Pitt Week: Kirk on the Side

Kirk Ferentz spoke with the media on Tuesday after his main press conference. Read what he had to say about the quarterback situation, junior college players, game balls and more in this premium transcript.

Q: Does going on the road impact your decision-making process at all, at QB?

Kirk Ferentz: Not totally. It’s not a huge factor. It’s something to thing about, but it’s not a huge factor.

Q: Are they a team that’s going to line it up and pound it at you, like Wisconsin?

Ferentz: Yeah. That’d be the closest thing in the Big Ten. They spread the ball around in the passing game, a lot of guys with a lot of catches, big, athletic-looking receivers. Two good running backs, we saw that last year with Wisconsin. That’s a real good analogy, PJ Hill and the fast guy that ran by our bench last year looked pretty good too. They have a guy that can come in and give them a change-up, that’s a good comparison.

Q: This might be a better question for Norm, but you went through a lot of defensive personnel, a few more situational-position groupings than last year. Is that a result of Norm changing, or do you like the talent/

Ferentz: It’s a result of our personnel. I’ve alluded to that in the past. We haven’t been a big nickel team or dime team because the ultimate decision, it goes way back to 2000 against Northwestern. I left here Sunday night after we watched the game of horrors against Michigan. My mind was made up that we’d play nickel, next day I saw Norm first thing he said we’d go with our base defense. The reason was, you’re going to take LeVar Woods off the field to put someone else out there who’s not LeVar Woods? We have a group of players we’re a little more confident in, especially in the secondary, we have a bit more flexibility than we have in the past. We saw Prater make a great play the other day. We have more options there. We’re kind of like at linebacker, too. We can plug some things in, Troy Johnson made a great play down there in the endzone. We’ll see how it carries out, but down the road, we may have a chance to be a bit more multiple defensively.

Q: Personnel and depth more than what Norm wants?

Ferentz: We’ve never been against the Nickel and Dime, we just in general have never had that luxury, I guess. We’re pretty young on defense right now, a lot of guys working. When they’ve gotten opportunities, they’ve encouraged us, we’re getting some confidence in them.

Q: You have a goal-line.

Ferentz: Goal line’s a distinct group. We have three down linemen with four backers in the game. Then you can turn that into a five DB deal also. You can go 6 DBs, you can go 7, too, if you want.

Q: There was a red zone grouping

Ferentz: That was usually our normal grouping, but we play it in a little different fashion. You get that to the point with 5 or 6 DBs too. It takes practice time. Worst thing you want to end up with is guys not getting matched up right out there on the field, then boom, touchdown.

Q: It sounds like Norm has a plan, runs it by you, and you say “Yeah.”

Ferentz: I’m not micro-managing, but we’re all on the same page, philosophically. I think we all agree that offense, defense, special teams, we want to try and keep our best guys out there. On special teams, if a guy can be a good gunner on the punt team, I’d rather use a #2 guy, give him a role, get him going full speed and rest the other guy. That was the biggest dilemma with Clark and Sanders, what teams do we pull them off of? You want to keep them out there all the time. Greenway, same way.

Q: Matt Kroul has a string going of consecutive games at that position. That’s the position where you can get twisted like a pretzel, why has he been such a durable player?

Ferentz: Someone brought that up during the course of the summer time. I’m not great at thinking about stuff like that. It kind of dawned on me, it’s a parallel to Bruce Nelson, in a lot of ways. The position you’re talking about, there’s more stuff going on. It’s amazing the parallel between the two guys. The biggest difference was that Bruce was here at a time when the opportunity was really great. You could make the same argument about Matt, the timing was good, but boy, he played like a veteran guy his first year, he did a nice job. He’s in top shape year-round, he’s smart, a very smart player. He’s a very good technique player, too. Part of it’s luck, staying healthy, some of it’s good fortune. Nelly never missed anything, and Matt’s on that same path.

Q: Prater seems like he just belongs out there.

Ferentz: He’s done some good things. There’s room for encouragement there, we hope we can just keep bringing him along. He’s got a lot to learn about a lot of things, he’s a good football player with a good attitude, he works hard on the practice field and he’s been easy to coach. We’re pleased with that. That’s an excellent play he me that day.

Q: Do you hear much “You should start this guy at QB” much? You always talk about your sister, who does she think should start?

Ferentz: I don’t talk to her enough, as much as I should. Or my brother. In-season, I’m not a real social guy. My wife doesn’t talk about it. I talk to her and my kids more than anybody during the season. You just covered my whole world. The I-Clubs, but nobody’s really hit me with it yet.

Q: Going into Pennsylvania, is that a good visibility place for you guys?

Ferentz: Yes and no. We haven’t done much in Pittsburgh, recruiting-wise. The closest we came was on Sean Lee. At the end of the day, we couldn’t even get a guy from my own high school, what does that tell you? We’ve had more luck in Erie, but part of it is that Dave was a good hire at Pittsburgh, he was a good fit, he understands how important it is to recruit there. That eliminated the pool of guys we could get in on. WVU has ascended, they weren’t a factor 10 years ago. It’s not a great area for us right now.

Q: Is their kicker from your high school?

Ferentz: Yeah, he is. I was on a recruiting trip, Conor Lee came up, the coach introduced him to me. Sean was probably a sophomore or junior, that’s the first time I met Conor. He’s done a good job.

Q: Did you know his dad?

Ferentz: No, until we started recruiting Sean. We didn’t end up with him. Oh well.

Q: What’s Norm think of having all these buttons to push on defense, all of a sudden?

Ferentz: He’s just like the guy in the Wizard of Oz, back behind the curtain. He’s got all kinds of things to do. We have a few more options than we’ve had, but we’re still hardly there. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

Q: What’s a football no-hitter for a quarterback?

Ferentz: 10-10, no interceptions, 170 yards.

Q: Banks did that.

Ferentz: That was a no-hitter. That was pretty good. Can’t do any better than that. Six walks, we don’t want to talk about it. Walks are bad, unless they’re intentional.

Q: Is the hard part of the quarterback thing that one guy has to lose?

Ferentz: There’s got to be some evidence. Some of it’s subjective, everything you do in life is subjective, evaluations. There’s got to be evidence. I keep saying it’s even, and I have a lot more exposures, we’ve been watching these guys hard for the whole duration. They’re both doing a good job.

Q: How’s the rest of the team handling it?

Ferentz: They don’t seem to be, from my vantage point, they’re not affected at all. I haven’t asked, but I don’t see any of that. It’s not like pro football with 7 guys in one corner, play Joe Smith, then the other 8 over here, that’s one nice thing about college football. Good teams don’t have it in the NFL, either. I think they embrace the guy playing.

Q: As long as you’re winning. Why is two quarterbacks a bad thing?

Ferentz: It’s not, unless you don’t have one. Then it’s a bad thing. If you’re winning, we’re playing OK, everybody’s going to be OK.

Q: At what point do you…

Ferentz: Nobody wants to get on a bus where the guy’s going to drive a bus into a wall or off the road. I don’t think our players feel that way. I went from baseball to bus driving.

Q: How much mental preparation time does the starter need?

Ferentz: I think both guys have to prepare to start. I know that Jake prepared that way last year, I think Rick did the same. It was flipped the other times. They’ve both been preparing like starters.

Q: Did they room on the road?

Ferentz: I think they do.

Q: Is Jake built more for that relief-type role?

Ferentz: I don’t know. I’m not that smart right now. We’ll see how that goes. We’ll push ahead.

Q: You’ll make the decision Wednesday after practice?

Ferentz: Wednesday, Thursday. It’d be prudent to make that before Saturday.

Q: Are you messing with Wannstedt a bit, too?

Ferentz: I don’t think it affects their preparation in the least.

Q: Does Jake show some things in practice, the bad things during games, do you see them in practice?

Ferentz: Chuck threw a few wobbly ones, Chuck Hartlieb, the idea is to win the game. Move the team, win the game.

Q: Talk a bit about recruiting academies like Milford, the others. How that goes as opposed to recruiting high schools.

Ferentz: The big difference is that guys are a year older, a bit more physical maturity. You still have to scrutinize. It’s kind of like anything, it gets down to attitudes. Fred Russell came in here, didn’t make his test score coming out of high school, stumbled into our laps. He got off to a tough start, first semester was an adjustment for him. After that, it went great, ended up with a double major and did great on the football field. It’s like anybody. I still think success is determined on the attitude they bring to campus. If they’re going to work hard in football or school-wise.

Q: Do you steer them, if they’re a non-qualifier?

Ferentz: It just depends on if they’re a non-qualifier, why aren’t they? Fred had a chance to qualify with a test score, it made more sense than being locked up for two years in a juco for two years to get an AA degree.

Q: What about Shonn?

Ferentz: Same thing, he was a test-score deal. He had to work to get that up. It’s about as simple as that.

Q: Was he your recruit?

Ferentz: Yeah. We had had a good experience with Fred, so that was our rationale for recommending Milford. The coach up there, Bill Chaplick, he would visit Fred when we were on the road. This guy’s a good guy who’s invested in his players, he looks out for them.

Q: Next week’s homecoming.

Ferentz: Oh my gosh, OK.

Q: No big deal.

Ferentz: Not for me.

Q: Are you involved in the process of approving the homecoming opponent at all?

Ferentz: No. I don’t know how they do it. If it’s dog years, leap moons, whatever. They say “this is it.”

Q: I had heard that the team gave you a game ball on Saturday, can you talk about that a little bit?

Ferentz: It’s happened a couple times, it was very much appreciated. I don’t know who was behind it. I had to make sure it wasn’t ticking. I thought maybe there was something in there for me. It was really nice, very much appreciated. I told them we’d found a good, prominent spot in the building to display it.

Q: It had to be nice after the last year. I know you’re not ‘done’ year, have a ways to go, but…

Ferentz: We’re making progress, that’s the biggest thing. As I’ve said before, I think this whole team, for everything that’s happened over the last however many months prior to March 1, a lot of guys have a lot of pride. I think everybody’s committed to playing as hard as they can, doing things right in all regards. We’ll see where it takes us.

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