On the injury front, we have two players to have surgeries. Alex Willcox has been out for several weeks. He is going to have to have some work done on both shoulders and will have his first surgery on Thursday and then Chris Kuehl has been out a few weeks now. He had a hernia problem so they are going to address that on Friday.
Those two are out and outside of that, we are in good shape. We have a bunch of guys nicked and have had that the last few weeks. It's that time of year. At this point, everyone has a legitimate chance to play on Saturday.
Captains this week are Abdul and Chad on defense and Brian and Hinkel on offense. Those will be our four captains for Saturday.
Recapping last week, it was a good win and a hard fought win. A win that we needed. We did not have a lot of time to enjoy it with Minnesota coming to town. The reality of that set in quickly. We have a tough challenge in front of us. From our vantage point, it looks like the best Minnesota team we have faced. We faced a couple of good ones in 2003 and 1999, but this looks like their strongest team we have looked at. We are going to have a real challenge on our hands.
Their numbers speak for themselves offensively. What they are doing scoring points, running the ball, third down efficiency, throwing the ball very well when it is required for them. Then the biggest change I see is defensively, they are playing better than any time I can recall, going back to the 1999 team. They have made some major strides there. They are very experienced, strong and they are really played excellent defense.
We have a heck of a challenge and it will be great to be back home, it will be a great environment Saturday and we will take it from there. We have a lot of work to do between now and then.
Q: Being an offensive line guy, do you appreciate even more how they have been able to consistently run the ball?
Kirk Ferentz: I really do. They have been fun to watch up until Sunday. It has been fun to watch them. It became a little different at that point. The center and the guard have made the press, and rightly so. They made the press guide cover, which does not happen too often for offensive linemen. The whole group plays well. We had a good group in 2002, but we did not have the numbers that they have. You have to throw their tight end in there too, he is an excellent blocker. They do a lot of things with him. They have very good players, a great scheme and I think that shows up when you take Maroney out and they don't miss a beat. That shows you what kind of scheme they have and how the team functions. Throw Maroney in there, he is one of the premiere players in the nation at all positions if not the premiere guy, it will be a handful.
Q: Do you remember Maroney and Barber from last year?
Ferentz: Yeah, I saw some guy flash by our bench there at a sonic rate. It's like Jim Zabel's joke of racing Jesse Owens, he recognized him from behind. That was kind of the deal. Maroney caught our eyes from the first time I saw him on film his freshman year on film. You grabbed the thing quick to see who he was. We knew about Barber. The difference is that he is bigger and stronger now than he was a year ago and every bit as fast and explosive. If you give him a seam at all, you are not going to catch him. He has great, great speed. I have talked to a lot of people that know a lot about football and the consensus is that he is the best back out there. He is a phenomenal football player.
Q: Is this the final exam for a defensive line that has really come along?
Ferentz: We just passed a test and I don't know that we are ready for finals yet. But it's another test. As I have said, I think we have been making progress on our front and that second half we got some momentum. That is the good news, but the sobering news is that you throw in the film and see the challenge in front of us right now. All that being said, we took a positive step. We have hardly arrived, but we are going in the right direction.
Q: Are the Gophers college football's version of the Broncos, where it doesn't matter who is running due to the offensive line?
Ferentz: I think they are great parallels. First of all, their scheme is just outstanding. It's more intricate than the casual observer would give it credit for. They play great team offense, if you will. Everyone is involved. The quarterback does a great job with his fakes after handing off. The scheme is well conceived, the receivers are good blockers, they do a great job blocking away from the football and they are good at the point of attack. They are very athletic and fluid. They can really do a lot of things. Your point is well taken. When Maroney is not playing and their third team guy is the offensive player of the week. We have not gone through that experience before, I think that is the first time it has happened. Russell has done a great job, too and had a great play against Michigan. It gets back to their whole scheme and team doing a great job. When you have a very good team like that, one guy goes down and the other jumps in and you don't miss a lot.; It speaks volumes about the job they have done.
Q: Have you ever seen a center do what Eslinger does, pulling on every play?
Ferentz: Go back to Dermoty Dawson with the Steelers. He played like that, but Eslinger is more of a fullback in a lot of ways. It takes a special guy to do that, a very rare guy. It's hard to do. A lot of teams try to copy it, but to do it with his effectiveness, it's very rare. That is why he is a great player.
Q: How have they lost three league games?
Ferentz: Well, I can give you one quick answer; Penn State. They are like everyone else that has played Penn State with the exception of one team. Ohio State and Penn State, its no coincidence they are atop the league. The Wisconsin game, as we all know, it came down to the last 40 seconds of the game and something happens that does not happen 99 percent of the time. Not unlike our Northwestern loss in some ways, you can draw some parallels. In my mind, seven years, of course in 1999, everyone looked good to us. But this is their best team we have seen.
Q: You have a good running attack, too.
Ferentz: It's one of our team goals is to be in the black this year in running numbers against them. We were -6 last year and still found a way to win. That was the story of last year. I am pretty sure that won't work this year. You are never 100 percent positive, but I am 99.9 percent sure that wont work. We are better there than last year from a year ago so that will be important. That being said, they are a better rush defensive football team than they were a year ago or at any time we have seen them other than 1999. They had a good defensive team in 1999.
Q: Senior day is always full of emotion, but you will be saying goodbye to your son on this day in a sense.
Ferentz: That is always tough when any of the seniors go, and it has been that way from the first day where I had only known those players for less than a calendar year. Any time a senior moves on, that is one of the hard things in college football. But it's part of life and it's a part of what we do. It's an emotional day and when he is out there, it will be special. I would be lying if I said it wasn't. I try not to lie, especially publicly.
Q: Are Abdul and Chad the best linebacker tandem you have coached?
Ferentz: When I was at Pitt we had Hugh Green and Ricky Jackson, but I was a bystander at Pitt. They are outstanding players, I have said that many times, in tandem. More importantly they are just great young guys. That has been the best part of the past seven years. Our best guys on the field that everyone knows have been our best guys. That really helps your football team when you have people like that.
Q: Have you given much thought to what bowl game you might play in?
Ferentz: You folks are doing a great job of critiquing all of the what if's and what have you. One of the coaches was driving back from the game the other night and said something about us going to a January bowl. I figured that would take three cases of epidemic illnesses to teams to get into that situation. We range from there to being the worst team in America in about an eight day span. All that being said, we will worry about those next week. The good news is that it looks like we are going to one now. The only thing that counts now is playing well this weekend.
Q: Were you aware that Bill Snyder was going to retire?
Ferentz: I heard some rumors when I was in Wisconsin that there was a possibility. I guess it's official now. All I can say there is…on one hand you have mixed emotions. I am sorry that he is retiring, but I should not be because Bill feels like it's time to draw it to an end. I feel a little bit older now; two guys that I worked with are both retiring from coaching, so that means that I am getting older. In all seriousness, the first thought I have is what an honor and privilege it was to work with Bill. He treated me extremely well the eight years we worked together and I am appreciative of that. I was a little bit young when I got here. Guys like Bill and Carl Jackson really looked out for me and took care of me. I will always appreciate that. More importantly, the job that he has done there…as amazing as what Barry accomplished in 16 years, Bill's is probably more remarkable. Many of us saw first hand in 1988 just what a tough situation that was. It was a terrible football environment at that time, and what he has done with that program to create a great environment and enthusiasm, and raise expectation levels of the players, all the things that he has been able to do are just phenomenal. He might be the only guy in America that could have gotten it done. At that time, I didn't know if anyone in America that could have done that.
Q: Did you think he was crazy for taking that job?
Ferentz: I thought he was crazy at the time. I will never forget the night he called and told me. We had just driven back from Michigan and had been up there for Thanksgiving dinner with Mary's parents. I was unloading the car and he called and Mary said it was Bill on the phone. Back then, phones were hooked up to the walls. I said to let me get the stuff out of the car and I will call him back. She said it was important. I was in shock. Bill is a private guy, as you know. I had no idea. I left here on Wednesday and I was shocked when we got back on Sunday and Bill was gone. Yeah, I thought he was crazy.
Q: Are there too many bowl games, and have they lost their magic?
Ferentz: No. I don't know if people realize how close we came to not going in 2001. We were on the edge. We really came close. I was the happiest guy in America when I heard we locked into seven bowls in a conference. I don't know if there is some pirating going on, but there was five years ago. There were things like having to buy 40,000 hotel rooms to go to a bowl, and I think UCLA declined one of those offers that same year. I think it's a reward. There are 64 teams that go to the NCAA, I don't know how many go to bowl games. It's a reward. Every bowl is different, but everyone has its own value. The system works out. Some have come and gone. If a bowl deserves to be there it seems to survive. It will be a great experience for everybody.