Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media via teleconference today and went over several different topics. One of the big questions is whether or not preparing for Ohio State is more difficult than normal since the teams haven't played since 2000.
"I just think that probably any coach will tell you when you play a series, year-to-year, you develop a feel, I think, for each other, not only on the field but also off the field," Ferentz said. "In Ohio State's case, it's a little different maybe because they've just done so well in the two years we haven't played them, so it's hard not to read about the Ohio State Buckeyes. From that standpoint, I think we feel like we kind of know their football team. You see them on TV a lot, those types of things. I think there's still difference when you play a team each and every year, that makes it a little bit different."
Of course, there's been a lot of talk about Iowa and Ohio State both going unbeaten in 2002 and not being able to face off, but Ferentz says that the team is not thinking about that.
"I can't speak for our entire team obviously," he said. "To me, and I think our team probably feels the same way, last year seems like it was ten years ago, not just one year ago. I'm having a hard time remembering our opener… so that's kind of the nature of football I think. We're into this season, I think our focus right now is straight ahead, and really that's where it ought to be. That's what we're thinking about. We're just looking at another excellent Ohio State team… they have an excellent football team and we're going to have quite a challenge, number one, playing at Ohio State is so difficult. Part of the reason it's so difficult is because they have an excellent football team."
Ferentz's Hawkeyes have seen both sides of the coin in their previous two games as the team suffered a disappointing loss at Michigan State but rebounded the following week to defeat Michigan. The team has experienced growth despite having to overcome obstacles on offense.
"You're always going to experience adversity throughout the course of the season," Ferentz said. "Falling behind at Michigan State wasn't the plan and certainly falling behind last week wasn't the plan either, but we handled it a lot better the last time, so that's one thing you look for from your football team. You always hope we're moving forward, improving maybe from past experiences and learning from experiences. I think we did, but all that being said, nobody's going to confuse this offensive football team with the one we had last year. I tell people we had six players off last year's football club at the combines, so that just tells you the kind of hits we took. You got Brad Banks, player of the year at quarterback; you got C.J. Jones, who's made it with the Cleveland Browns as a receiver; we had three NFL linemen and the first tight end taken in the draft. To replace those guys is going to be a tough order and that's really what we're looking at right now."
A big issue with the Hawkeyes going into this week's game is injuries. The team had a bye week to heal, but Coach Ferentz said that they are not yet at 100%.
"We're still kind of nicked up," he said. "I don't think Mo Brown's going to play; he's one of our biggest playmakers on offense. I can't see that one happening based on where we're at right now in his rehab. If we can get him back, that'd certainly be a big, big stroke for us but I think we're probably a ways away from that."
Even though neither Iowa nor Ohio State are sitting atop the Big Ten standings, this is a game between two top ten teams – the two highest rated in the conference. Coach Ferentz, however, isn't necessarily buying into his team's ranking.
"Right now, we're probably maybe a top thirty team," he said. "That's probably fair, whereas I look at Ohio State, they're definitely a top ten team. They're 19-1 over 20 games… right now, I hope we're a top thirty team; we'll find out when the season's over. To me, polls don't really mean that much until you get into November. We're happy to be where we're at, but it's not real significant at this juncture."
"There's no question about it," he said. "You talk to any of the NFL people coming through, and everybody considers him one of the top five players in the country. Not that he's draft eligible right now, but they consider him to be one of the top five players. Part of the problem or the fans' perceived problems (is) people aren't really challenging the guy too much. It's like the Woodson guy for the Raiders. If you throw a ball in his area or Deion Sanders, typically they're going to start checking your intelligence level. You just don't go after guys like that because they are so athletic; they're so dangerous and so productive."
The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for Ferentz's Hawkeyes, who spent time resting while the coaches prepared for the next game and got into some recruiting.
"We tried to rest our guys," Ferentz said. "They needed that badly, both mentally as well as physically. Hopefully the injured guys had some time… at the end of the week, as coaches, we spent some time on recruiting. We spent a lot of time on our team, just trying to look at it and see where we're at, then also, we started working on Ohio State. Not playing them for a couple years, it gave us a little time maybe to better familiarize ourselves with them. After doing that, I'm not sure we feel any better, but that's the way it goes."
One of the more odd facts of this game is these two teams – ranked #8 and #9 in the country – are second-to-last and last in the Big Ten in total offense. Ferentz says there are more ways to win than a high-powered offense though.
"I just think it just illustrates that there's a lot of ways to win," he said. "I don't think there's a formula for it, but there's a lot of ways to get the job done. Typically, you don't win without good defense… It's hard to win consistently if you're not pretty good on defense. I figured that out a while back."
The Buckeye offense has been (and is currently being) much-maligned, but Ferentz says he is still worried about what they bring to the table.
"You just have to be concerned," he said. "Their line is gigantic; they've all played, they're experienced. They've got good skill people outside. The running backs are good. I just think (Craig Krenzel) to me is a lot like – he's not the same as Brooks Bollinger, but a lot like him. I just think the guy's a winner. You know about the plays he made when they had to have them last year. To me, that's a great place to start. It's got to be a great feeling to wheel a senior out there that's come through for you time and time again. I just think they've got a lot of scary pieces in that offense. They're very imposing."
Overall, Ferentz isn't buying into the criticisms about Ohio State and the fact that they haven't lit up the scoreboard this year.
"I'm just kind of jumping in late on this in terms of how you guys are evaluating their football team," he said. "I'm a horrible statistic guy. I don't think they tore it up statistically last year… To me, all they're about is winning. That's what Coach Tressel's about… The thing I admire about them is they do what it takes to win… They're not getting many style points. Fans tend to worry about stuff like that, but the bottom line is trying to win. They won a national championship, which is extremely difficult to do. They're having a great season this year. They're just a football team that can play with anybody, anytime, anyplace, and they're not going to beat themselves. They play tenaciously hard. They're very fundamentally sound, and they've got excellent players. To dwell on statistics, to me it's irrelevant. It's all about how you end up in a game. These guys have done a great job… the best job out of anyone over the last 20 games."
19-1 is great, but Ferentz's record of 16-3 over the past season and a half has gotten him a lot of attention, particularly in the area of speculation on future NFL head coaching candidates. Ferentz, however, doesn't seem to plan on leaving Iowa in the foreseeable future.
"I'm really happy where I'm at," he said. "I've got a great job. I feel very fortunate. It's a great place to be a coach. I got a taste of the National Football League; I was an assistant for six years. I really enjoyed that experience, but there are an awful lot of things I don't miss and a lot of things I like better about what I'm doing now, so I've enjoyed every job I've had, but I feel like I've really found my niche here, and hopefully I'll be fortunate enough to stay here for quite some time."