Big Ten Champs Postgame: Coach Ferentz

Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz added to his growing legend Saturday by leading his team to its second Big Ten Championship in three years and its third consecutive January Bowl game in that period of time. "It was pretty special. These are moments you can't buy. That's one of the great things about sports. You can't buy them, and they're hard to earn. The credit goes to our players."

OPENING STATEMENT:

As I said after the game, first of all I want to thank our fans. They've been fantastic all season long. Today was just one of those special environments. We thought on Tuesday we'd have a chance, and we encouraged our players to really try to enjoy the moment this entire week.

It's been a great feeling because when it turned into the month of November, our guys did a great job and gave us a chance to make every game significant. Today certainly was one of those days.

The bottom line - the fans have been great. I can't say enough about the coaching staff. They've just done an outstanding job. And then, most importantly, our players, they're the ones that made things happen. They had every reason (voice starts to break up) to get discouraged, get their heads down; maybe think that things wouldn't be possible. I just can't say enough about their attitude, the way that they've been all the way through this season.

We weren't the strongest football team early in the year. We were pretty wobbly. Our legs were very wobbly early. But our guys have just stuck to what they've supposed to do. They've improved an awful lot. I said last week we're not a statistic team. That hasn't been our concern. We just focused on trying to improve and trying to a decent job.

We knew that today would be tough. Wisconsin's an outstanding football team. Their record showed that. The statistics showed that. And watching them on tape showed that. We knew we had a tough ballgame ahead of us, and that's what it was. It was a hard fought game. Again, I couldn't be any more proud of the people I work with and our staff. It's just fantastic.

Q&A

At what point did you know that this game was going to determine the championship?

Didn't they announce it right before the game? I think they did. It was hard to miss it.

But we talked about that Tuesday. We talked about it last night. Our team has really done a good job of keeping their eyes on what's in front of them. We had to. We're not a pretty team. We're not a high-octane ball club.

Our goal today was to win our ninth game overall and just try to be 7-1 in the conference. If that put us in first place, wonderful. If that put us in second, we couldn't control that. We weren't worried about it. The players, based on what I saw today, they bought into that.

Your defense came up big after you guys turned the ball over a couple of times early.

It was hardly the script that we had in mind. One thing that we've done since that Michigan ball game, we've really done a great job protecting the football. We ended up, at least in the Big Ten stats, top of the league in turnover margin coming into this week. And that's been a big part of our success.

That was about the worst thing that could have happened. But there's our defense. They did great job of holding them. We were fortunate, I guess, on the field goals. You can't say enough about the defense. They were anchoring and doing a great job. And the one touchdown drive we gave up was 42, 43 yards, something of that nature.

So, we've been riding the defense all season long. They were ready for the challenge.

One thing that I did feel good about, and I know that Wisconsin was minus a guy today, we know all about that, you know minus a running back, but last week's script worked out pretty good because for us to win giving up 300 on the ground, I had a suspicion that our guys might be a little better focused this week. That's what we saw.

Did you change anything when you knew that Davis wasn't going to be playing?

Not at all. We play our defense. We can't control who's in there. Bernstein jumped in there and did a fantastic job in beating Penn State, who has got a pretty good defense also. We had great respect for whoever they had back there, 32 is a good football player. We just played out game.

How important was it to get something going on the ground today?

It was real important. We talked about that all week. That's a pretty salty defensive line. Just to allow them to tee off and rush the passer all day long, that was not going to be a good situation.

Our statistics probably weren't pretty, but our guys really blocked a tough as they could. And our runners ran tough. The yards that we did make, were very significant and very, very important.

What was the key to slowing Stocco?

When we get it going, we're not bad on defense. Our guys were ready to play today. They were ready to go. You've seen us play. It starts up front for us. If we're generating something up front, everything else feeds off of that. Our coverage was excellent today.

It must feel pretty good to get two trophies in one game.

I forgot all about (The Heartland Trophy) until after the game. We're pretty proud of that. That's three straight where we get to keep the guy, even though he's a new trophy, new addition. But that's significant.

Obviously the Big Ten title is just a fantastic feeling. Yeah, it's a pretty nice feeling. Nobody is complaining.

Chris (Doyle) started talking about three (years) for 30 (wins) or 30 in three. That was one of the slogans he had floating around. I can't think of any slogans. I'm not smart enough.

All of our guys can be very proud of that. Every guy that's come through here has to me contributed to whatever happens with us. We always talk about that.

I can't say enough about the senior class this year because, like our team, we've had two senior classes of plus 20 and had some pretty veteran, pretty savvy players, this year we didn't have those kind of numbers. We had 15 guys. And not as many "marquee" guys maybe in the group. But that group has really assumed the leadership role and really took ownership. A lot of other guys have followed with them. You don't win if you don't have a great senior class.

At 2-2, did you actually think you would be in this position?

No I didn't. I never worried about it. We just worried about next week. That's really been our mode of operation since Day 1 anyway. If you do that and take care of what's in front of you, sometimes some good things can happen. This year we needed help certainly. Two years ago, we didn't.

But at 2-2, no we didn't. If you can make it into November where it counts, then anything can happen. We allowed ourselves to do that. But it was a hard road getting there. We all know that.

With the three second-half takeaways is that the game right there?

It was certainly a big factor. We had the wind in that quarter. I don't know if it was a huge factor, but it was a little bit of a factor. It's always an important stat. But two years ago, it wasn't life or death. This year, it's been life or death for us.

On the long touchdown play to Clint, Clint said that it was a new play and he wasn't quite sure which route to run.

We better put it in then. (laughter)

No, that was one of those deals where we were running on the fly at that point. Drew made the call on the fly. He's got a little magic to him.

Was the quick snapped planned?

We were in the two-minute mode. He had the wheel at that point. He's got a way of doing things. He's an amazing guy.

Still you start realizing what was at stake once you heard the Ohio State score?

I started wondering, is that good for them? Is that good for us? I'm not good at those games. So, I don't spend too much time on it.

I figured if anything it might be to their advantage. They'd been thinking about the title all season long, and rightfully so. They've got a veteran ball club. They've been playing extremely well all season long. Where as we're just trying to get one foot in front of the other. That's kind of been our mode of operation. That's OK, too.

Has this been your most satisfying season?

It would rank up there. I don't know how you top it just because of the challenges we had to face this year.

It gets back to the people I work with. (Voice starts to break up) I can't...you know, the will that they've all exhibited. It's pretty impressive.

Does this end all of those rumors about me going someplace else? Does this take it off the shelf for awhile? (laughter)

It makes it worse. (laughter)

Why? That's two out of three (Big Ten Championship) trophies, right? Two out of three years. This isn't a bad place. I don't know if you guys have noticed it or not. I think it's a pretty good place to be.

Have you ever been part of a scene like that aferwards or even seen anything like it?

It was pretty special. These are moments you can't buy. That's one of the great things about sports. You can't buy them, and they're hard to earn. The credit goes to our players.

Drew throws two picks and your defense stops them from scoring. That's got to take some wind out of their sails.

It had to be tough, especially down where they got the turnovers. To not come out with points, that's tough. It's kind of like one of those deals where you walk the guy in the ninth, a lot of times those can hurt you.

This is such a departure from the Arizona State game. Did you find yourself having a talkj with anybody on the plane coming back wondering where does this go from here?

Nah. I'm not a big talker, win or lose, after games. I just kind of keep to myself and try to sort some things out.

But one thing that I learned in sports is that no matter what happens, good or bad, you go back to work the next day. That's one of the great things about sports. You have another opportunity. We demonstrated that we're not into radical changes. We believe in certain principles as a football team. We just try to adhere to those things and use those to guide us.

Did you catch any looking at the big picture after that game or Michigan?

I never sensed it. The biggest change that I saw was after the Arizona State game we started to carry ourselves a little bit like a football team. I don't know how to articulate it exactly. It wasn't like we were directionless.

That game caused us to maybe galvanize our efforts a little bit. We started carrying ourselves with a little bit more tempo. We started to practice better. It didn't necessarily show up in the Michigan game statistically, but we acted like a football team more so in that game. We hurt ourselves with turnovers. But from that time on we grew each and every week. The turning point would have to be the Arizona State game.

That maybe helped more than it hurt in the long run.

I think so. That's the great thing about losing. You hate to lose a ball game anytime. But it's like anything in life, if something in a negative vane happens that was unwanted or unplanned, it all gets down to how you respond.

When you're working with the right kind of people a lot of times that response is going to be positive. It's never been about winning or losing with us. It's just about the effort and the investment we make.

What do you know officially or unofficially about the bowls?

There are probably some guys in the room you could ask that know more than me. But I know we're playing in January. We locked that one. And don't think that I didn't think about teh possibility of Ohio State slipping in passed us if we lost today. That is one thing that I allowed myself to think about. I've seen that movie before in 1983.

But that's why President Bush and Senator Kerry wanted to win Ohio more than they wanted to win Iowa. I can do the math. So, we helped ourselves there.

What gave you the confidence on Tuesday that you might be able to do this today?

Our team has matured. We practiced really well this week.

We always cover a couple of points before we start our meetings. We'll just have a group general team meeting. We hit on the key things. It's kind of like the Minnesota game two years ago. Our guys really had the focus you need and really handled themselves well.

Could you talk about your injury situation?

Marcus (Paschal) is the only guy we're concerned about right now. I can't tell you much other than he's got a lower leg injury. We'll probably know more on Monday.

How about Simmons?

I don't think we went backwards. How did that happen? But that really surprised me. I wasn't sand bagging on Tuesday. He didn't really inspire confidence on Sunday the way he was worked out. It's hard to imagine a running back being effective if by Sunday isn't looking good. But he really had a pretty good week of practice. And it looked like he ran pretty well today.

What has this season meant to the Ferentz family?

(Brian is) part of that equation when I talked about obstacles. I couldn't be more proud of him as a coach or a dad. I couldn't believe he even played this year. That says a lot about his determination, too. He wanted to get back out there. He didn't want that sixth year.

It's just one more chapter in this book. We've had a lot of guys that really have overcome some obstacles and stayed the course.

How long do you give the guys off now?

We'll get together a week from Monday. So, there's no 24-hour rule this time. They've earned this. They should feel real good about themselves and what they've accomplished.

How was the locker room celebration?

Pretty good. It's a great feeling. When you take the hard road, it's even better. And we've certainly done that.


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