Illinois Week: Kirk Ferentz Q & A

It's Tuesday, so that means close to fifteen pages of words from Kirk Ferentz's press conference. In his general press conference, which is what this item contains, Ferentz answers a wide variety of questions, talks about the team's health, the challenges Illinois poses and much more.

Q: Who starts for Jones?

Kirk Ferentz: Right now it would be Seth Olsen. He will work there today. I should have said that.

Q: You mentioned Illinois' experience, they have also played 16 true frosh this year. What does that do in preparing for them, with so many new faces?

Ferentz: It's an interesting mix, and that is probably why some of the critical errors have happened. Anytime you get new players in the mix, it alters thing a bit. Particularly if they are younger guys. They have some Juco kids playing too. The point is that they were not part of the mix last year and are working through that. They have recruited extremely well, with the experience back, when everything gets smoothed out, it makes for a dangerous combination, so hopefully that will happen after this weekend.

Q: Do they still run that spread option?

Ferentz: They still have that in their game plan. The way their run game is, they try to get the extra man with the QB option to pull it, some of the things that gave us trouble last week with Meyer running around, they pose some of those same problems. It's not exactly the same, but a similar challenge.

Q: What differences do you see between Illinois quarterbacks Tim Brasic and Juice Williams?

Ferentz: Brasic is more experienced, he has missed some throws. I am thinking back again to last year, I thought he played well against us. I was impressed with his performance. My recollection coming off the field was that they caused us problems. With the younger kid, he has a live arm, he has good feet, he can beat you with both. Our coaches have compared him to a young Bret Meyer. The thing he doesn't have is experience. It's different coming to another level of football. But he is a dangerous player. We are focusing on that.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on having your Big Ten opener be on the road, yet again?

Ferentz: I have not counted them all. I did count them once. If my memory serves me correctly, we had one game here against Penn State, maybe in 2001. So the positive there, is once you get through it you have four at home and three on the road, that is how I look at it. It's scheduled, and you play four at some point any way. No one has asked me for an opinion, so thank you by the way. No one has asked us for input, its just how it is. We will try to go down there and do a good job. Anytime you go on the road, its significant.

Q: Do you see any parallels in this game with what you had going into Syracuse, with a big game looming on the schedule the next week?

Ferentz: No question, you can draw a parallel. Maybe the Syracuse experience will be of help to us. We have not had an easy game. Montana, the score was misleading. We had to work hard three weeks in a row, and the chances are that it will be this week and all season, it's the nature of the league and our team, it seems to be. We can go back a week and a half ago, and realize that it was very similar. Hopefully that will be a great teaching illustration for us.

Q: Is that as close as Iowa gets to a spread offense last week?

Ferentz: When was that?

Q: In the second half, when you put Albert in the slot to take them from stuffing eight in the box.

Ferentz: You know, we were still in three wides. That is about as fancy as we get I guess. Every now and then we will flex Chandler out there to see if we can make it....keep everyone on the edge of their seats. We are seeing a lot of them (eight man fronts). It has been crowded in there.

Q: Did Drew's play open things up a bit?

Ferentz: No question it did. The end of the game, you are talking about that fourth quarter. We had a bit of a rhythm going there. It was helpful. It starts with Drew. He is seeing things well, and has a good feel, and they respect him throwing the ball a bit too.

Q: Is Ron Zook running the same offense he had at Florida?

Ferentz: Yeah, it's similar. Both sides of the football and special teams. There is no question that he likes to do some thing and put them in. I am not sure that is helpful in our preparation, because I can't remember two weeks ago let alone a few years ago. But its similar to last year with a few new tweaks. When you get the new guys involved, it can make it interesting. Their running backs are very good. They have three guys that are all talented, that is their strongest position to me.

Q: Is it hard to keep Albert patient, as he is facing a lot of eight man fronts and is not having a statistical year like he did last season.

Ferentz: I have not talked to him about it. I don't think there is a need to. It's like Drew's deal. I think our guys are all thinking right, and they all realize that we are trying to win football games the best way we can, move the ball the best we can. Albert is a smart player. I think he is a patient guy, a patient runner. Things all have a way of running around, so as we keep going through this process…if they don't, we will do what we have to do to move the football. Right now, we have enough diversity to make people defend us more than one way.

Q: Other teams might not be able to pick anything up about you using three backs.

Ferentz: It's hard. We think we have three guys that are pretty good and all three have done well in there. It's hard, be cause the rhythm of a game, you go in with ideas but the game determines how you do things. It's more my touch and feel.

Q: Can you get Shonn Greene more involved without taking away from Albert's touches?

Ferentz: Probably not, and I don't mind telling you that we are thinking about that all the time. Shonn ran tough Saturday. That run he had was great. All three guys, when they are in there they do a nice job. It's a good dilemma, but it is a dilemma. It's a good problem to have. We didn't have that three years ago.

Q: Talk about your lack of takeaways this year.

Ferentz: We did better takeaway wise in 2004. Last year not nearly as good. Right now, we are a little behind, but I am not overly concerned about it. To me, takeaways are a byproduct of us playing well, hustling and getting more confidence. We are feeling our way through some things right now, there is not doubt about that, in our entire team, but defensively too. I am confident they will come around and get there. It wouldn't be bad if it starts this week. The teams we have played, ISU does a great job…they do a nice job of coaching ball security. Its something Dan has been big on before I got here and that has been a big fundamental of their program.

Q: Iowa is 5-0 against Illinois as of late, and has won 6 of 8. Is there a reason for that success against them?

Ferentz: I have no idea. I didn't know that was a stat. I didn't know we kept statistics outside of the Iowa State game. I am a coach, I am fixated on the…I remember the 31-0 game well, that was not fun. I remember the one here where they faked the field goal, an option that they pitched to the kicker and I remember he ran towards the old visitors locker room for a touchdown. That was the play of the game. It was an up and down game. My first two thoughts of them….take me back to the 80's and I will think of 1983 off the bat. That is why I am no fun to be around.

Q: Is there more parody in college football these days?

Ferentz: I think there is. I said last week, I told our team, early in the year, look at scores on Sunday, but don't try to read into scores. I don't think that is real smart to do. Try to figure all that stuff, there are things that happen in September and I think there is parody. That being said, there are four to seven teams that are just kind of buzzing right along. It doesn't matter who they play, they will knock them aside and keep going. For the most part, after you get past those teams, anything can happen.

Q: What is the cause for parody?

Ferentz: There are a lot of good teams and teams trying to become good. If you have the right experience at the right spot, you might be able to pull something off you couldn't in November. Somebody makes a critical error and gets the ball rolling. That is football. We find ourselves in one of those two weeks ago. It was supposed to be a walk in the park for us and we had to do more than take pictures of the Carrier Dome.

Q: Do you have to talk with your team during a week like this, between the ISU game and the Ohio State game, to keep them focused?

Ferentz: There are some weeks where things take care of themselves. You don't have to say a lot and there are some points with a team where you get that way. 2002, I am convinced the coaches, we could have missed the entire week of practice before the Minnesota game. It would not have mattered. That team had made up their mind going into that week. I have never seen a team I have been around practice any better than they did that entire week. Every now and then…that is so rare when you get one of those. But usually the focus is on trying to get better, particularly in September. We have had our trials in this month, and we have this year. We are in the process of trying to get better at practice and get better at just doing things hour to hour and day to day, that type of thing. That is really, no matter who we are playing, what we are thinking about right now. If we keep our focus there, then good performance will be a byproduct hopefully.

Q: Are you worried about the running game?

Ferentz: No. In a general statement, no. I think we are doing some good things up front and we have good backs. I think things are going to come along for us. I feel good about the progress we are making. We are doing OK.

Q: What is your reaction to the Oregon-Oklahoma replay mess?

Ferentz: I heard about it coming into work this morning. I guess I had slept through this one. I thought there was an agreement that everyone exchanges officials when you go on the road. I can't remember when we went to Arizona State, but when you play like that it doesn't matter. It wasn't a factor. I was surprised to hear that and I think that it's a good policy to have, because now they are open to things that you don't want to have. It's the kind of questions you don't want, those are taking place. I didn't see the play, but I understand there was an onside kick, imagine that, an onside kick involved. I applaud the PAC 10 for coming out publicly and stating that an error was made. That will not help Oklahoma, the officials get a week off, but that won't help the players, coaches or fans. But I am more focused on players and coaches. I will stop right there. Let me repeat one more time, I thought it was really nice that the CONFERENCE came out and made an OFFICIAL statement that we blew that one and will do something about it. That is a good policy too (grunt.) Were there any statements last winter? I can't remember, we were recruiting so I missed that.

Q: The Big Ten has won 81 percent of non conference games.

Ferentz: Ehh, I read that one like scores. I don't know if it means anything. I have never studied it. We had a great conference in 2002, and I don't know if the league record was similar, but it was a good year. We had four teams in the Top 13 that year. There may be a correlation, but a lot is scheduling. It's how things pan out.

Q: The league has some big wins thus far.

Ferentz: A marquee win for Ohio State and then what happened last weekend, those raised eyebrows on the road against heralded football teams, no question. I think we all know two teams that have emerged quickly into this conference race, and we are paying attention for sure.

Q: When moved Mitch from linebacker, did you see this coming?

Ferentz: We needed help. More so on numbers, not the players that were there. We were thin in numbers and we happened to have a pretty good middle linebacker, so it was one of those things. It was not an act of…you know…it was obvious. My sister could have helped me with that one. We needed help up front and had three good middle linebackers. We had Abdul, Klink and Mitch. We liked Mitch as a middle linebacker, but we thought he had growth potential. He has a personality that works pretty well for us. It works for a linebacker too, but he is doing a nice job. It was an unselfish move on his part. Like you would expect, the first presentation didn't go over real well. He thought about it and I can't say enough. We have really good guys on our team. They are unselfish. That is just one example right there.

Q: Moving from linebacker to interior line seems like a big move.

Ferentz: Defensive end is sexy, outside there. Playing in the middle is not. It's not real glamorous for a lot of guys, it reflects well on Mitch's attitude and his unselfishness, willing to help our football team. He would tell you that he was not so sure about it 10 days later. He didn't know what he was doing, but then he would make a good play, so once he started getting technique down and Ron does a great job with them. You can only coach receptive guys that want to do it the right way and he has done a great job. We are excited for him.

Q: Does a player like Aaron Kampman from the past fit that mold?

Ferentz: It has worked out well for him. People were not wild about him coming out of the draft and he had three sacks the other day., He was one of the first guys we asked to make the move. The rest is history with him. He is doing OK for a 5th round draft pick.

Q: They have different personalities

Ferentz: Yeah, they are. Real different. But both, I am glad they are both playing for us. They are great guys to have on our team. Aaron has a different personality.

Q: Do guys like Chuck Long, Chuck Hartlieb and Drew Tate have the same personalities?

Ferentz: That is fair. But all three are guys that lead. Guys respond to them. Guys on the other side of the ball respect all three of those guys. That is because they are tough, competitive guys, all three. Chuck Long is one of the toughest guys that ever played here, in my opinion. I thought just…boy, he was a tough competitive guy. He had that curly hair back then and looked like a nice guy, but he was tough. Hartlieb had to be, because he was third out of three in that race. He got his chance and knew what to do with it.

Q: Talk about Drew Tate's maturing from last year to this year, from the Ohio State game to now.

Ferentz: This is an amateur's view, but I thought in 2004, things just happened the way they did. He didn't have a lot of time to think about it and he just played and did a fantastic job. Last year, as I said, our team got more credit than it deserved going into the season, and probably some unrealistic hype Drew's way too, considering the work we had to do. What we saw once we got past that moment there, past that game, I think he really settled in and relaxed a little bit. What we saw in the spring we are seeing right now. He is a comfortable and confident player. He is going out and playing the game instead of trying to make every play perfect, that was my sense a year ago at this time. He was trying to make every play perfect or exciting. Just play the game, and when he does that he is awfully good. He is taking advantage of the experience he has had.

Q: Dominique was good in the ISU game. Will we see more of the game plan like that for him?

Ferentz: We don't design a game plan to go to one guy or another, it just works out that way. Defense usually dictates that. We were really pleased with the start of his career, three games into it. He has a great attitude and he seems to learn well and he seems to enjoy the game and the competition. He has been impressive with his blocking. I am more impressed with his blocking than his receiving. He is one of those guys where we got lucky. We saw something we liked and he is doing a nice job. I just hope he doesn't start giving first down signals after making 11 yard catches. Hopefully that wont happen.

Q: Are you going to try to do more to get him involved in the game?

Ferentz: We are not going to change our playbook for him. We are not ready to start a campaign there. We want him to play his position and he is doing a good job so far. That being said, he is a young guy and he will have his moments too, like most young guys. Hoppefully not in the near future.

Q: Was he well coached in HS?

Ferentz: I don't know how to attribute it. Some guys are just ballplayers. Gym rat, I don't know if that is the mentality. Some guys just know how to play. Drew is that way, he had his fiery moments and that, but he has that ballplayer mentality. Good players usually have that. I think it starts with loving the game. Its evident that he studies and I am sure that he has watched good players on his own. In this day and age, kids don't go out and play ball as much any more,. So its unusual that a guy walks in and is a ball player. He has caught a lot of balls and probably played in parks growing up, doing things that are more than just playing with this thumbs, he actually went out and ran around and caught a ball insetaed of watching it on the screen.

Q: His recruitment happened pretty quickly.

Ferentz: He was kind of a guy that was rising a little bit and we did our work on him, liked him and it was over quickly. He and his mom came out the first or second week in December and that was it, it worked out well for us.

Q: Is it harder to get a rhythm going in the running game now than it used to be?

Ferentz: I don't know. I don't know if it is or isn't. I don't think it is. It's a matter of everyone on the same page and catching up, maturity and that type of thing. So far so good, we are doing OK.

Q: Is it more a fundamental thing?

Ferentz: It is, but that isn't what is going on with us. Our guys, for the most part are doing well and are on the same page. Offense is all about execution. Part of that is what your opponents are doing. When we have had, opportunity to do well, we have done pretty well. Sometimes it won't always be clean or pretty, that is football. Overall I am not displeased, its just that we can do better in all areas and that is what we are looking at now.

Q: The receivers have been thrust to the forefront due to the focus on stopping your run.

Ferentz: For us to be any good offensively, we need everyone carrying their weight. That is how we are built. So far so good, we are seeing some good things. Dominique had a nice day, Andy Brodell wasn't the next man in, but I thought that he really showed some things Saturday that we hadn't seen from him and that is encouraging. There is really no way to give that to a player, they have to experience it on the game field. Those kind of things are good to see.

Q: How is Stross coming along?

Ferentz: He is coming along. He is doing well. He will be in there eventually. He is number two now.

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