TUESDAYS WITH BOREY: Halfbacks of Yesteryear

By Patrick Vint on November 6, 2019 at 12:23 pm
Walkin' Kirk
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

After a week off, Kirk Ferentz returned to the podium Tuesday to discuss this Saturday's game at Wisconsin.  Here's what we learned (as always, transcript and video available at Hawkeye Nation).


Any hope of getting Brandon Smith back soon is gone.  "Brandon Smith is going to be out for a while" is about as straightforward as it gets from Kirk.  That's a definite no for Wisconsin, and sounding increasingly doubtful for the remainder of the regular season.

Linebacker Kristian Welch and tight end Nate Wieting are also still out with injuries.  Ferentz said he's "not optimistic" about either of them playing Saturday.  Ferentz characterized Welch's ongoing injury as "like a concussion, but it’s not a concussion, just for the record, because it’s such a sensitive thing."

The one bit of good news: Guard Kyler Schott, who was nothing short of revelatory in the first couple weeks of the season before suffering an injury, is back in practice and likely to play at Madison: "We plan on playing him, and he’ll play extensively if he’s able to do so."  If he's anywhere near as good as he was in early September, Iowa's running game should be exponentially better.


Iowa's modus operandi for a game like this is usually pretty simple: Control the ball, lean on the defense to keep things close, and hope for a short field or miscue from Wisconsin to allow for cheap points.  It's the way that Iowa played Michigan and Penn State earlier this year.  It's the way Iowa plays Wisconsin most years, and Wisconsin is usually happy to oblige.

But Kirk is clearly worried about containing Jonathan Taylor.  He mentioned him in the same breath as Sauqon Barkley and Christian McCaffery during the opening statement, then followed it with this Melvin Gordon call-back:

But the biggest thing, and I’ll go back to the game out here in ’14, Gordon had two big plays in that game, one on a run and one on a pass, and when you play a guy as good as Taylor, you might be stopping him for a while, but it’s that threat that he can take it and then go the distance. They did that against Michigan, and the first play that jumps into my mind. Those plays break your back. They’re tough to come back from. The big thing is you’re on edge the entire game as long as he’s out there. You have to respect his ability to finish plays, and it’s really a significant factor.

You know when Iowa doesn't play that ball-control, defense-forward, fifteen-points-wins brand of upset football?  When Kirk doesn't think his defense can consistently stop the opposition.  It's why Iowa goes to the well for new offense every time they see Ohio State.  Playing for field position and time of possession doesn't work when the other team scores every time it gets the ball.

It's not likely -- after all, it's not like Ferentz opened things up against Penn State with similar talent -- but it's possible that Iowa will eschew the old-school strategy and go into Saturday thinking it needs multiple touchdowns to win.

Then again, there was also this exchange:

Q. Is this the type of game maybe like last year’s bowl game where even if the run is not working you have to keep pounding it just to bleed the clock and try to keep them honest?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I think you do. 

So probably not.


Ferentz was on the 1980s Iowa coaching staffs with Barry Alvarez.  And for Iowa fans of a certain vintage, this is all solid gold content:

Kirk, Wisconsin has had three different head coaches since Barry was coaching there, but the style has — it changed a little bit under Anderson, but for the most part the style hasn’t changed. Is that Barry?

I think it’s probably a logical assumption. I can’t say it is or isn’t because I don’t work there. But I know this: Barry and I worked together for seven years, and just knowing what I know about Barry and what I know about playing the teams that he was coaching, I think he had a really clear vision of what it takes to be successful, and it really has meshed well there. He felt like Wisconsin was a sleeping giant when he went there, winter of ’89-‘ 90, and I think his words were prophetic that way...  I think the formula is one that’s probably time-tested and probably a little bit of Barry’s DNA as a Nebraska player and then coaching under Coach Fry, playing defense around the football well and being good on the kicking game, those three things, and that’s what you see, and you’ve seen it pretty consistently now since Barry went there in 1990.

Fair to say you and Barry have some similarities in how you think the game should be played?

Yeah, I think probably all of us that worked together in the ’80s, whether it’s Dan McCarney, Bill Snyder, guys that also had good runs in being successful in their programs. I think you see some commonality there for sure. I always laugh, Coach Fry with his white pants and sunglasses and exotics. Everybody is looking on the periphery and it was all about playing good defense and not beating yourself. That really was the secret, and especially in our big games, that’s what we did.

The philosophy is nearly identical.  Obviously, they differ slightly on tactics and personnel -- Kirk mentioned as much later, citing the enormity of Wisconsin's offensive line and saying that Jackson and Wirfs are big enough to be on "Wisconsin JV" -- but they both certainly share an ethos.


Kirk was asked about Iowa's bad luck in constantly having to face the best halfbacks in football.  Iowa has faced Barkley, McCaffery, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, and now Thomas.  Kirk, of course, went back to 1999.

I’d rather watch those guys on TV. My good luck was, okay, my first two years here, we never played against Brees, right, and we never played against (Drew) Henson from Michigan was a first-rounder, so we saw him on film two years, never played him. That luck has run out apparently. We’ll have to get ready for Saturday.


  • "Overall, over eight games we’ve played hard, worked hard and competed hard. That’s all you can ask from your football team."
  • "When you look at them playing-wise they’ve had good players."
  • "It’s interesting, 21 years ago when we got started, we were at the bottom of the league looking up to the top, and they were right at the top; they clinched a Rose Bowl berth against us there. It was their last game, our next-to-last game."  That is not interesting in any way, Kirk.
  • "But injuries are funny."
  • "You think you know what you’re getting, and then when you get them on campus and just get out on the field with them, there’s certain feelings you get." (NSFW)
  • "But it’s not always fair. Life is not always fair. Football is hardly fair."
  • "We’re not going to change what we do, so we’re going to keep pushing forward."
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