Kirk on the Side: 11/01 Transcript

Kirk Ferentz spoke about preparing for a spread offense, the importance of special teams, and much more in the always candid Kirk on the Side. Read what the coach had to say in this premium transcript.

Q: What do you think odds are of that headline making it over to Evanston?

Kirk Ferentz: They're good. I just how they realize, fortunately, let's hope they realize that we didn't write the headlines. I know nobody here did either, I know that. I mean, please. It'd be great if it was that easy, it's not.

Q: What was your first thought when you saw that?

Ferentz: Just what I typically think if I read something (like that). (Pause) Do you want an honest answer on that?

Q: It's up to you.

Ferentz: Probably someone that really doesn't understand competition but understands numbers, probably wrote that. If I had to take a guess.

Q: Sounds like every copy editor I've ever known.

Ferentz: (Laughs) Like I said, that kind of thinking gets people beat.

Q: Do you have to say anything to your players about that?

Ferentz: Yeah, I'll bring it up, yeah sure. I just hope they're more sports-knowledgeable than the author of that headline.

Q: It's funny, stuff like that makes your job harder, you have no control over it.

Ferentz: I don't know how hard it makes it, but I've got to think they know too.

Q: Anything to stoke the fire over there.

Ferentz: Right. It's like last week, you get a B- for beating the number 8 team in the country, you get a B-. You're like, "Ok, wow." It really doesn't matter how you do it if you do it. You probably deserve at least a B.

Q: On the teleconference today, John L. Smith was talking about the proliferation of offenses, and he kind of said it was Joe Tiller's fault. Is it fair to say that? He was joking, but was this trend coming anyway?

Ferentz: I don't know. I go back to when Coach Fry was noted by some as changing thinking a little bit offensively. Realistically, nobody threw it like Illinois in the 80s. How many throws did Wilson have out there in 82? They set the stadium passing record and scored 7 points I think. It was up there, you needed an abacus. You young guys won't understand that one. It's been around. I really think it's just kind of mushrooming now because 7-on-7 leagues and tournaments, those are so popular. It's kind of gotten a little bit of a snowball effect going on right now.

Q: In the Big Ten though, doesn't a team have to be sound in the running game? It gets cold, the weather becomes a factor.

Ferentz: It depends on your beliefs. I would subscribe to that theory. It's interesting. You've heard me talk about Purdue. It was interesting how they kind of did a little subtle shifting the last couple of years in terms of what they were doing. Ultimately it comes down to your personnel and what is best for your personnel, what can you do there. To follow up on your thought, you remember John Jenkins down there at Houston, this is the 80s. I'm flipping it on, must have been a Thursday night game or something, they had the ball 1st and 99 yards, 2 feet. They were in the run and shoot. That's what they did, that's what they believed in, they didn't have a fullback or tight end on their roster. It worked for a while for them. For a while that was all you read about was their stuff. You have to be able to cover every situation that comes up. We're seeing a lot of teams do it pretty effectively. Michigan State, Northwestern.

Q: It seems like personnel can only go so far. Your personnel fit your scheme, shouldn't they?

Ferentz: You hope so. That being said, sometimes you get into a situation where you think you recruited this, and you get (something else). You have to make some subtle adjustments sometimes. I think that's one of the reasons Joe Tiller is such a great coach. They were so great on defense that they played a little more conservative on offense. You just kind of flow with your team, play to your team strengths.

Q: What about rule changes, that was brought up today too? You're allowed to do more as an offensive lineman. Does that help also expedite the passing game?

Ferentz: I think so. I heard the comment he made, although the holding statistics are fairly constant. You could argue there's more of it going on now than earlier. I think offensive football has opened up a bit that way.

Q: How strong are the similarities between Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern offensively?

Ferentz: To a degree, they're similar. They're different, but they're similar. Each of them have their own personalities or certain things that they do that are a little bit different. If you want to talk about having 3 or 4 guys out there in pass receiving, the spread positions, there are a lot of constants there. You're seeing everybody do it to a degree. Not everybody, but a high percentage of people jump in 4 wide at sometimes, that kind of thing. Again, with 85 scholarships, it gets into a little bit of a juggling act in terms of, "If we are going to be a 4 wide team, we need 15 receivers on scholarship." Texas Tech, so can we afford to go out and get a tight end or two, develop a tight end of a fullback. Those are issues you have to come with. It's a little bit like the NFL, college and the NFL are continuing to merge in a lot of directions. How you choose to put your team together really kind of dictates the direction you go.

Q: People have said that defensive backs are the hardest guys to find in recruiting sometimes. Has this made it easier to evaluate?

Ferentz: Not really, because they're still hard to see on film. Hard to see them playing pass defense on film, I guess. As you know, I'm not wild about going out and scouting during the season, but that is one argument you could make, it's good to go out and see a guy play live. A lot of times they're just not on the film. I read an article somewhere in the past 2 years about the NFL, that's the hardest thing for them is to evaluate corners. If they're having a hard time with the access they have, you can imagine how tough it is for colleges. A lot of times your best corners are playing something else in high school, so you have to project and all that kind of stuff too.

Q: Talk about Schlicher and the year he's having, 11-13, which is a great year. It could be overshadowed because he isn't out there as often. 13 field goals in a year, you guys have been fortunate in the red zone. Talk about the year he's having.

Ferentz: To me, in my mind, it wasn't Kyle's best game, statistically, but the Purdue game a year ago, to me, that's where he really looked like he felt comfortable, felt like he belonged in a Big Ten situation. I don't mean he didn't prior to that, but it looked like boy, he really has his confidence now. Ever since then, he's really practiced well and gone out and competed like we've hoped. I'm not overly big on statistics, I'm more just on how a guy is performing when he gets called upon. It may get overlooked because of that, but it's not being overlooked by us. It's like anything else, when you're called upon, we need you. There's no way to dictate how many times you're going to get called upon.

Q: Could you ever see yourself signing more than 1 kicker or punter in the same class?

Ferentz: I don't think more than one of each. We made the decision with Kyle to bring him in knowing we still had Nate for a couple, I think that's possible. It's kind of like getting caught without a quarterback. If you get caught without a kicker or punter, it can make life real interesting real fast. Those guys can really impact a game, positively or negatively. It's one thing to have a guy that's okay, but if you have a guy who's really hurting the football team, it just changes things so much, it really hurts.

Q: You talked a lot about your kick return team dragging a bit, what's wrong with them?

Ferentz: I think two things, we're not getting as many good return opportunities, we're still paying for the success we've had a couple years ago. Then on the other hand, when we've had the opportunities, for whatever reason, we're not clicking right now. I'd pass that off as a team thing too. It seems to be. We talked about when we were struggling in the passing game earlier, it might be the front line, it might be our middle guys, it might be the guys returning, it just seems like it's been something every time. A lot of times it's something different or something else. It's a little frustrating right now, we just haven't been able to mesh and develop any confidence as a unit yet. We're pretty far into the season, so I think we'd all be feeling better if we had that one solved.

Q: Did you spend some time on that?

Ferentz: Yeah, we did, we spent some time on that.

Q: During the bye week?

Ferentz: During the bye week and the week before, even.

Q: Do you practice that live?

Ferentz: Not live, but we invest meeting time and practice time in it. To me, it's a matter of coordination and timing still.

Q: You talk about touchdowns, but how big is field position?

Ferentz: Real big. I go back to Northwestern game in 2000, and the Penn State game the week before. Our punting game was huge in those two ball games Jason (Baker) did a great job, especially in the Northwestern game. I forget how many inside the 5 or 10 punts he had, but you play a team that's prolific. The more you make a team work the long field, the more you can work the short field, especially in the big games.

Q: What did Michigan do to Northwestern in the second half? Personnel or did they just do different things?

Ferentz: No, I think it's just they played very very well. Northwestern hurt themselves a little bit, uncharacteristically, some holding penalties, they didn't get the sacks on Basanez, but you create that long yardage situation, the 1st and 20, 2nd and 20, 2nd and 15 situations, it makes your task tougher.

Q: If a team has someone who's prone to hold, can you take advantage of that?

Ferentz: It starts with alerting the officials and tape and all that. We don't waste too much time on that one. Try to play through it.

Q: You guys have had good success against spread teams, for the most part this year. Maybe Ohio State was an aberration. It seemed like when you guys had Bob (Sanders), that's pretty easy to say about him, he was valuable because he was versatile. He could drop back, he could go up to the line of scrimmage.

Ferentz: Bob's an eraser. I don't think it's a coincidence they're doing so well on defense right now, he's full speed and health and all that. If you got a Bob or you got a Doss or a Polamalu, guys like that. Any great player gives you a chance to impact all other 10 guys. You don't get guys like that too often.

Q: Is that position against the spread, more important?

Ferentz: I'd argue, to me, it's the way we play especially, you need all 11. I'm not sure I'd place a stronger emphasis on one or the other. When they start spreading the ball around, spraying it out there, certainly guys are going to have to make plays, they're going to have to make plays, more so than the lineman. It depends on how the team attacks it, but yeah.

Q: Do you talk to your team or mention at all that you can't take a bowl game or anything for granted at this point. Obviously you need one win.

Ferentz: It goes back to August, I think like every other team in our league, our goal is to be champions of the league. We always start there, but we also explain that we can't be champs of your league until you become bowl eligible and have a winning season. First things first, you have to overcome that hurdle before you can look beyond. I think that's where we're sitting right now, starting the month of November. There are still all kinds of good opportunities out there for us. First things first, all 3 of these games are big, obviously, but there are none bigger than the one right in front of us. All those clichés are true, and that's really where we're at.

Q: Is it safe to say (Scott) Chandler has taken his game to a new level recently/

Ferentz: I think so. He's continuing to grow. With Ed being out, certainly, I don't know if it's a thought-out thing, but other guys have to help out with the contributions. He's a good pass receiving tight end, with his size we hope to get some favorable matchups and give him an opportunity to catch some balls. He's continuing to grow.

Q: Is he a better receiver than blocker right now?

Ferentz: I think that's probably more of his forte. He's doing better on the blocking end week in and week out.

Q: You've mentioned and referred to this as a developmental team a few times this year. That said, bowl eligibility and getting to a bowl and getting these extra practices, how big of a deal is that?

Ferentz: I think it's always big. Even if you have a veteran team. First of all, for the obvious reasons, you want your players to be rewarded, it's symbolic of having a successful season. All of us involved in the program have great respect for winning, so that's a starting point. It's always an advantage with younger players, particularly. I don't know how dramatic fifth year seniors are going to make, but certainly younger guys it's another opportunity where you're afforded the opportunity to practice. Otherwise you'd be lifting weights and running around in shorts, it's not quite as good.

Q: So there is no such thing as a bad bowl game?

Ferentz: Yeah, I subscribe to Bill Brashier's quote, "Some are better than others, but there's no such thing as a bad one." I think Bill was right on target with that one.

Q: Regardless of location?

Ferentz: Regardless. As long as it's sanctioned. (Laughs) Some are colder than others, the 83 Gator Bowl. I was going to say, the only one in that category is the 81 or 80 Gator Bowl when I was at Pitt. That was cold, but 83 was colder. Whoa, man.

Q: Do you ever remember a Big Ten season where bowl eligibility was such a big prize? There are 8 teams and 7 spots.

Ferentz: Not that I've been associated with. I'm guessing in 90 or 91, where 4 teams were co-champs. I don't know how the rest of the league was, but I know 4 teams ended up being co-champs. I think all of us probably are thinking the same way. First things first, let's get this, take this step, and then worry about the next one. There are going to be a couple teams on that last week that are going to be lucky enough to be in the mix of it, that's the goal.

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