We got a rare triple shot of pressers on Wednesday, as Kirk Ferentz took a well-deserved week off and handed the microphone to his assistants. Here's what we learned from Brian Ferentz, Phil Parker and LeVar Woods (as always, transcripts blatantly stolen from Hawkeye Nation):
M * A * S * H
According to Phil, Kaevon Merriweather could well be back for MTSU: "Merriweather is a guy that has a chance to get back. I think it’s looking pretty good but I know I’m not the doctor." However, Kaevon probably doesn't have a job when he returns:
Who has played better free safety so far? You got to look at Kaevon once and Jack twice.
I think Jack, he’s obviously started two games and played two games. He’s growing every day and I think he’s really made some jumps. It’s going to be hard and very competitive at that position when Merriweather comes back.
Phil also mentioned the return of Dane Belton unprompted, which indicates he's both healthier and playing well enough to contribute. Parker mentioned that Belton could play the 'Star' position in the 4-2-5.
Julius Brents is in team meetings, but it sounds like he's a long way from rejoining the rotation. He and Riley Moss could default into redshirts if they don't get back, but Phil says the plan is still to play them if and when they're ready.
It wasn't exactly a state secret in pregame, but Mekhi Sargent was limited at Iowa State due to a nagging injury: "Mekhi has been the workhorse, the Jack-of-All-Trades, but with him dinged up on Saturday we felt like it was best to perhaps not give him quite as many snaps, trying to be as smart as we could with his injury."
The rotation on the offensive line, mostly necessitated by Alaric Jackson's injury, will continue situationally. Brian Ferentz said the multiple weather delays and relatively short possessions made the rotation unnecessary last weekend, but he expects it to return: "There were some things that happened in the game that we didn’t feel like Wednesday had a lot of preparation for and so we had to make some adjustments and change some things and so you wanted to go with a little bit more experience in that regard at that time."
A Starless Night
Right out of the gate, Phil Parker got hit with the biggest schematic question through three weeks: Are we done with that whole 4-2-5 thing now?
Phil said that the decision to not use it much against Miami was due to the opponent's substitution pattern:
[T]heir substitution was going and the pace of the game was going. They were trying to keep us out of certain packages. So we kind of adjusted on the run there and I think we did a pretty good job with that.
Parker didn't say the 4-2-5 was dead going forward, opting to toe the corporate line with Iowa's need to "match personnel," but it's fairly clear after three weeks that Iowa doesn't have a healthy replacement for Amani Hooker that would allow the 4-2-5 to be effective as an every-down defense: "You always want your best players on the field, whether it’s a 4-2-5, whatever it is, you want the best out there."
Talk to the Hand, Not About the Hands
Oliver Martin played two snaps Saturday, sending a portion of the fanbase into a goddamn frenzy. Brian isn't having it.
I will tell you right now, I’m not going through that this year. This guy plays, that guy doesn’t play — if guys are out there producing, that’s the way it is.
The Noah Fant thing last year became a symbol of Iowa's lack of creativity. Martin is going to be spun the same way, even if Iowa's other receivers are producing at a level we haven't seen in nearly a decade. On this front, I can't blame him for shutting the question down.
D.J.s Need to Listen to the Models
D.J. Johnson, who was supposed to be the Star guy in that 4-2-5 defense that we don't see much anymore, was pushed into service as a cornerback in Ames. Iowa State immediately picked him out as a weakness, and it worked on that double pass. Phil told the full story of what happened next:
With that play, obviously he took his eyes in the wrong spot. Young kids do that. I had a guy, Amari Spievey, I think at Penn State, gave up a 70-yarder on the first play of the game and came back to the bench, had to talk to him a little bit, the way I talk to the guys, and he got back. He came back, and fought.
And same thing with D.J. He had a great response. He goes, “Coach, I know, I’ve got to get better.” I think there’s some plays he made out there. One time on the deep ball in the post, he defended that well. So he grew up. Does he have a lot more to go? Yeah, he has a long ways to go, and he knows that and he worked hard today.
Johnson ended up with eight tackles, seven solo (which isn't exactly what you want from a corner, but it could be worse) and two pass breakups. It was good enough to win a share of Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Good on him.
Ferentz took the blame for clock mismanagement at the end of the first half of the Rutgers game, when Iowa took over at the Rutgers 30 with three minutes to play and somehow ran out of time on first down at the Rutgers 1 yard line:
Really when you look at the end-of-half management, regardless of the score what you are trying to do is ensure two things: You want to ensure a score and the last possession. The last thing you want to do is give the ball back to the other team and let them have a chance to go score.
I think in the Rutgers game, we should have used a time-out. Didn’t manage that well. That falls on my shoulders. That was poor and probably cost an us opportunity to score six points.
Yeah, that's fair. Brian also fell on his sword for the boneheaded playcall on third down of the final series in Ames, when Iowa ran a tight end out on third down, going out of bounds short of the line to gain and stopping the clock. And that's all well and good, but if Brian is running the clock and playcalls, what exactly is Kirk responsible for doing?
There wasn't much in the LeVar Woods presser -- everything in special teams is pretty good at the moment except for punt return -- but he did shed some light on the nuance of punt returning: That punt styles can make the would-be-simple act of fielding a punt really, really difficult:
[Nico Ragaini] started off with a punter where he kind of knew where the ball was going to do. Traditional style punter with good spiral, knew where it was going to go, and good to get his feet wet with that because he knew where it was going to go.
Next week is, okay, now you have a rugby punter where it can go this way, could go that way, you’re not quite sure how deep, how short. And he had two games right way that were bang-bang that were two good tests for him.
And I think then going into the next week, now you play a guy at Iowa State where he can traditional spiral or he can roll out in rugby. I think he was able to take advantage of that.
If you haven't fielded a punt in your life -- like, for instance, me -- you might think that a punt is a punt is a punt. But like a pass, a wobbly or end-over-end punt is a different animal entirely than a perfect spiral. That gets lost in yelling about how the Rutgers guy keeps dropping them at the three yard line with backspin.
Useless Sound Montage!
- "Obviously, we’re 3-0. It’s best we could do after three weeks..."
- "Starting off on our bye week here right now, it’s nice to be 3-0."
- "I really think there’s a lot of room for improvement and a lot of things that we need to clean up and do a lot better as we move forward. Pleased with where we are at."
- "Last week was a good game."
- "But a guy like Nate, that’s what you can’t necessarily put into words what he does for you."
- "I feel like we’re off to a good start collectively in all the units that we’re dealing with right now on special teams. There’s certainly more work to be done. We’re off to a good start, but there’s certainly places that we need to get to that we are not at right now."
- "We are going to play in a lot of big games."
- "He certainly has a talented leg..."