Ferentz: Best Minnesota Team Yet

Nov. 15, 2005

Kirk Ferentz is happy with the progress of his defensive line, but he joked Tuesday during his weekly visit with the media that they didn’t really need another big “exam.”

“We passed a big test last week,” Ferentz smiled, noting that his squad played “pretty well” against a “pretty good” Wisconsin offense in very difficult environment.

“Now we’re facing another one and it doesn’t get any easier,” he continued. “We made a pretty positive step defensively last week, but, by no means, have we arrived. We have a lot of improvement to make and we’re going to have our hands full again Saturday.”

Ferentz and the bowl-bound Hawkeyes entertain a Minnesota team Saturday at 11 a.m. inside Kinnick Stadium that is an offensive juggernaut, a unit that scores at a 37-points-per-game clip driven in great measure by a running game that Ferentz described as “intricate.”

To the winner goes the pig: Floyd of Rosedale. Another of Iowa’s “Tropny Games,” Floyd is the bronzed pig that goes to the winner of the annual Iowa-Minnesota football game. Floyd is currently resting comfortably in Iowa City.

He likens the Gophers to the NFL’s Denver Broncos. Both programs crank out 1,000-yard rushers like chickens produce eggs. This year’s Gopher squad is built around Lawrence Maroney, a junior who is averaging 149 yards of rushing per game.

“He caught our eye as a freshman. We caught a brief glimpse of him last year on the sideline as he raced by,” Ferentz smiled. “This year’s Maroney is bigger, stronger. If you give him a seam, he’s gone.”

Maroney was sidelined last week when the Gophers rolled over Michigan State. His replacement, Gary Russell, gained more than 200 yards and was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week. That’s clear evidence of what Ferentz believes is a very, very good offensive scheme.

“They play great team offense. Everyone is involved. The backs run hard, the quarterback executes his fake, the receivers complete their blocks,” he said, adding, “And, it’s not too often that offensive linemen find their way to the cover of the media guide.”

A talented, veteran offensive line is undoubtedly one of the reasons why Minnesota is one of only two Big Ten teams to be averaging more than 500 yard of offense a game. However, as good as Iowa’s opponent Saturday is offensively, Ferentz points to the improvement in the Gopher defense as evidence of why he compares this UM team to the 2003 and 1999 teams Ferentz ranks high.

“They’re better defensively than at anytime I can remember,” he said.

“They’ve been fun to watch all season and up until Sunday night,” Ferentz said with a smile. “Then the reality hit us between the eyes. This is a very, very good football team with as much to play for as us.”

Ferentz said it will be good to be back in Kinnick playing before what will be Iowa’s 17th straight sellout. It’s also “Senior Day” for the Hawkeyes, an event that, like most college coaches, causes mixed emotions for the head coach and the staff.

“They’re like your kids…you love them, work with them every day, and you want them with you every day. But you also know that they grow up and leave the nest,” said Ferentz.

Saturday is also “Iowa Football Fan Appreciation Day.” As in past seasons, the UI Athletic Department will display randomly selected seat locations on the large scale video screens during the first, second and third quarters. Each seat location is assigned to a prize. Below is a list of some of the prizes to be given away.

“It’s one small way for us to say thanks to some of the very best fans in college football,” Ferentz said about Fan Appreciation Day.

“We feel their energy during home games inside Kinnick Stadium and when we’re on the road. And, of course, they’ll follow us by the thousands to wherever we land in post-season play,” said Ferentz.

Fans will have until the end of the third quarter of Saturday’s football game to claim prizes. A claims table will be located in the concourse beneath the new south grandstand.