Q: Is there anything new with Stross and Eric Johnson?
Kirk Ferentz: That was over on Saturday. Double checked on Sunday, and it's past history. It's been addressed and handled. Now we're just trying to get him healthy.
Q: Eric or Stross?
Ferentz: I don't care about Eric. He can't run anyway. Stross can at least run.
Q: Are you aware if Douglas and Bowman are in class?
Ferentz: As far as I know, they are. I think I know that one. I think. I haven't witnessed it firsthand, but that's my understanding.
Q: Have you had any contact with them?
Ferentz: Yes, sure have.
Q: Sean Lee, a guy you recruited pretty heavily. Has he developed the way you thought he would?
Ferentz: Yeah. He's an outstanding player. We recruited him extremely hard. We really liked Sean Lee, a tremendous young guy, great family. We thought he had tremendous upside as a Greenway-type player. You hate to throw that kind of classification on him, outside of the fact that we project him because of his athletic ability. He was a very good tailback. He wasn't a QB, but a tailback. An excellent basketball player, but most importantly a competitor. He's an athlete who competes, he had growth potential. He's playing big enough out there, he's playing very well, good player.
Q: Even before the injuries, there weren't any seniors on the OL or at WR. How does that happen and how big of a factor is that?
Ferentz: I don't' think it's a big factor. It could be a big factor. We felt fairly good about the group coming in. I'm on record as saying back in August that we had an experienced defense coming back, counting on them to play well early. We knew we had a young offensive football team and I think all of us anticipated, just like I talked about Jake, we anticipated some ups and downs, particularly in the first month. The guys that are injured right now, they could be seniors, but when you lose guys that have experience. We can all agree that Brodell really showed in his last few games last year, that he was getting there. I was thrilled he wasn't a senior. It's good to have that for two more years. I think we all felt the same way about Tony. When you get guys like that hurt, typically, you don't have another on the shelf that looks just like him. We're working through that, it's just made the challenge a little more interesting.
Q: The general perception, though, is that this is the University of Iowa, they should have players to step in and not lose a beat.
Ferentz: You want me to address that? Ok. Mike threw me a softball the other day, I passed on it. I don't know a lot about much, I really don't, I profess that for anybody who will listen, but the one thing I have paid attention to is football, particularly in our conference. Going back to my experiences in the 80s, we went through some similar periods. All you have to do, I think, is really study the league since I've been here, since 99 or better yet look at it in the new millennium. There have really only been 3 teams that have won multiple championships, it's a pretty small class there. If you take the two out that won all of them for 13 years prior to 81, you know who we're talking about there and study the rest of the group, everybody's gone through this. Everybody experiences some dips as well as the highs. Not everyone has experienced the highs, but everyone goes through the dips. I had 9 years to think about my experiences here in the 80s when I was gone. That is one thing I do pay attention to is what's going on in our conference. That being said, obviously the goal has been to avoid one of those statistics. We're still going to work out hard to not become one of those statistics. The facts are, that outside of two teams, everyone has had a little blip in the radar. The question is what do you do when it happens? That's the deal. Naturally, I followed Barry's career, cause I worked with the Barry, just like I watched Bill down at K-State. It took Bill awhile to get to championship level. That's one of the most phenomenal jobs ever done. Barry got there in 4 years, I think. If you look at what happened the years after that... there are peaks and valleys there. Again, that's one thing I'm acutely aware of. A private goal is to try and void blips. That's the thing you try and avoid. We're not ready to surrender this one yet. It's not over yet. We've still got 7 games to do something. The good news, right now, if there is good news, one thing about having young players is that they can improve more dramatically. I would expect Jake to improve more than Bryan Mattison. He's got a much better chance to make dramatic improvement. Obviously we're very pleased with Bryan Mattison, he's a good guy.
Q: Are you saying that you saw a valley coming?
Ferentz: No, I'm not saying that. Personally, my goal is to avoid any valleys. Just like any coach would. The reality is, in our conference, I can't espouse about other conferences, because I really don't pay attention, but you might find similar things. In the ACC, up until a couple years ago, in august, everyone was trying to play for second place, that was the fact o the matter for quite a while in the ACC. Our conference has been different since 81. If you look at the history books, what Coach Fry did here was historic. It really just changed the whole complexion of the league. Also, if you look back, I know it's going on here, if you look back in the 80s, you'll see that Illinois got one then had a terrible run there. To sustain it at a BCS level is a heck of a challenge. That's what all of us want to do. I know the fans do, all of us want to do it.
Ferentz: I'd like to think so. Anything's possible. If you didn't believe that, you'd never win a championship. The first thing you do is win a championship then try and win another. No matter what happens this year, our focus is on winning the next championship.
Q: Do you think people fully understand what's going on the Big Ten, Indiana, Illinois...?
Ferentz: We were talking the other day, but to see Illinois 4-1, I had them and Purdue. I don't know as much about Michigan State, although I'm not surprised there. We all know the kind of talent Michigan State ha. Mark Dantionio is an excellent coach. Purdue and Illinois has as many guys back, outside of the Wisconsin, the obvious favorites. Illinois has a lot of guys back and they've added a pretty good receiver. That guy's a man. That's not shocking. Not only in Illinois'' case, but Purdue too. A lot of those guys are two-year players, like our DL. Guys who were returning starters last year, have another year. They've put themselves in the position to have success.
Q: With that said, do you think the conference landscape is significantly different than it was 3, 4 , 5 years ago?
Ferentz: No question. Indiana is not a bad football team. That didn't surprise me either, because most of the guys we played Saturday, were playing last year against us. We knew what kind of fight we had. I didn't read until Friday morning, someone had a column with us as an 11 point favorite? I read that on the bus going to the hotel, I said, "You've got to be kidding me. Who the hell is making these things? Wow." I knew a little more about some of our... Klinkenborg, we hadn't disclosed that. I assume that affected it.
Q: You opened at 15?
Ferentz: That's just amazing to me. Those guys aren't at our practices, or their not paying attention. There are a lot of teams right now that are well-positioned in our conference.
Q: With Indiana and Illinois on the rise, how much tougher does that make it for Iowa, someone has to be at the bottom.
Ferentz: This conference has always been tough. It was looking pretty tough to us in 1999. I can promise you that. We were 0-for. I can't remember who we didn't play. Michigan or Purdue. I can remember. We could have been 0-10. They had Henson, a #1 pick, and Brees. We missed those two guys that first rotation. The conference has always been tough. You just work hard it, and everybody's capable of having success. That's been proven since 81. The challenge is to be ready every year.
Q: The first guy people talk about is QB. People look at Jake's performance on Saturday, where do you put him?
Ferentz: There are obvious things he has to do better at. The thing I continue to be impressed with is the way he operates, practice, and conducts himself with the other players on the team. He keeps his poise. Outside of throwing the one pick the other day, a terrible decision, he knew that as soon as he threw it. He's done some good things. I guess what I do is that I factor in... I'll give a comparison, you throw in Ryan Mallet, he gets thrown in but he's got a pretty good supporting cast. You've got to try and be objective here, or logical I guess when you analyze performance. It's like the sacks. Are some of those his fault? Certainly, but some of them aren't. Until we can support him a little better, it's going to be tough to evaluate him realistically. That's the goal, to get him into some situations where he can have some success. We're trying to find those situations.
Q: When you guys get a tempo on offense is that part of it?
Ferentz: We need to get one. At times we have, but if you pick one thing, it's just negative yardage plays. That's hard to overcome. As in the case the other day. We fell behind on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, to the point where we couldn't run the ball, we didn't have time.
Q: Did these guys run block better than pass block?
Ferentz: I think we're fairly adept at both. We're not there yet, but we'll be OK.
Q: Are you happy with the development on the offensive line, or should it be further ahead than it is?
Ferentz: I'm not going to say that. I think they're working hard. I think they did a lot of good things on Saturday. The things that are obvious. You can't give them all those sacks. Was it double digits? It seemed like a dozen. You can't give them even have of those. If you subtract that, it doesn't look quite as bad. I think you could argue that the run blocking was pretty good. It's a matter of putting it all together. Offense is complex, it doesn't come easy.
Q: On the list of things you need to fix, what's the easiest to fix?
Ferentz: The first thing we need to do, just in general terms, is be more consistent. In special teams, offense and then the second thing would be that hopefully those areas would get our defense off the field a bit more. We've put more pressure on them than we need to at this given point. It all works together there.
Q: How problematic is to think about the evolution, that four years ago special teams was a weapon?
Ferentz: I think the good news, I'm always looking for good news, is that on special teams, we're really, for the most part, playing better, we're just not getting the specialist performance. Two new performers, three new performers. It's not a shock. We've all seen that when Ryan does hit it right, he hits it very well. I said back in 99, he was all over the joint as a junior, and the guys' still punting. It took a while for Jason to get it mastered, then the same thing with field goals and PATs. What is disappointing is the protection. That was not expected. That's a separate issue. I think our kickoff coverage, I'm afraid to say any of this stuff, I don't' want to jinx us. Our kickoff coverage has been a lot better than last year's. Our return game has been pretty good. We're doing some things are hidden right now, or distorted a little bit. If we can get the consistency out of our specialists, I think that's going to help us. We're down to our #3 punt returner the other day. No kidding the ball went on the ground. Fortunately a penalty rubbed it out. You'd rather not be down to #3.
Q: Can you talk about what a sack does to an offense?
Ferentz: It's like when you run the ball well, that's demoralizing to a defense. I think when you give up a sack, there's a bit of a psychological thing there. The reality is that it puts a team that's not explosive in a really tough spot. If you have a veteran offensive football team, in 2002, we could overcome some things a bit better. We're not at that point right now. That being said, we were not a juggernaut in 2004, but we found a way to win. That's football , at Iowa in particular, you have to find ways to be successful. It's not always going to be the same recipe. Some schools, the recipe doesn't change. I doubt USC is playing much differently than they played two or three years ago, no matter who's in there.
Q: Do you sometimes have to bite your tongue with us?
Ferentz: No, you're just doing your jobs. I know that.
Q: Some coaches ahead of you didn't necessarily abide by that.
Ferentz: I coached in the NFL, I remember chuckling, the first guy I thought of was Coach. It's a good thing he never took an NFL job. It's brutal. What are you going to do to me? You guys don't have guns, do you? You're doing your job. Do I always like it? No, but you guys probably don't like my job either sometimes, the way I do my job.
Q: You talk about a recipe changing. The recipe at Iowa, you've stuck to your philosophy pretty hard.
Ferentz: Yes and no.
Q: 2004 was different, obviously.
Ferentz: You play to your strengths. We tried to do that. I don't think, we're hard-headed, but there are certain program things we have in place, and it's not going to change. It's one nice thing about having a contract, you don't have to compromise on integrity issues and things like that. I'm not saying anyone else does, I'm just telling you we're not going to. I can think of one, outside the conference, where to me, they sold the farm about 8-10 years ago. I'll be a little vague there so nobody figures it out. If you follow some of the players that they've had go through the program recently and the way they are in the NFL, we're not going to go down that road. We're not going to sell our souls to win a game. I'm not saying anyone else does, in our conference, that's not going on.
Q: What does that mean, cheat?
Ferentz: Not cheat, but accept some stuff. I've seen one just like that that sticks out in my mind.
Q: No matter what, the spread, you guys aren't going to change?
Ferentz: Probably won't be this week, with the receiver situation. How's that? I thought you'd be happy, we've been in empty a bit, 5 guys out.
Q: You say you have to play to the strengths, what is the strength?
Ferentz: We're working on that. I don't know.
Q: How would Hayden have handled the NFL media?
Ferentz: He would have liked that. He loved you guys. He loved coming down here. I swear to god. He loved coming down here, he just won't let you know.
Q: How is Jake taking the losses?
Ferentz: Based on my observation, he's doing well. You've got to be mentally tough. If you're going to play this game, you better be mentally tough, especially if you're a QB. Nobody gets more blame than the QB when things aren't going well. If you can't handle that, you're probably playing the wrong position, the wrong game. He understands that as well as anybody.
Q: You talk about inconsistency, how good has the good been?
Ferentz: At times it's been real good. We've played some excellent defense. We've done some good things offensively, at times, too. I just can't tell you when it's going to come together. I can't promise it is going to. I choose to believe it will, but we're going to have to push it through, it's not going to happen easily.