Injury wise right now, we have two players that are ruled out; Alex Kanellis and Devan Moylan, looks like he is out as well. It would take a miracle to get him back. We have a minivan full of guys that we will wait and see how the week goes and what happens there.
Good win last week. We are happy with that. It's good to get a road win in the conference, especially in week one. We enjoyed it over the weekend and our thoughts are on Ohio State.
Two main concerns this week; our health status, how we practice and prepare and obviously the caliber of the team we play. They are outstanding, and they were a year ago. Despite their graduation loss and what they incurred,. They have an outstanding tam again. They have done a great job there. They have tremendous personnel, they are well coached in all three phases and they play with great effort. They play the way you are supposed to play. They have gotten off to a great start; having experienced a game like this going down to beat Texas the way they did was impressive. Our job right now is to try and find some things during the course of the week that we might be able to exploit or take advantage of and go out and play one heck of a football game. That is the challenge.
It should be a great environment. There is a lot of excitement in town already,. I wouldn't know, but I assume there is. When we go in that stadium, it will be fantastic. I hope our fans will pace themselves and have a good plan like our players do, where they are ready to go for the game. This is a chance for our fans to showcase what a great football environment Kinnick Stadium is. I am sure that our fans will do that, they use great judgment and will come to support the football team and do it in a way all Iowans can be proud of.
We are looking forward to the week. It will fly by and it should be an exciting time Saturday night. Q: Do you have a hunker down mentality for your program this week, given the magnitude of the game?
Kirk Ferentz: The biggest thing is just, like any big game, and we have played in a few of them; anticipate some of the potential distractions. Tickets, all of us have quite a ticket request list right now. That list is going long and strong for a lot of people, to try to get all of that taken care of early. Hopefully people understand it. Players don't get 25 tickets, they get four. Coaches don't get 300 either. I think they should enjoy the mood on campus, I am sure that will be positive. But they have to stay in their routine, we are big on that. You want them to enjoy it. You can't pay for the feeling you have coming out onto Kinnick on a Saturday night, it will be fantastic. Our job is to do a great job during the game and that is our focus.
Q: You were kind of depleted in the secondary in the Illinois game. Where are you now?
Ferentz: We are where we have been, thin. The week before, Devan jumped in and did a great job. Marcus came back last week, he came out and Devan did a great job again. We are thin back there and Harold Dalton is the next guy in the lineup. Spahn and Sain and pray for rain. Remember those guys? (NOTE: Warren Spahn and Billy Sain where regarded as the only viable pitchers that the Boston Braves had back in the years after WWII. Allegedly, they started back to back games, getting the win each time. Then there were several days of rain, allowing the Braves to start them both again. A writer for the Boston Post penned this poem; First we'll use spahn, then we'll use Sain. Then an off day, followed by rain. Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain. And followed, we hope, by two days of rain.
Q: Is your perception that Ohio State, like Iowa, is not hitting on all cylinders yet?
Ferentz: Perhaps, but the memory we have is pretty vivid, from one year ago. We couldn't slow them down at all, no matter what we did. They totally dominated us from that standpoint. The thing that jumps out at you, they are big and physical up front, they execute well. Pittman is an excellent running back, he is a tough runner. They have a real good tight end. The receivers, you will not find, well maybe you are, Michigan is coming up, but there are not many teams that have receivers like them. Tedd Ginn has great speed and production, but Gonzales is so underrated in my opinion. He is an outstanding player. Robinski has done a great job, too. The whole thing starts with your quarterback and you have a guy in Troy Smith, we saw him in one of his first games two years ago. He looked like a real young guy, like Bret Meyer did that year and he has grown into a tremendous performer. I am not really in synch with what the Heisman talk is. I know the quarterback from Notre Dame is involved and rightfully so, but I have to think that Troy Smith is right there with anyone. He is the best player on the best team in the country. He can beat you with his feet, arm and head, he makes good decisions. I don't know where you start. They are explosive and dangerous.
Q: It's sort of like pick your poison with them?
Ferentz: It comes down to that we have to do what we do best. That is our decision. They did a nice job last year of getting matchups that played into their favor. It's a tough challenge. It's easier if you can focus on one guy, or lean hard to the left or right. Ohio State doesn't let you do that.
Q: They have such depth. Their second string offensive line came in against Texas and kept moving the chains.
Ferentz: We did that against Montana, didn't we? I shouldn't make jokes about that. I had a snapshot moment when I was in the NFL. I remember Coach Cooper being upset that they lost a lot of juniors. Those guys would get drafted in the top 10, and a year later, there would be a guy higher on the board at the same position. They have real good talent. The key to their success is the way that talent plays. They are extremely well coached. I can't say enough about them.
Q: Running the ball is important to keep their offensive off the field?
Ferentz: In a perfect world, you would do that. But these guys are giving up 8 points. That is where I thought we would have some relief, during the out of season. They graduated nine players on their defense, and they were extraordinarily tough to play against last year. Four games into it they are giving up 8 points. They are ahead in the turnover ration compared to last year. It's a different group, but they are not playing differently. It's very impressive.
Q: Does it help to have the preparation you had against Iowa State and their offensive before facing Troy Smith?
Ferentz: It helps. There are some similarities between the attacks. But it won't be the total answer for sure. But it helps. We have gone out there and we had great respect for Bret Meyer. There might not be a better quarterback in that conference, I can't imagine there are too many better than him. Troy Smith, we have had some pretty good ones in our conference, and we think our guy is good too, but this guy is right there at the top of the class.
Q: Their running backs really gashed you last year.
Ferentz: We just couldn't get it done up front, that was pure and simple. It's a tough feeling, when you can't stop the run. It's a bad feeling for everyone on the field, on the sidelines. When that takes place, its tough to win football games. That has been a foundation of our program, especially defensively. If people run it down your throats, it's hard to find any joy out there.
Q: Do you take a few more chances against a team like this?
Ferentz: It's a double edged sword. If you just play it straight, the odds are not with you. If you get crazy and extend yourself, you are really vulnerable and that is not a real good idea either in a game like this. It's a quandary. What it boils down to is that you have to make every makeable play, and the plays that are makeable, they make it tougher to convert those because they are all over you. When you have a shot at a play, you have to be able to execute it. Not that we had a lot of shots last year, but we had a couple for some plays that could have gone but we couldn't respond for whatever reason. When you are playing a team like this, if you don't execute in that moment, it may not come back to you again. You don't want the players feeling that pressure. It comes down to us being in synch if we are going to have a chance. We have hardly been there. We have been sporadic the last four weeks. That is our challenge right now and see what we can do.
Q: Is there a side advantage to this game from a publicity and exposure standpoint?
Ferentz: No question. Brent Musberger is doing the game. He was here back in the 80's quite a bit. I think he borrowed one of Bernie Wyatt's coats one time and Bernie will check with him this weekend to get it back, that was 20 years ago. Those are great moments and we had some great times in Kinnick when he was here and maybe we can rekindle some old magic. It's a marquee opportunity for our school, our state and our team to go out and make a good showing for themselves, and the fans. I am confident they will.
Q: Did you see this shaking out like that game three years ago, where it came down to special teams and field position?
Ferentz: It's been interesting the last three years. We were green last year, they were unusually green two years ago and we caught them at a vulnerable moment. That was a one out of ten shot. Then three years ago, I don't think there was an offensive point scored. That was a great defensive battle if you like that, and I do. It has been interesting. Now you have the Troy Smith factor; I don't think they had those weapons in 2003.
Q: Do you think Drew Tate's maturation over the last 12 months has been a key for this team starting 4-0?
Ferentz: I think there have been a lot of Kodak moments for Drew and that was one of them. It was not a great one. I think it was a great teaching moment for us. I have said it before; I never had a problem with it because I knew it was not a selfish move. It was a matter of trying to ‘re-channel' those energies a bit. I think he has really grown immensely. I have never seen him this comfortable with himself, even with the media. I don't know if you are sensing that. He is making strides there and it's because he wants to and that is a part of growth and improving. That being said, I think the challenge with drew is that he has missed some practice time. He has missed a game. I think part our offensive inconsistencies are tied in with that. We had an exchange problem the other day. That is something you build in, too. We need to try to hurry that process along. But it will be tough again because we will have a lot of guys in and out of practice, so that is a concern. We will do what we can. I think he has grown immensely.
Q: Talk about the challenges your secondary has been having.
Ferentz: I think we are growing and improving back there. We have given up a few plays; we did the other day when we came out of coverage on a scramble, which we better get that corrected this week. We saw that happen in the Penn State game where Smith improvised a bit and threw it downfield for a long touchdown. We will have to play our assignments and techniques. That being said, realize that they are going to complete passes. They have excellent players. We can't give them anything easy, like we did the other day. We can't do that and expect to win.
Q: You play so many 11am games, how will this week's 7pm start affect you?
Ferentz: I think it's what we make it. We have known since June or July that this thing was going to be at 7. If the game doesn't work out, I promise you we won't offer that up as a factor. It will come down to how well we play against them or more importantly how we prepare during the week. We will shift things around. We will move our Friday night meetings to late Saturday morning. The guys can have some time to themselves before the game. Friday night, we will figure out something to entertain them. Maybe I can tell a few stories, I am a big story teller. Maybe a joke or two.
Q: Does your wife handle your ticket requests?
Ferentz: All year around. My wife and Rita (Foley, the longtime football secretary), they do a great job. Every now and then I will peak at the list and keep moving. Most of my friends know to call Rita or call Mary. I would screw that up. We don't need that.
Q: Do you think that for the running game to start clicking, teams have to respect your passing game more?
Ferentz: We have hit a few clean runs this year. That is a part of it, but there are a lot of factors at play. I can't pinpoint one. If they don't respect the throwing game, it makes it pretty challenging. I was telling the writers from Ohio, not that Brian is any authority, but I talked to him late Sunday night. He watches things closely and he thought Albert is playing tremendous football, and I thought that was interesting. I agree with him. He is really doing a good job. He is running tough, he is blocking well and had a big one on the touchdown pass to Tony the other day. He does a good job in the receiving game. It's a matter of us working through things here. I read a column Sunday which I thought was accurate; it said we are an unimpressive 4-0. I won't disagree, but I thought to myself that I would rather be that than a crummy 2-2 and we have been there, too. That's progress to some degree. The key thing is for us to keep the foot on the gas and get better. It will be tough this week.
Q: Does the added exposure create more time demands for your players and coaches?
Ferentz: It's minimal. It's part of my responsibility to protect our players. ABC wanted to interview five people and they did that yesterday, that is a player's day off. Now that is behind us. The TV crew will talk to a few players on Friday, that is routine for us no matter the time of the game or who is televising it. We will try to protect them and let them stick to the preparation for the game, their studies and maybe a chance to walk through campus with their girlfriend Thursday night. As far as my stuff goes, I say 1-800 Rita or 1-800 Mary.
Q: Do you think Pittman gets overlooked on this team?
Ferentz: Yes, I do. We heard about some of the other running backs, too. When it comes down to crunch time, Pittman is the guy. He is an excellent football player. It's natural to not get recognized when you have Smith, Ginn and Gonzales. There is only so much to go around, but you are looking at four outstanding players.
Q: He was a bigger difference than Ginn was last year.
Ferentz: They ran at will against us. They had a lot more yards than we did. We couldn't slow them down.
Q: Talk about their linebacker Laurinaitis.
Ferentz: He is very athletic and very active. The guys up front do a good job. It's like our defense, if the guys up front are working like they do and they have two veteran guys inside. They have done a good job of rotating players through the years. They played six or eight last year, so the new starters have played. They do a great job of letting their linebackers run and make plays. Last year you had two number ones and another one in the fourth round. It's the same deal, they play well up front and the linebackers are athletic and aggressive, and they don't miss tackles.
Q: When the OSU players were asked about the pink locker rooms, they all laughed. Do you have any data that supports a psychological advantage?
Ferentz: I doubt there is any. With all due respect, I doubt there is any. When Dan was here two weeks ago, he commented how nice the locker room is. IT is. It's unusual to go on the road and have a spacious locker room. That is how Dan looked at it and I think others will think that too. There are a few relics still in the conference.
Q: You espouse staying on an even keel through the years, and the players talk about that. Is that realistic this week, does it matter?
Ferentz: I think so. At the end of the day, one of us will be 5-0 and one will be 4-1. no matter how you slice it, that leaves seven games left. It is a big game, no doubt about it and we will not downplay it, but win or lose, we have to get over it on Sunday and move on or else we will suffer the consequences. I can assure you that we are going to put everything we have into this one and they will do the same. After that, you have to move on. You have to have that mentality. If you can't develop that, you leave yourself open for future failure. We have been down that road too. We preach it, but don't always practice it.
Q: Is this the most hyped regular season game you have ever been around?
Ferentz: I am not a good one to ask. I stop and get coffee in the morning, but outside of that I don't see or talk to anyone outside of this building. I see you guys today and I will be at the radio show and get a few suggestions and some advice tomorrow night. But outside of that, my exposure is limited. Then the breakfast on Friday morning. That is what I like about coaching; it's like being a hermit. It doesn't affect us coaches, but I worry about how it affects the players. But I have never been involved in playing against a #1 team. To me, it's like playing Wisconsin here in 2004. When you play in a bowl game in January, you are playing a great team. We have been involved in some games. It gets down to keeping your focus on the target. I guess I was involved in a #1 game; Nebraska was #1 in 2000. It made a big impression on me, didn't it? They are always ranked. The 1 vs 2 in 1985, that was pretty special. I would imagine it would be something like that. The initial part. Now it's our job to try to make it that way in the fourth quarter.
Q: Will this be like a bowl atmosphere?
Ferentz: We are not going to other functions, but the game time, it will be. We are playing an excellent team. It's hard to find a weakness. I would say it was like playing LSU a few years ago. You saw the film, and there were no chinks in their armor.
Q: How are Rafael Eubanks and Dace Richardson doing with their injuries?
Ferentz: We are not sure. We will know more in 24 hours. I can tell you this; they will not practice today so that is not good. We will see where it goes.
Q: At the beginning of the year, you talked a lot about having a great September. Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, will you be able to say ‘mission accomplished'?
Ferentz: I know this, 4-1 or 5-0 is better than 2-2 and that is where we have been the last two years. We have improved. That being said, no matter what happens Saturday, we have to keep our foot to the gas. That is the kind of team we are. We are up in the count right now which is nice, but there is a long ways to go. When its time to talk about that, we will talk about that on Sunday.
Q: They have already played Texas and Penn State this year. Do you think they could be prime for hitting a little valley?
Ferentz: It would be wonderful if they did. I had not thought about that. That's good optimism. But you can flip it around, too, saying this is old hat. Traveling to Austin and beating a talented Texas team on their home field, that is awfully impressive. That doesn't happen much. Especially with a young defense as they have.
Q: Do you kickoff or punt differently due to Tedd Ginn?
Ferentz: Well, the only problem is that they have Gonzales back there, too. Norm says this all the time; you can just say your will defend one guy. It's the same thing with coverage on kicks and punts. You have to do a heck of a job as a team. We did not do that in 2003. We had a couple guys get distorted in the lane coverage and Jenkins took it to the end zone. Since Jim has been there, they have done great with special teams.
Q: Is Andy Fenstermaker's hang time a bonus?
Ferentz: The way he punted the other day gave us a chance. This was the kind of game where you need that from everyone. I compared his performance Saturday to what Jason Baker did in 2000 against Penn State, and that was huge in that game with field position. He did it against Northwestern, too.
Q: How does Ohio State's team speed rank with other teams in the nation?
Ferentz: Next question. Next question. Ohio State has team speed comparable to anyone in the nation. They are just a unique program and team. I don't know who is the fastest, but I can't imagine many that are better at all positions. They are athletic and talented.
Q: Is Ginn as fast as anyone you have coached against?
Ferentz: I would say so. He can go. He has developed into a good football player, too. He was a track guy a couple years ago.
Q: Do you hear more from former players in a week like this?
Ferentz: Probably. It's early in the week. I had a few ticket requests. I got a heck of a note from Will Lack, which was extremely impressive. What should we expect from him? He was one of the most extraordinary people to come through our program. I will make a pitch for him; he is interested in coming to med school here next year. I would think they would let him in. I would like for him to be my doctor someday.
Q: Do you have any idea how many ticket requests you have had?
Ferentz: For me? Not that high. Most people know better. Most people know me.
Q: Do you encourage your athletes to stay away from TV and papers during a week like this?
Ferentz: Nah. I would be a fool if I did that. I know that is never going to happen. Seriously, I would be foolish. We want them to enjoy this. How many times do you get to play in a game like this? Enjoy it. It's like everything you do, you know that you need time to work, be it a paper or preparing for a game. If your friends are friends, they know that. Players only get one chance to play in a game like this, like coaches, too. We only get 12 of them during the year. Your true friends and family understand that that this is what we do and that we are busy right now. We can laugh in November when it's over.