Ferentz: LSU a Big Challenge for Iowa

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz met with the Iowa media on Monday, his last press conference until after Christmas and his last press conference in Iowa. The next time we speak with him will be in Orlando. Ferentz talked about the challenges Iowa will be facing with LSU, as well as the health status of his team and how the 'Saban to Miami' rumors might affect this game, if at all.

Opening statement from Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz

Things are moving along here. Sorry to pull everyone away from their Holiday shopping. We will have a quick conference today.

We have been very busy with recruiting. That is always a balancing act when you have recruiting and bowl preparation. We had a big group of recruits in this last weekend. We have to utilize the month of December right up until the end, because of our January break schedule. We come back so late, that if we tried to wait until then, it would really cramp us a bit in terms of recruiting. The flip side of that is that it makes it a little bit tougher to get ready for a bowl game, because we were hosting, 12, 13, 14 recruits on campus I think this past weekend, so we have been balancing a few things. At least as of this morning, we were able to anchor in and focus on LSU a little bit and trying to get that preparation going a little bit.

We have our hands full, now it's narrowing our sites and get ready for the bowl game and see if we can make the plane on time Thursday. I know it leaves Thursday, and hopefully we will be on it.

What is the health status of this team?

I think overall, we are doing fairly well. We have some bumps, and right now Pete McMahon is the only guy who has not been practicing (turf toe). We are hoping to see him out there by the end of the week. If he can make it back by the end of the week, we should be OK. Hopefully, he will and hopefully everyone else will stay healthy. Simmons is practicing full speed, which is good. Everyone else seems to be doing well.

Will Marques Simmons start?

We really have not made that decision or had that discussion. We will probably go with Sam; he has been the guy that has been starting, but we will play both of them, obviously. Probably the same thing with Aaron Mickens and Tom Busch; both those guys will play also.

How many workouts have you had so far?

We have had seven practices. We kind of sprinkle them in during December. The guys finished finals on Friday, so we went both Saturday and Sunday. Today the focus is better because recruiting is over. The workouts have been quicker than normal, we haven't really had any meetings to speak of. We had a logistical meeting yesterday to just talk about the schedule for the next 13 days or so.

Now we will start looking at LSU tape, talk about the game plan, start installing that, etc. I think the players are anxious to get moving on our opponent.

At what point will you know the academic status of your players?

That is a great question. Whenever they tell us, I guess. I am not really too concerned about it, but you never know. Right not I am not real concerned, based on what I know at this point.

Talk about the success that this year's class of seniors has had. They have won 37 games over a four year span.

I think it's really remarkable, and it impacted me a week ago at the team banquet. I was sitting down in the normal seats and looking up at the dais and there are 15 guys sitting there. We have had bigger classes over the last two years. I was concerned about that in the summer and preseason, the size of the class. All of them have interesting stories, some real good and some tough ones in there, too.

So I think that it has been a remarkable class from that way. I think Matt Roth is the only guy that has been here less than five years.

You look at what has been accomplished in their time here, they can all be proud of that. Certainly what they did this year I think is close to remarkable, because of the challenges that we had to face. Typically you have a senior class in the mid twenties, but these guys gave us great leadership and persevered through some tough challenges.

How does Roth Compare to Spears?

Different style of players. Erasmus James is probably somewhere in between. Spears is a big, talented guy. Matt has a different style of play, but it's like we talked about when we were comparing Roth or James; you can't go wrong with any of them. All three of them are legitimate all Americans. They have some other guys on this line that are impressive. All four of them, I have not seen any weaknesses and they have a couple of back ups that are pretty impressive, too. They have done a good job recruiting, which is evident.

They are pretty talented. To me, they are as talented as anyone we have seen. We felt that way about USC, and we play some good teams during the year, and I think that is what we are looking at again. We are going to have a heck of a challenge on our hands, and we are going to have to find a way to play our best game, because that is what it's going to take this time. It has kind of been that way for the last six or seven weeks, but this is one more log on the fire. A big log.

Is there a team they (LSU) compare to from the Big Ten?

Defensively, they remind me of us in some regards, but they are a little more active. They play some different fronts than we do. They are not exactly like Wisconsin, but they remind you of them because they are good up front. It starts up front with LSU, Wisconsin was the same way and we are the same way; all three of those lines are pretty veteran and very talented. But they have excellent players around them. They have solid linebackers, excellent corners and their safeties are active and tough.

Offensively, not the same as Minnesota, but a little bit like Minnesota. They run the ball extremely well. They are three deep at the running back position, and the first two guys have obscene yards per carry averages. They have big receivers that are pretty talented. I think a big key for them is the way that the quarterback finished the season, so that gives them an opportunity there. They are solid on special teams and they are well coached.

How does their defense remind you of Iowa? Do they blitz much?

I guess it's more so of their style of play up front. They are really physical, they take on blocks. They are not a team that is going to shoot the gaps. They are physical, and you are going to have to try to block them, which is a challenge. That is how they remind me of us.

They play different fronts and they are more active in the blitz game. They get their secondary involved with some stuff. They will bring the backers, but they are more secondary oriented, and creative. Nick is an excellent defensive football coach, and has been for quite some time. You can see that on the tape. They give people problems.

They are giving up about 250 yards per game and 16 points per game, playing against very good competition. You take the Georgia game out of the mix, there is not a lot to look at there.

Will they have one of the best offensive lines you have faced?

Minnesota is a very effective and efficient offensive line, Michigan did a good job up front. Minnesota as much as anybody ran the ball more effectively than anyone in the league. Wisconsin is the same thing. There are probably some parallels there.

Are they unique in that they are highly ranked and they play two quarterbacks?

My read on it would be early in the season they graduated some good players. They had young players at a lot of positions, but they all have experience now. That was the one position that they could not get settled on. My guess is they probably would have preferred to play the younger guy initially, but Randle just did a great job. He ended up bailing them out in a couple of games, something Nick talked about a few weeks back. It looks to me like it's his offense.

Your name has come up for the NFL in the past, but that has been after the season is over. Nick Saban's name is out there right now, during the bowl prep. Is that a distraction?

Um, I don't know. It would seem like they are used to it. That was bandied about last year a bit. I can't remember two years ago, but it has been frequently. My guess is that they are taking it in stride.

It sounds more and more like he is going to go to Miami…
It looks that way, from where I am sitting.
Why do top flight college coaches, who are in good situations try to take on NFL challenges?

That would be something you would have to ask Nick, if he does in fact take it. I would say this; if he ends up being offered the job and takes it, I won't be surprised. If he ends up being offered the job and not taking it, I would not be surprised, either. I don't want to speak for Nick, other than he is in a great situation. He has recruited extremely well, that is easy to see on their films. They have won a lot of ballgames during his time there and they have been extremely tough the last few years. They have things in place there to have great success.

I guess what it would come down to would be personal reasons for him at this given point, because he does have a great job. From what I know, if the Miami thing comes about, that is going to be a very unique opportunity, and that might be what would cause him to think about it. It's not standard opportunity. It's going to be a chance for him to really carve out his niche, much like he did when he went to LSU.

If in fact he ends up doing that, that is probably what would be the thing that would motivate him to do it. From what I know, he will have a blank canvass and a chance to set up the whole organization. I know Nick a little bit, and my guess is that might be attractive to him, or cause him to think about it. I wouldn't want to guess whether or not he will take it. There is probably some financial security involved there, too. Not that he is on food stamps right now. But it's a pretty dramatic increase.

College coaches going to the pros have had mixed results in the NFL, even if they have had gaudy winning percentage in college. Why is that?

The field is a little bit more level in the NFL. Once you get good, it's tough to stay good, because of the nature of the rules right now with the salary cap and free agency. That has changed the scenery in the NFL. The other thing is that it's a great benefit to have been in the NFL if you are going to go from college to the pros, because that is a different game.

Not so much the football aspect, though there are some changes there, but trying to piece the whole thing together. That part has evolved. Having a ‘capologist' is as important as having a good defensive coordinator. There are a lot of things that go into putting a good NFL team together. It has become a real art to have success.

What effect could all of this have on the football game?

I don't know. Coach Saban didn't coach Michigan State in the Bowl game in 2000, and they played fine without him. LSU is a good football team. They don't have a lot of seniors, but they have a lot of juniors that are playing, guys that have played 11 games well this season. He has an excellent coaching staff. My guess is that they are going to be ready no matter what happens. My guess is that the team will be motivated, as will the coaches. My guess is we will get their best shot, which is a little scary; they are pretty good.

If Saban takes the job, he is not going to bring all of the LSU coaches with him, and the LSU AD has said they would go outside to hire; is that the recipe for a distracted staff?

It could be, certainly. I learned a long time ago that head coaches usually land on their feet, and assistants have a tougher road. I figured that out about 20 years ago. That is the nature of this business. This can be a tough business. I don't know if Nick would take his whole staff with him or not. That is their business, not mine. It can be a distraction, certainly.

If that would pan out, survival instinct kicks in. It's tough to do two jobs. I know that, from experience.

Are you feeling slighted? You are up here talking about somebody else?

No, I love it. This is great; let's keep it going. I have been trying to figure out how Pete Carroll avoided all of this crap two years ago. This is perfect.

So then you are going to LSU then? (joke)

Oh yeah, sure. I think a rumor started three days ago. Somebody gave me an Internet report. I appreciate nobody going down that road. That is great.

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