Thirteen years ago, Kirk Ferentz almost became the coach at Michigan. Now, three Wolverine coaches later, his Hawkeyes go to Ann Arbor again Saturday. Here's what Kirk had to say about Michigan Week (as always, full transcript available at Hawkeye Nation):
Good News for People Who Love Injury News
Finally, after four weeks where it felt like every able-bodied offensive lineman and defensive back was knocked out, we get a bit of positive information on the injury front: Left tackle Alaric Jackson and defensive backs Kaevon Merriweather and Julius Brents are probably OK to go Saturday:
Jackson, Merriweather and Brents all practiced today, and they looked like they came out of it okay. So we’ll let them work all week, see how they look, but hopefully we’ll start getting some guys back on the field instead of losing guys.
Ferentz wouldn't say if Jackson will start -- "[I]f he's capable, we'll certainly start him" -- but that's certainly a possibility. Even if he doesn't, Iowa's line has played extremely well in his absence. He stated that Brents won't start: "But I really see him hopefully helping out on special teams this week, and maybe in some sub packages, things like that."
Kyler Schott is probably a couple of weeks from a return at guard. Matt Hankins and Brady Reiff won't play this week ("Hopefully we're getting closer" with them).
With the Brents news comes questions at corner, but D.J. Johnson is still the clear starter according to Ferentz. Same goes for when Merriweather returns at free safety, where Jack Koerner has started the last three weeks.
[R]ight now Koerner has got a 3-1 edge in experience. Kaevon came in as the starter, but he came in and played one game. It’s not the same discussion as Jackson who’s played two years for us now. We know who he is and what he is. But you’ll see both those guys playing, and the way it’s worked out, I think everybody is going to have plenty of opportunity.
Ferentz twice mentioned Dane Belton as the possible new "Cash" position guy, but dropping a true freshman into that position with any kind of frequency is a risk I doubt Iowa wants to take. Regardless, this shouldn't be a week where we see too much 4-2-5 from Phil Parker, so the discussion is probably moot.
Back to Basics
Iowa's running the ball on roughly the same percentage of plays as it did a year ago, but production is significantly better. Part of that is competition, to be sure, as Ferentz acknowledges, but this might also be Iowa's best line in a decade and buy-in from other, less likely, sources:
Part of it’s the blocking. So far, four games into it, our line has done a pretty good job, but the level of competition goes up this week, certainly. I’ll also throw in our receivers; I think they’re doing a good job. Brandon Smith in particular is doing a nice job, coming in there, digging safeties out, those types of things, and we’ve talked about this pretty consistently probably since the end of spring ball.
Smith is a big guy who can run fast. While that has obvious benefits in the passing game, it also can provide understated help to the running attack. That Ferentz would call out some exceptional wide receiver blocking is (a) a sign that Smith has truly become the every-down receiver that they wanted, and (b) THE MOST KIRK FERENTZ THING EVER.
The Good Stuff
We got our first Ferentz shout-out to 1981 of the season this week!
But you look at the ’81 ball club, we were not prolific offensively by any stretch of the imagination, but we had a pretty salty defense, had the best punter in the world, not in college football but in the world at that time, and pretty solid kicking game.
We found a way to be successful that year, but protecting the ball is paramount.
Ferentz went on to discuss the 1981 team's win at Michigan, which was the first serious road win for a team that hadn't contended in two decades and had lost in Ames earlier in the season. A win like that, against the No. 5 team in the country on the road, can be a foundational piece for a rebuilding program. Just ask Kirk about 2002.
Ferentz's love for a good Gordy Bohannon story has become one of the best parts of writing this post every week, but there's something a bit more implicit in what Ferentz said here: Iowa has a pretty salty defense and a really good kicking game this year. The Iowa State game was essentially won on those two things and turning the ball over less than the opponent. With Michigan -- and that defense, and that ball-control offense -- a few days away, the formula might stay the same.
Also, shout out to Reggie Motherbleepin' Roby, the GOAT, may he rest in punts.
Useless Sound Montage
- "Typically when you play a Michigan team, they’re well-coached, and it’s the same thing here."
- "The whole trick is surviving it."
- "[T]he key to success for any football team is guys moving forward and improving."
- "I remember Coach Fry. He said, before you’re going to win, you can’t lose games, and Ted Marchibroda said more games are lost than won. Those old axioms are really true."
- "I think all of us have to be comfortable with who we are and what we are. That’s part of it, as individuals..."
- "Focusing on what’s important, it’s tougher and tougher to do than any one time we’ve ever had probably"
- "Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards."