positive. A couple of them were bad decisions. The one down there inside the five…if nothing is there, take what you can get, even if it's nothing, and then regroup. And Fred knows that. But he was trying to make a play. It is hard to get critical there."

"He was trying to help us and make a play, but it snowballed the other direction. It is hard to get upset as a coach when someone is trying to make something happen. Ideally, you like to get a guy a crease and get him through there. It doesn't always work. That was a combination of us and them."

"To me, he (Russell) is doing a heck of a job. Last year, we had an NFL line, to a degree. Four of those guys made NFL camps, and we have one who has a good chance to go to an NFL camp next year. We had the player of the year at quarterback, we had CJ Jones who is on an NFL team, you had Mo Brown who was setting school records, and you had Dallas Clark who was a pretty fair player. So we had some weapons. Right now, our arsenal is a little thin. So to me, what Fred is doing right now is even more impressive. All eyes are on him, defensively. He worked hard in the spring. He is into it."

Q: Will it help your young players next year since they are getting some reps this year, even though their statistics are not great?

"It will help immensely. To me, there is no downside in it other than wanting to have a few more experienced guys out there. But that is not the way it is going. It will pay off for us."

Q: How close is Albert Young to playing?

"He is getting closer, but we just have to make a decision that we have not made yet. With every week, his confidence is growing. He is anxious. He is a running back too, and I don't know how many more backs we can get in the game at this point. If he were a receiver, he would be out there this second."

Q: Is there a game in memory where special teams made big mistakes like what we saw last week?

"I am sure that we did. I have blacked out a lot of the bad memories. I am sure that if you went back through the first two years, we had our years."

"The obvious things to refer to would be 2001. We cost ourselves dearly. The Michigan game, the Penn State game and the Purdue game. But, this was a tougher circumstance here, not that those weren't. We got away with it against Penn State, we didn't against Michigan. To me, that ignited their team back in 2001. Purdue, we could never get out of the hole."

Q: Have there been any morale issue with this team?

"In terms of? Not liking the head coach or something? (laughs)"

Are they getting down?

"They are all down. They were crushed on Saturday after a tough loss. They were down a bit on Saturday, which is natural. If they are not down, that is where you get concerned. That is one of the things that I don't like about pro ball. Players rebound a little to quick for my preference. So they were really down. They will bounce back. This team has a lot of heart, they will bounce back."

"There is a lot of football left. We have five games left and we can do a lot of great things. With all of that being said, really the only thing that counts is this week. That is really what we are looking at."

Q: Was the double OT win against Penn State in 2000 the win that was the springboard for your program?

"It was awfully big. I think it was a three-week progression. The week before was the first time that we were in there knuckled with another team. Statistically, we got clobbered by Wisconsin, but we made them sweat and we had chances to win in the fourth quarter against a team that slapped us around the year before. They were a good ball club in 2000. That was the start for us, and it was the first day that Bob had started for us. Certainly to go to Penn State and win was great. It was our second Big Ten win, our first Big Ten win on the road. Then coming back here to beat Northwestern who was 12th in the country, that three-week sequence was great."

"Then in some strange way, that loss at Minnesota, though it was disappointing at the time, I think it really served us well as far as a learning experience. Even at that early stage, maybe we lacked a little focus to detail, we didn't respond well to injuries during the course of that game. That might have been as beneficial as the three games prior to it. That whole month was great for our team.

Q: Are you going to design any more plays for Kaeding?

"That might be a thought. The only fear on that play, and we have talked about it for a while, is that we had visions on Nate getting splattered. (laughs). We were confident that the play was going to work, but if that had happened, people might have been saying ‘what a dummy for calling that one'."

"He is such a confident guy. You gotta love the guy. We are going to miss him. You talk about a major contributor to our football team. Not only in points but the heart and soul he has."

Q: What will the defensive line rotation look like?

"Neubauer will replace Jonathon and Derrick (Robinson) will work in there, too. I think Tyler Leubke's role increases a little bit too. We like to rotate guys in and out and those will be our top six at this point."

Q: Will we see anymore true freshman play this year?

"I think we are done there; I hope we are. I think we are tapped out at this point."

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