Michigan is a good football team. I was able to catch the last quarter Saturday. It was a great game with two outstanding teams. Clearly a lot of talent on the field in all phases for both teams. It was a hard fought game. It's not fun to lose that one, but a great one to win for Michigan. If there were any questions about Michigan's capabilities they answered that on Saturday. They looked outstanding. Typical of Michigan, they have a talented football team. They are imposing on both lines. I don't think we have seen anyone bigger and I doubt we will unless we play an NFL game sometime this season, on either line. They are very experienced on both lines as well, so that is a heck of a head start.
They have some outstanding performers back from last year. Typical of them, it seems like they graduate a great player like Braylon Edwards and Mario Manningham steps in there and does a great job. They always seem to come up with some outstanding players. I don't know where you start. They have great receivers, tight ends are both very good and Henne is back at quarterback and had a great year last year and is playing well. One of their key players, Mike Hart, with all due respect to the other backs, he gives them something extra. My sense watching the fourth quarter the other day, you saw that one run and everyone feeds off his energy and toughness.
On defense, they are very veteran and talented up front. Excellent linebackers and probably the only chink in the armor is they have had some injuries at safety, and I am sure that affected them early on this year. But they have good players back there and my guess is they have a chance to get a couple back that have been hurt. Their special teams, you start with Steve Breaston on kickoff returns and punt returns. You have your hands full right there. It's an excellent football team, about what you would expect and we will have our work cut out for us and that starts today.
The last two things, I think it was a few years back where we had some problems with sportsmanship with some of our fans. I think it was more in terms of a fashion statement, I think we have moved away from that and hopeful. It will be a great and energetic crowd on Saturday and I hope everyone continues to adhere to the traditions of Iowa. We have great fans that are supportive and enthusiastic about the home team. I can't imagine there being a problem and our fans will do a great job there.
The other thing I brought a visual aid for you. You guys ask me why I like to be at Iowa. I don't read the internet as you know, but I get stuff handed to me by people in the office. I am reading about Michigan as much as I can. It is a tough audience up there. Last week they played Penn State, 8th in the nation, undefeated. It looked like a good game, everyone seemed pretty happy. I noticed the quarterback, coaching staff and the total team got B- grades. I hope like hell these guys don't bring their A game to Kinnick Stadium. It's a tough crowd up there. I am glad that I am not getting graded. But I have not seen the grades you guys have given me, so it might be worse. You get a B- for beating Penn State in a game like that. What does it take to get an A. That is why I am thankful today. I am thankful I didn't get a B- for something like that.
Q: Do you put more into this game since it's Michigan with a bye week next week?
Kirk Ferentz: I think with the kind of football team they have, you better put everything into it for us to have a chance. Hopefully our players understand that and we will find out starting today. It will take a total effort by everybody for us to make this a football game. It's fortunate that we have a bye week. We have been looking at this thing as an eight-week schedule. We talked about that in August as a team, and Michigan ends up being the 8th game. Regardless, hopefully we can finish with a good week this week and win, lose or draw, we will make sure we rest our players next week for the last three weeks.
Q: Are you happy with the play of your special teams?
Ferentz: We are really making progress. Outside of our kickoff return area, we have been solid. We are looking at kickoff return and we need to address it. It has hurt us at times and has not helped us much. We need to make everything an edge if we can. Outside of that we have performed pretty well and pretty consistently. As you know that is important for us.
Q: Do you expect to run much 3-4 this week, due to Michigan's offensive make up?
Ferentz: If we did, we might end up in the end zone after three plays. They are so big and physical up front. They will throw the football, but we are playing a team that plays with an actual tight end near the center. They will play with two backs in the backfield. I don't see that being a big part. On that subject, basically we do that to match against certain personnel groups. We have seen a lot of spread offense and we will see more before the year is out. We will see some this week, but the guys are doing a good job of it.
Q: This seems to be a golden age for quarterbacks in this league. How does this year compare to your past experiences?
Ferentz: I can't remember an era like that. I am not great at history, but we have had years where we have had good players. That might be why there are so many dangerous teams now. When you have a quarterback that can do a lot of things, it gives you an edge. I think you look around week to week, it seems like you are seeing a lot of good quarterbacks in our conference.
Q: Do you think that has anything to do with spread offenses being in vogue?
Ferentz: It's a national trend I think, starting with high school football. It's hard to find fullbacks and tight ends on film. It goes right to the NFL draft; it's hard to find good fullbacks or tight ends. I think it's easier to find place kickers with the outbreak of youth soccer. All of the passing leagues now, 7 on 7 have become big. There are never enough passers out there, but there are more kids throwing at earlier ages than ever before.
Q: With all due respect to the Iowa State game, is the Michigan game becoming the marquee game for the fans?
Ferentz: I really can't speak to that. I am not great on comparing one to the other. They are both big games. Any time you play Michigan, you know you are playing a tough and talented team that is well coached and plays hard. This is no different. I have 16 years here and I can't remember one that wasn't. The Iowa State thing speaks for itself. It's a heck of a series.
Q: Last year's game at Michigan seemed like Drew Tate's coming out party.
Ferentz: It was a big departure from the week before. That week before, I don't know how we got on that subject recently. I can't remember if we cracked three digits on total offense. That was a major step in Drew's career. That being said, we had a few turnovers and some problems, so it was not exactly like we had a great day. We were really overwhelmed up there not unlike the week before, but it was progress and that was key at that time. Fortunately we were able to build from that point on. It was a day of significant improvement. Go back to the defining moment when his helmet came off, that speaks to his toughness and his competitiveness. That was a little bit of a defining moment in his career.
Q: Did the team's attitude towards Drew change at that point?
Ferentz: I don't think there is any question. If your quarterback doesn't demonstrate toughness, it's hard to have confidence in him. That was not scripted, but it was a graphic play to demonstrate what Drew has.
Q: Does it surprise you that statistically, the league does not have many great defenses?
Ferentz: If you look on tape, you see a lot of good defensive players and teams. Michigan is a great example. When you have some playmakers that are involved, statistics don't always tell the whole story. When you watch a tape, you can see good defense. Then you give up a play to a Braylon Edwards. Teams in the NFL give those up, too. When you have playmakers and some of the quarterbacks we are talking about…I have not studied it, yardage is up a little bit right now on offense as a league. I have not looked at it. It would not surprise me, just because of some of the guys involved. You try to defend some of those guys, sometimes you have a perfect defense and great players make great plays sometimes.
Q: Can you comment on the state of Big Ten standings?
Ferentz: To me, it's where it was four weeks ago. It's a big huddle right now. My guess is that it will not be a clear picture until the last two weeks of the season due to the number of capable teams. It will be a long bumpy road I think.
Q: How does that add to the suspense of a season?
Ferentz: I think it's great for the fans and a pain in the neck for coaches. I like the old days back in the 1980's, there were at least a couple teams in June that you had a good chance of getting. I think it's great. The competition is great. The bottom line is that you better be ready week to week. I think that is true for most people and it is for us. We are right in the middle of the pack. I am not talking about the standings, but just overall. For us to have a chance, we have to do everything right and that is true this week.
Q: What will Michigan tell you about the progress of your team?
Ferentz: It's another test. It's not complex. We are playing a talented team and just beat the 8th team in the country. Anyone that saw the game knows that you are playing a great team. It will be a heck of a test for us.
Q: Alert has commented about the great blocking by the receivers. Does that help out the running game?
Ferentz: It helps. If your run game is having success, it goes beyond the front guys and the fullback. Everyone has to block. You look at Denver, who runs the ball well, the receivers do a great job. Kansas City's receivers do good too. They work hard at it. Typically if you are having some success with your run game, the receivers have to be contributing. A lot of times that is the difference between a four yard run or a ten yard run.
Q: How does this Michigan defense compare to last year's
Ferentz: They look imposing to me outside of their injuries at safety. That being said, their young guys jumped in there and played. One is one that we tried very hard to recruit and we thought he was an excellent player. If you are playing as a true frosh at Michigan, it means you are good. So at least we were right in our evaluation. When they lose a player, they have a good one coming in. That is true at a lot of positions. You look at receiver there over the last four years. Walker graduates, OK, whew. We got rid of him. Here comes the next challenge. Take your pick now.
Q: Compare Breaston to Tedd Ginn.
Ferentz: Ted Ginn…they are both dangerous. That is fair to say. I saw Breaston play one of the best high school games I have ever seen in 2001. He returned punts, played quarterback. I thought he was a phenomenal high school football player playing with great heart. The only thing he wasn't is that he was thin. He has had some ankle or foot problems for his career, but what we saw the other night is about what you would expect. He is a great player with the potential to break a game in a few categories. He is a threat.
Q: There are some grumblings in Ann Arbor that he has not had the season that some expected, not getting ball enough.
Ferentz: I don't know about that. I know he has had some injury problems in the past. I am not sure that he has been full speed at all times. He looked pretty healthy the other night. That is not good news. He is a great football player.
Q: Are you surprised with how Albert has developed into a receiving threat?
Ferentz: To me, it just shows you how much I know. I thought probably one of his strengths in high school was what he did in the passing game. I am pleasantly surprised at how good a runner is, and I did not see that. He got here, what he did in the passing game did not surprise us initially. I was pleasantly surprised at the kind of running he has showed. He is put together and he is hard nosed. Albert is a heck of a young man. He has a lot of charisma and he is a good leader.
Q: When you get into a shootout mode on offense, does that change your strategies?
Ferentz: If you get caught in one of those, you go with the game. Shootout mode or a pitchers duel. That is part of football; you just play to the game. You have plans and hopefully you are flexible to be able to have success regardless of the direction. Sometimes that is easier said than done.
Q: Does the onslaught of so many diverse quarterbacks in the league change your recruiting philosophies on defense?
Ferentz: I think you always need speed. We have felt that from day one. As a rule, that is a priority for us. Our first priority is getting guys that make plays. Howard Hodges didn't fit any particular mold. He was 6-2, 200 pounds. Or a guy like Bob Sanders who may didn't do this or that, but was a football player that made plays. That is the most important thing. If you have a guy that does that, that is a good starting point.
Q: What is your take on the ‘Black Out' for Saturday?
Ferentz: I haven't thought a lot about it. I think our fans will be great regardless. I think it's a great idea. It's something that everyone can grab onto a little bit It's going to be hard to make it much better inside Kinnick, but I am anxious to see it. I know our fans will be just fantastic and I just hope we can live up to our end.
Q: Is there something different about Kinnick now from when you first got here?
Ferentz: I don't think so. It's a continual progress. It's like the hospital, there used to be rec fields over there. One of my great memories was coming out of that chute the first time in 1981 for the Nebraska game. That was overwhelming. It's still a thrill to be in there. Every now and then you look around and take it in and enjoy it. It's fantastic, and I was told about the Kinnick crowds before I got here from a guy that had coached in the Big Ten. He was right about that, and he talked about our fans on the road as well, and he was right about that. He had coached at Minnesota. Things have not changed. It's nice to be hom.
Q: Do you like where your bye week is this year?
Ferentz: We have been grinding at a pretty good clip, our players have. Some years are different. In 2002 our break was at the end which hurt us. We were clipping along without any injuries. We had a rhythm going. Minimal injuries and I think we were able to…well I don't want to say we didn't practice as hard, but we were smart and got the job done. Right now, we have to tap out in every area. I think the break will be good, to get away. That is healthy. Our coaches need that, too. Then hopefully we can come back, because those last three weeks will be just as tough as the last four have been. You strategize no matter where the break is. If you don't have one, you make it the best thing. It's nice to give the guys some time away and let them recharge a little bit.
Q: Do you have any specific plans?
Ferentz: Oh yeah. We have it all mapped out and it's a matter of tweaking it a hair. I think we are ready to go.
Q: Do you lose that break with 12th game?
Ferentz: Right now they are talking about it. As coaches, we are unanimous in being against that, but I am sure next year we will lose the break week. In the future, in fairness to the players, a bye would be nice. The players that I have surveyed here would all prefer to start a week earlier, keep the bye week and they want Thanksgiving off. That is an important week for the guys to get out of here and get away.
Q: Who determines that?
Ferentz: The Big Ten. They will tell us what to do, like everything else. It is a national thing, too. I shouldn't say the Big Ten. They have to come to an agreement when we can start a season and that kind of thing. It is out of my hands. We are allowed to have opinions.
Q: Talk about Mario Manningham.
Ferentz: He committed to them early on in the process. He was a great high school player. You are never quite sure how a true freshman will play, but it looks like he is doing OK. Wow. That guy can play.
Q: Their safeties have been injured, how much does that seep into a scouting report and game planning?
Ferentz: The bottom line is that there is a lot of communication that goes on in most teams' secondary. My guess is that is the biggest concern you always worry about, people on the same page and reacting to certain situations, motions adjustments, those types of things. Sometimes there are a lot of subtleties. From our standpoint, that is what you are concerned about. When you have someone who is not experienced back there. When you have two guys that are new, it makes it dicier. It can affect your game planning. Obviously if you can catch someone missing an adjustment, you hope to capitalize on it. Spy vs. Spy, we have to be careful to not put ourselves in a position where we get where we are not sure how to react. That is what you worry about. Our thinking has been to worry about us more than the opponent and have a proper response if they blow something. I don't think we will see that.
Q: Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the 1985 game. Do you remember much about that one?
Ferentz: I remember pretty much everything about it. The anticipation was great. The fans went through the same thing. It was one of those games that lived up to the anticipation. It was a great football game. I am a little fuzzy if it was a 3:30 or a 2:30 kickoff. Was it 3:30? I knew I could count on you Bob (Brooks), you helped me out on that 1923 Illinois win. It was kind of surreal. It was dark early, the lights came into effect. It was a great football game. The teams went back and forth, Larry Station's s top was a critical on the third and one, he ran through the left guard-center gap and made a great play. They punted. We had a holding penalty in that drive which I am still ticked off about, not that anyone cares. We overcame those things and our guys executed that field goal and Rob drilled it through there. It was pandemonium after. It was a great experience and I am thrilled to have been a part of that.
Q: Many of the players on your team were not even born them. Do you use it to motivate them?
Ferentz: Most of our players can't remember three weeks ago or care about it, let alone 20 years ago. It's part of the Hawkeye tradition, but players are more worried about Saturday. I hope they are proud of it. I don't know that it will help us this week. Probably not. We try to make them appreciate the traditions here.
Q: You are running the ball much better heading into the Michigan game than you were last year going into that game.
Ferentz: We are healthier that way this year. We are gaining ground right now. We are further along than at that point last year. The bottom line is that we are going to have to play a great game and our best have to play their best and the others will have to help out. It will take a total team effort. When we have beaten them, that is what has happened. It's a great challenge for our guys. They look forward to it.