KIRK FERENTZ: Good afternoon. Thanks for being here.
Looking back, it was great to get a road victory, first Big Ten win, and to do it on the road and at night, certainly a challenge the whole time. The biggest thing, we saw some growth in all three phases out there in the game. Pleased about that.
I thought on special teams, kickoff coverage was a little bit better. Had a couple kickoff returns that looked decent, and good to see Drew Stevens on the field goal production. The run game was a little bit better the other night, probably the best it’s been, and the defense came up with another good effort.
All in all, a good team effort. Happy certainly for the two guys that were honored, Tory Taylor, recognized by the Big Ten, as well as Kaevon, so both those guys had big nights. Good to see their efforts be recognized.
Captains this week, same four guys, Jack Campbell, Sam LaPorta, Kaevon Merriweather and Riley Moss.
Then on the injury front, unfortunately we did get bad news on Jestin Jacobs. Didn’t sound good the other night, and that’s been confirmed. He’s going to have to have surgery and he will miss the rest of the season. That’s obviously a tough break.
Tough for the team, but most importantly just tough on the individual, and that’s the worst part about injuries.
Keagan right now will not be going this week, so we’ll take that a day at a time, week at a time, and keep moving forward there.
With Michigan coming to town, we have a tough challenge here. Traditionally they’ve been one of the best teams in the conference and might as well say best teams in the country, as well. Had a really good year last year, and they’ve continued that play moving forward into this season, so they’re off to a really good start.
As always, an impressive team. They have a lot of talent, all three phases, and certainly are well-coached. You pick out the special teams, grab that one. They have three very veteran guys in terms of their specialists, the punter, kicker. One is a fifth-year guy, one is a sixth-year guy, and their deep snapper is a veteran guy, as well, senior. Excellent return guys. They do a nice job.
It’s the same thing offensively and defensively. They have a lot of really good players, and they’ve been very productive, very successful, and it’s going to take our best team effort to have a chance in this ballgame. So it’s a big challenge for us. Look forward to that on Saturday.
Just a couple side notes, 20-year reunion for the 2002 group, so great to have them back. They’ll be here Friday, Saturday, and be honored during the game. Really happy for them.
Then moving down that road a little bit, great to have Tony be recognized with the ANF award. It’s quite a wall there. The names on that wall are impressive, and Tony’s name certainly fits up there, as well. As you can see, starting a new family, young family, so it’s great to see the guys as they move on in life and start the next phase of their lives. Very happy for Tony, and his family will all be here over the weekend to be part of that, as well.
Our kid captain is Adam Arp, a 16-year-old from Williamsburg, will be good to have him with us, as well.
Looking forward to being back in Kinnick Stadium, and should be a good environment, so hopefully we’ll be ready to go.
Q. First off, from an injury standpoint, is Terry Roberts available for Saturday?
KIRK FERENTZ: We’ll see. We’re hoping so.
Q. Has he been able to practice?
KIRK FERENTZ: A little bit, limited. We’ll see how it goes.
Q. When you got here in ’81, you guys beat Michigan. It was only the fifth victory over Michigan ever for Iowa. Is that because maybe there’s a belief system that you can beat a team —
KIRK FERENTZ: I think that works sometimes in football. If you look in our conference, I’m more familiar with that. I think there are some series that have been like that a little bit. But to that point, that was a really big game I thought. We were coming off a loss if I remember correctly. I might be wrong on that; maybe the loss was the next week, but somewhere in there.
But to go up to Ann Arbor and win like that, that was a hard-fought game, and that’s one commonality with all the victories that we have had, they’ve all been really tough to earn. They go 60 minutes.
That’s what it’s going to take this Saturday, too, but I do believe back then it was a big thing within the series, and as far as the impact of the series, then maybe more importantly just for the program, for where we were at at that time, it was an important win.
Q. The numbers suggest that Kinnick is a difficult place to play if you’re a top-5 team. Since 2008 you’re 5-1 against top-5 teams and the only loss was on the last play of the game. Why does your team respond so well to that kind of competition, and what do you think and how do you think the environment maybe plays into that?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, the environment is easy. Our fans do a great job, and certainly it’s gotten even better now with the north end zone. That’s helped a great deal, as well.
But the important thing for our team to understand is that the fans can only do so much, and they’ve been great, and we appreciate that. But we’d better be playing on the field.
I think the challenge, the games you referenced and this one hopefully will be like that, our players need to understand each and every play — it’s like an NFL playoff game; each and every play, something can happen. So if you’re not at your absolute best of kind of talent and ability they have — and I cited their kicking game. That’s a good example. They’re going to make field position a challenge for us, and then they’ve got return guys that if you’re not good in coverage, they can hurt you real fast.
It’s kind of like that at every position, offensively, defensively. They’ve recruited really well. They’re a big, strong, athletic team, so if you’re not on your game each and every play, big things can happen against you.
The games you’ve referenced, our guys have had a good understanding of that and they’ve had a good appreciation for that, so can we close that gap between now and 11 am, that’s the challenge that we have.
Q. Is there something in practice does that come back to, where the mentality starts? Probably to me the most surprising win you had was against Michigan six years ago because of what happened the week before.
KIRK FERENTZ: Surprised a lot of people, yeah. Understanding obviously the circumstances played into it, yeah. But you have to do everything right. That’s a great illustration. Pretty much everything in that game we were doing what we could do. Not that every play is a great play, but we didn’t give them anything easy and came up with a couple plays and then played some situations really well.
Again, that’s a good illustration because it felt like we were climbing a high hill the whole game.
Q. Do you see a steep climb this week?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah. You look at these guys, it’s hard to find a weakness. It’s easy to find a lot of depth. A lot of impressive guys. They’ve recruited well; they should and they do. They have players that play really well.
They’re well-coached. It’s not all talent and ability. They’re very well-coached, and they play hard.
It’s going to be a challenge; there’s no question about that.
Q. Last year you faced McNamara. Are they much different with McCarthy at quarterback?
KIRK FERENTZ: You might argue they’re better. I don’t know. They’re both really good players. I don’t want to call it a dilemma. It’s been a discussion point, at least it sounds like, up in Ann Arbor and maybe points beyond that.
From where I’m standing, it looks like it’s tough to go wrong either way, and maybe that’s the situation they’re facing.
I’m not sure who we’re going to see, but they’re both really good football players.
Q. You sit on the floor below us where you’ve got that huge TV screen of your game against them last December on it. Is this a week-long thing? How did that game make you, your coaches, your players feel?
KIRK FERENTZ: It obviously didn’t feel very good that day, that’s for sure. Our challenge at that point back in December was to move forward — like we do any game, you look at and study and learn from it and move forward, and we’re not trying to shame anybody or anything like that. That’s not the idea at all. We typically rotate three or four games of our opponents’ TV games up on the screens during the week.
As far as that game carrying into this game… we’re looking forward, not backwards.
But the one thing it did do probably for both teams, both staffs, is just give us a little bit more familiarity because we haven’t played them in a while. Obviously we learned about their personnel and their football team last December just like they did about us. But all that said, now it’s a different team. They have a lot of new faces as well as familiar faces. It kind of is what it is.
Q. I know you just said you want to focus on moving forward, but do you get the sense from the players that they’re maybe treating this as a revenge game, and if they are, do you see that as beneficial for them to treat that like that?
KIRK FERENTZ: It depends on the individual. Those words aren’t coming out of my mouth. I’m looking that way.
But it is a reminder, what I was talking about earlier. If you aren’t on top of things and you give up a couple of big plays, all of a sudden the hill gets pretty steep. When you’re trying to ascend a hill like that against a team that’s that talented, it’s tough. It’s tough, and then they’ve got you where they want you.
The first thing you have to do is just keep it close and make sure every play is sound, and if they’re going to get something, make them really work and earn it, and we didn’t do that necessarily last year.
If somebody has motivation that comes out of that, I think we all want to do better, needless to say. But it’s not as simple as hey, let’s go get these guys. I wish it was.
Q. How big of a threat Blake Corum is in that backfield?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah. They have a bunch of guys, but the running back is tough. He’s tenacious, doesn’t give up. Had an unbelievable game Saturday. It’s not surprising. He’s a high-motor guy.
Another example that you can’t measure guys with a yardstick and all that stuff. Football players are football players, and he certainly is one.
Q. Cooper DeJean’s rise so quickly, has that surprised you how quickly he’s adjusted on defense and turned into a playmaker?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yes and no. It’s three straight weeks he’s had a pick, so you’d never predict that for any player, but the things we get to see him do in practice and have seen him do since he showed up here, it’s been impressive.
Then the other part, I think, that ties in with that, since he got here he just acts like he belongs. So we’ve got a guy sitting back there — that’s the first thing I think about when I think about Tony when he showed up, and in the NFL, you hit a first-rounder right, they just kind of fit in with wherever you put them.
That’s how I remember Tony being the same way. Tony was with the third team, did a good job; then you throw him up with the ones all of a sudden, and looked like he had been here three years.
Cooper has kind of been that way. I’m not saying it comes easy to him, but he just seems very natural and smooth at whatever he does.
Good illustration of that the other night was him returning punts. It’s a night game against a really good punter, the ball comes down a little differently, and he made it look pretty easy.
We’re not taking anything for granted, but he’s been really impressive in a young career so far.
Q. How have you seen Logan Klemp step up with Jestin out?
KIRK FERENTZ: Again, he’s got the benefit of experience unlike the guy we just talked about, Cooper. Logan has been in the program. He’s been a really good special teams player and a leader, and he’s doing a fine job. Jay gives us a little flexibility, as well.
Q. What’s the status of Brenden Deasfernandes? And the other part of that, what have you seen from T.J. Hall and Jameson Hines?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, Brenden is still out, unfortunately, and the other two guys have stepped up and done a good job. We’re getting a little thin, but that’s the world we live in, and those guys are doing a good job.
We’ll just keep pushing forward.
Q. What is it about this team that can cause an upset against Michigan?
KIRK FERENTZ: We’re going to have to play really well all three phases. Just a basic answer there, and every play. That’s the biggest thing. Then hopefully we can get them to slip up or make a mistake or two, but they haven’t made a lot of them this year, so it’s going to be a challenge.
Q. You talked about last week Aaron Blom not necessarily out of the mix, but you praised Drew for his performance. Is it safe to say that he’s the incumbent at the kicker position right now?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I don’t like that word “incumbent.” It’s a competition every day for everybody, but you’ve got to give Drew credit. He did a nice job.
I guess the point I was trying to make, and I still feel this way, nobody is down on Aaron. We all believe in Aaron. He does a good job in practice every day. I think right now Drew has earned the right to be our kicker.
But it’s all about competition. You’re talking about two young guys, two inexperienced guys, too. I’ve said in the out of season we expect some ups and down, probably bumps in the road at that spot, and hopefully we can just keep pushing forward, but it’s good to have two guys in competition. That’s for sure.
Q. Does he remind you at all about Keith Duncan, considering they had similar paths here?
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s a little bit early, but yeah, he’s doing a good job. The improvement he’s made from the spring is impressive because — I’m not trying to diss him, but it was okay. But he should have been in high school.
But he’s made a big jump since then, and I think that’s the important part. That’s, I think, attributed to his personality, his work ethic. He’s done it and worked hard at it, and it’s starting to show right now.
Again, I feel good about Aaron, too, so that’s a good situation right now.
Q. Realizing Kaevon Merriweather has got a lot of games left for you, but he’s sort of the man of the hour with his conference honor. How would you summarize his career to date?
KIRK FERENTZ: I think it’s been good. He’s, I don’t want to say a typical Iowa guy. That’s a pretty broad description of players. But he does represent a little bit of some of the successful guys we’ve had, in that maybe he wasn’t necessarily a big recruit.
I tease the NFL guys and say, Phil tends to have somebody kind of laying in the weeds a little bit, and he didn’t say much about Kaevon until late in the recruiting process because Kaevon was really probably more accomplished as a high school basketball player. But that’s meaningful. That counts. I could say the same thing about Cooper. He was a really good high school basketball player, too.
Phil had a feeling about him and we made the offer to him, and he luckily accepted it.
But the point I’m going at is he’s just kind of gradually gotten better every year, every phase. That’s what a lot of our good players have done. He was a prospect, a good prospect who became a good football player and certainly had a big night the other night, but he’s been one of our leaders and respected by everybody, not just the defensive guys but everybody on our football team.
Q. McCarthy is a quarterback who isn’t necessarily a run-first guy, but he can certainly improvise and extend the plays. As a younger quarterback, is there a way you can deal with it or take advantage of it? He’s a suburban Illinois kid; did you see any of him in high school?
KIRK FERENTZ: Oh, yeah, we knew who he was, but were not in that discussion for long, which was like a lot of the players that they have on their team. Although I think they wanted Tony. We got one there, so at least we won one battle.
But yeah, he’s an excellent football player, and I think you just have to be cognizant of that when you’re playing defense. You’ve got to realize this guy can pull it down and hurt you that way.
Some quarterbacks can’t, but he certainly can, and they’ve got a couple guys that are pretty adept back there moving around and making plays with their feet but also being able to throw the ball, even if they are moving around. It’s tougher to defend.
Q. Going back to Jacobs, is it a long-term surgery like where the NFL Draft potential would be impacted?
KIRK FERENTZ: This year’s draft or next year’s draft? I’m worried about Michigan right now. I’m not looking down the road that far. But he’s out for the season. He’s out for the season. It’s just disappointing.
Just like anybody, though, it stinks. I’ve said a million times, that’s the thing about injuries that I’m not sure anybody understands. If you’re a college football player, that’s important to you to play those 12 games. That’s all you have guaranteed. He just lost whatever we’ve got left, ten, nine. There’s nothing worse. Then you feel isolated.
There’s a whole mental psychological component that comes with being injured. I can’t say enough about our training staff, not only about the job they do to physically get people back, but there’s a lot of lonely hours when you’re not involved. Whether you have a sprained ankle or in this case a surgery, it’s awful. It’s terrible.
Q. If you look at Campbell, Benson, Higgins, Fisher, is there someone else that’s adept at maybe flexing outside if you go 4-3 outside of Logan?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, we have flexibility. Seth has been out there before, and Jack has played some, too, so we’ll figure that out. But we have some guys that have versatility, which is a good thing. Jestin has played inside, too, so I think that’s one thing we try to do is keep some flexibility in the system if you can.
Q. Going back to Kaevon, we asked him during media availability about what you guys saw in him as a prospect, and he flat-out said, I don’t know. Can you take us back to conversations you had with Phil and what Phil told you he maybe saw in Kaevon as a recruit?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I mean, we liked him as a football player, but I think the fact that he was a really accomplished basketball player on a good team. My first exposure was going to a practice and watching him practice, and we did a home visit that night. It must have been 100 years ago when we actually did home visits before guys were actually committed and all that stuff. I’m dating myself. That’s a foreign concept, old school. Like actually get to know somebody before you ask them for a date or get married? Imagine that.
So yeah, I remember Mom was great. She’s a tremendous woman. Kaevon is just a very impressive young guy but a good athlete. A lot of this stuff is learned. I’ve never believed anybody has got to start playing football before ninth, tenth grade. You can still be a good player.
Maybe some sports aren’t like that, but I think if you’re a good athlete, you can start playing football a little bit later. Sometimes you’re better off. You don’t have bad habits and maybe aren’t banged up, haven’t been abused by somebody.
Q. What’s your assessment of the offensive line?
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s improving. Yeah, it’s improving. We’ve still got plenty of room for improvement, but this is going to be a big challenge. These guys look like an NFL defense. I mean, they’re big. They’re big, they’re strong and they’re athletic. Other than that, no problem. And good scheme.
Q. You’ve seemed to have some success running — probably more counter than in most years. Is that just because of angles, and it’s almost easier for younger linemen, okay, here’s the target as opposed to trying to move the target?
KIRK FERENTZ: Not necessarily. We just felt like it was a complementary thing maybe to add, so it is a little bit — to your point, it’s a little bit new for us right now. We’ve had it. We’ve emphasized it little bit more maybe in the last couple weeks, and hopefully it will continue to be part of the package. But it’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s helped us a little bit.
Q. They’ve got their defender Mazi Smith, I think 55 or 58 or whatever —
KIRK FERENTZ: And he’s like 350 or whatever he is? Looks like a refrigerator except he can move.
Q. He’s like Tristan in athletic ability. You can’t simulate that in practice.
KIRK FERENTZ: No.
Q. What do you discuss because you have such young players in there. Like Jeffery Simmons —
KIRK FERENTZ: They’re going to find that Saturday. They’ll get firsthand experience. But that’s always a problem. I joke with our defensive guys, act like you weigh 350. Well, they can’t do that. And then yeah, to your point with him, he’s a freak athlete on top of it.
All you can try to do is really rely on your technique, good technique. You’ve got to play with leverage, and we have to be smart in terms of how we try to approach blocking these guys, too. But they’re a big challenge defensively.
Q. Is it too late in the season or in the process to experiment with a defensive player at receiver if you’re very shorthanded —
KIRK FERENTZ: You could do it. I don’t think it’s ever too late. But it’s not like we’re exactly deep anywhere right now. We don’t have that kind of pool to draw on.
Cooper probably could play offense pretty well, I’m guessing, a couple spots. But we’ve got to use him on defense right now. Gordie Lockbaum, I’ll throw a name at you. Last guy to probably do it, but that was at Holy Cross, and I don’t think they played Michigan. We’re not going there.
Q. I didn’t think you were —
KIRK FERENTZ: Dr. Eddie Anderson came from there, though, right?
Q. How close do you think you are to having an offensive line rotation kind of set in stone?
KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t know. We’re just going to keep working. I think so far it’s been good for the guys. I don’t think it’s hurt anybody. It’s not hurting us I don’t think. But until the picture becomes more clear, somebody has really got to kind of grab on to it. If they do, then the job is theirs.
We talked about Drew earlier. Right now it’s his. But it’s week to week for everybody. It’s all about assessing things, trying to perform, improve and prepare, and then you go out and compete and then we assess things and just go from there. But right now if it’s close enough, we’re going to keep working it.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing, quite frankly, especially with guys that aren’t established. I hate using that word, too. That’s like “incumbent.” Because everybody has room for improvement, coaches included.
Q. When you talk to Jack Campbell you see a lot of depth to him as a person. He’s got intensity probably in all phases, but he seems to be able to turn off the football aspect pretty well off the field. Is that kind of maturity something that you saw when you were recruiting him, or is it just something that maybe has developed over time?
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s both. He’s not the same guy he was four years ago, but he’s not a lot different. Certain things you can predict, and just kind of assess on some guys are easier than others, but he jumped out at us right from the start, just being really focused. He’s a very intense — without being — he’s not a braggadocious, high-testosterone guy, but he just does things with purpose, and that jumped out at us right away, everything he did.
Guys like that are pretty impressive. He’s done nothing but get better. But that goes back to his attitude, too. He’s always thinking about the things he can do better. He’s not worried about what he’s doing well. He’s focused on what he can do better, and he works hard at it.
He’s got a good pool of tools, too. He’s pretty gifted that way. But boy, he puts it to work and uses it.
Q. I think there was a point maybe a year after he was where there was a discussion about whether he should go play defensive end, especially I think that was right after AJ Epenesa had left the program. How close was that, and I’m sure that was something your defensive coaches were probably arguing amongst each other.
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I might have been instigating part of that. If we had five of him, they’d be our three linebackers and two ends probably, if we had five Jack Campbells. I think he could do all of those positions pretty well.
I could say that about a couple other guys that have played here in the past, but at some point you just figure out, okay, where’s the best spot for him and for the team, and hopefully those two things coincide. Usually they do, and we’re happy about where he’s at, because he impacts the whole game from his position.
But I think he could, and I think Aaron Kampman could have been an All-American center, but that would have been probably stupid on my part just like moving Jack to end would have been stupid. That’s the end of that one.
Q. In the run game, you guys had a steady dosage of Gavin, Leshon and Kaleb. How do you see that shaking out as the season goes on?
KIRK FERENTZ: We’ll take that week by week, too. Just depends how it presents itself. Right now it’s great to have both Leshon and Gavin in the locker room together at the same time. It’s the first time we’ve had both those guys playing.
Kaleb is growing and getting a little bit better every week. My guess is we’re going to need all three of them. All three of them are really quality players and all have different strengths and weaknesses, so I’m glad they’re on our team.
Q. When you recruit someone like Kaevon or Desmond King, do you ever wonder what the other schools aren’t seeing in these guys that you guys are seeing?
KIRK FERENTZ: No, it’s just football. I can’t probably tell you what they saw or didn’t see. Kaevon’s football film maybe wouldn’t be as good as his basketball. And Desmond didn’t maybe, I guess, have prototypical height, I guess. I don’t know.
It’s not the same as, but I remember Abdul is a good example, I remember watching his high school tape and I thought it was pretty good. We were really happy to get him, don’t get me wrong, but then I remember the first time I saw him actually on the field, it was just a drill, a run drill, run defense drill, and he moved a lot quicker. He was more sudden to the ball than I saw on the tape.
Sometimes if you don’t see somebody live or you don’t get any exposure — like that day, that was his freshman year, but I was like, this guy is going to be pretty good. There’s something there that maybe I didn’t see. Not that I’m an expert, but that’s kind of how recruiting is, and that’s why you look on NFL rosters, not everybody comes from the five or eight brand schools in the country.
Recruiting is kind of the same way. Guys pop up around the country that are really good players. You just never know. You never know how a guy is going to develop.
The other commonality is attitude like all those guys had. Desmond was a football player; like that guy has a great attitude and still does. Same thing with Kaevon, a bunch of guys that maybe are, quote-unquote, under-recruited. They don’t get good if they don’t have great attitudes.
Q. Looking at the offense as a whole, two games in a row where it seems like they’ve taken a step forward. Have you sensed a confidence boost in that unit, and how has that manifested itself in the early part of this week where they’ve been able to stack consecutive good games on top of each other?
KIRK FERENTZ: It certainly helps, and as coaches at least we’re pretty cognizant of where we were at a month ago and where we’re trying to go. It’s a process, and the more you get your guys healthy and the more guys involved, the better off it’s going to be.
But the most key and central element is practice. That’s how we’re going to gain ground is doing a good job during the week.
We’re a little bit younger on offense, and we don’t have as much veteran leadership as we do on defense, so that’s a bigger challenge. But the guys understand, and that’s really where the things — that’s where good things happen typically, and then you’ve got a chance to carry it to a game.
But again, we’re looking big picture, too, not just each day. Not just each week. But it’s a race against time, yeah.
Q. On that practice point, are you seeing especially some younger players on offense are not making the same mistakes they were in practice —
KIRK FERENTZ: We’re certainly doing better than a month ago, certainly. Getting some other guys back helps you. It helps your tempo. But it’s day-to-day. Veteran guys tend to practice a little bit better. They understand and know how to do it, and that’s part — it’s a learned thing just like anything else you do in your career.
Again, let’s go back to Tony. Tony got here — occasionally young guys just walk in, and boy, they have an understanding and feel and they just jump right in with it, but usually it’s a ladder you’ve got to climb.
Q. Is Van Ness playing at as high of a level as it seems to us on the outside in terms of like how you guys evaluated him as coaches?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, he’s doing a good job. He’s doing a really good job. We talked about position flexibility with the linebackers. He’s got it, which to me is — as a former offensive line coach, if you’ve got a defensive guy that can move around a little bit, that’s really a good thing. Sometimes you might be able to get a match-up that helps you, is advantageous.
But again, not everybody can do that, but he’s got the ability to play outside, inside, and he’s done a nice job on special teams. He’s a player who’s definitely — talking about guys that maybe were undervalued a little bit.
Q. Offensively no turnovers in the last two games. How do you mix in those chunk plays, those big plays that come in, especially when you’re not trying to get the ball but you want to be able to stretch the field to maybe get that running game to move down the field?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, ball security is critical and it has been for us historically. I’m not a big stat guy, but that’s one I follow really closely. We improve our chances a lot if we’re smart with the football.
It’s a big thing. Then if you can get the takeaway on top of it, that’s a bonus. But to me, two things. Concentration, really concentrating out there as a player, and then you’ve got to be sound fundamentally and technique wise. So those two things.
And I guess the third thing is everybody realizing everybody has got a role in that. It’s not just the guy fumbling the ball sometimes, but if you let a guy go unblocked and somebody gets surprised, those types of things, that’s how bad things happen.
It’s a team effort. I don’t think — it’s not that we weren’t concentrating those first two games, but part of that’s just getting better and getting more experience, too. But it’s a huge part in victories, that’s for sure.
Q. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about quarterback. We haven’t done that yet today.
KIRK FERENTZ: I was getting ready to leave, too.
Q. 11 of 17 the other day. I think maybe a couple decisions he’d like to have back in retrospect, but overall, it seemed like the train ran on time and he was able to get the ball where he needed to go. Have you seen growth from him, or is it everybody else around him catching him to now where he —
KIRK FERENTZ: I think it all goes together. That’s what I was trying to articulate a couple weeks ago. I don’t know if we can get a fair assessment when things aren’t a little bit more in better sync than they were. Not that we’re there yet, but at least we’re making some progress.
I think the last two weeks we’ve seen more of what we think Spencer can do and can be. He’s like everybody else; we’re all trying to move as far down the road as we can, knowing it’s going to be a tough challenge this week.
But we’re just trying to take a step forward each and every day, and if we can do that, we might end up having a good football team, but that’s what we’re working on. Yeah, he’s done a good job, and he’s getting a little bit more help right now, and we’re going to need to do a good job Saturday.
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Q. As far Kaleb Johnson goes, given his performance last Saturday, will you maybe continue to ease him into more opportunities?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, no question. If you earn it, you’re going to get it. He certainly has earned it. He’s done a really good job.
Part of it was circumstance this past weekend. Really for the first three games we’ve been a little shorthanded at that position.
During that time — and this is how it works, too, is if you earn the right to be considered for playing time, and he’s certainly, I think, done a nice job since we got started back in August. He’s improved every week.
He wasn’t perfect the other night, but he looked more comfortable and looked more like the kind of player you hoped he was going to be.
But you know, players have to — it’s a road to get there because he didn’t look that way four weeks ago. I think he’s earned our confidence and is earning more and more from everybody as we go, and so yeah, if you do that, you get a chance to play. That’s a good thing certainly, and it was great to see him look like he did because we’ve seen him look like that occasionally in August, and it’s good, and hopefully there’s some consistency there with him. Great young guy.
Q. Has the wet field, wet ball impacted the snap the last couple of games? Seems like there were a few plays where it takes almost a double clutch for Spencer to get the ball.
KIRK FERENTZ: I don’t know if I’d attribute it to that, no. We’ve had some glitches in the first three games without that being a factor, I think, and that’s just, I think, newness. It’s not a veteran battery, if you will. A little bit of newness there. Hopefully we’re working through that.
Q. Is there a chance Tyler Elsbury would be your starting left guard?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, there’s a chance for anything, yeah. He’s in the discussion. Definitely. He’s in the discussion at both center and guard right now. It’s open competition right now. I think a couple guys are pulling away a little bit, but it’s open competition. We’re just trying to get that right mix in there.
Q. Was he shuffled back, because we saw at kids’ day he was the starter —
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, we’re always — like every day is a little different, I guess. Some things have been pretty consistent. Richman is pretty much if he’s been healthy, been at left tackle, and we’ve been using a lot of different combinations. We’re like you guys, we’re trying to find the right combo.
Q. How have you seen Logan Lee grow as a leader?
KIRK FERENTZ: You know, it’s two part. He came here like a 30 year old, and he’s still that way. He’s mature beyond his years. He’s just one of those guys. But he’s also growing now as a football player, and talking about injuries, he really went through his share of them early in his career. His effort has always been outstanding, but the injuries that take him off the field where he couldn’t play football, practice football, it just — you can’t grow and develop. For some guys, things just happen real quickly, but usually it’s through repetition.
I think that impeded his progress a little bit, slowed it down, but he’s starting to catch on now. Really last year I thought he started to do that climb. He’s got great attitude, great skill. Everything about him you love. Now he’s starting to play at a little better tempo and speed.
So my point is there is he’s a respected player, and then also a tremendous human being. I think guys look up to him. The biggest thing is he just gives great effort. He’s been doing that since he got here, whether it’s out-of-season program or football.
Q. It appears the rule regarding cut blocking, a lot of the ambiguity was taken out. I know it’s a sore spot for you, but how difficult or challenging is it when running an outside slant to incorporate that and what’s the timing that has to take place?
KIRK FERENTZ: So if you hang around — a couple observations. If you hang around by next year or the year after, there won’t be any cut blocking. It’s a movement right now, I promise you. It’s a movement.
That’s where this thing is going, unfortunately. It’s really critical. I was going to say I’ve seen two of them on film now, and part of the problem with the rule is the rule is hard, I think, to officiate the way it is now. Wagner got called for a chop block. It would take me five minutes to describe it. I don’t blame the official because of the way the rule is, but he didn’t see the whole thing.
It was a bad call, but because it’s just the rule screwed it up, and it’s a whole different discussion.
Then I saw one a week ago against Nevada’s opponent, got called for one, and then interestingly enough, I was watching a highlight last night maybe or something like that, I don’t know, but I saw a guy do something in a pro game that I didn’t think you could do.
Anyway, and it didn’t get called, and they call everything in the pros.
What the hell is the question?
Anyway, it’s hard to run slants. It’s a movement to, again, eliminate the run game because everybody wants to see passes. That’s my theory.
Q. When you look at what your back side blocking has to do on that particular play, a lot of times your tackle is trying to go for the 3 technique. How do you make that work without getting called?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, I’m getting ready to get in a rules discussion. One of those stupid things that happened that made me — anyway, you can still do that, and that’s the only thing left except the tight end can’t do it coming to the inside which is stupid because the box is the box. It’s really a geographical area, and they could make it so simple and so clean by just saying that, but that would take common sense, and common sense isn’t so common anymore.
And then the other thing, I fully — now we’re totally on a tangent here. Basically on defense you can just turn and run, and I don’t think that’s playing defense. Guys that can’t play blocks, low blocks can’t play defense in my opinion, like they should be playing something else. They can’t play defense, or you teach them how to play a low block, which used to be part of coaching football.
Anyway, yeah, I’m really on a tangent, and I’d love to see the data that they keep pointing to. It has nothing to do with Rutgers, so now we’re really off the rails. It’s bad.
Q. There was a prominent player from Oregon, plays for the Giants, got hurt in training camp —
KIRK FERENTZ: I didn’t see the play.
Q. It looked like just a normal cut block but he didn’t defend it — you guys would roll those balls to your defenders to sprawl out and defend themselves. On the defensive side now, do you even prepare your players to engage —
KIRK FERENTZ: We still do a little bit. Really the only guys that can get cut are the guys on the interior by rule now.
They should a little bit. Nobody on the outside can do it, which is unfortunate. I don’t know how the service academies are even playing, those teams that do a great job on the perimeter.
One of my mentors growing up was a really prominent defensive coach, and that was the first test they did. If the guys couldn’t play cut blocks, they threw them over on the other side, like they couldn’t play defense and they were down to like 13 guys. This is when he went to a different university.
But the game has changed. Roll with the flow.
Q. In your 23 years of doing this, have you ever seen a punter quite as successful as Tory Taylor up to this point?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I’m cheating because I was here when Roby was here. I got to be here for two years of Reggie Roby. I’m not comparing one to the other — I’ll compare them both. They were guys you noticed. Reggie was a great punter, great guy, and I think probably could have been all-Big Ten several positions because he was that kind of athlete.
In all fairness to Tory, Reggie grew up playing football, basketball, he was just a multisport athlete and a great, great human being.
Tory grew up kicking balls, off the turf apparently because we saw him do that, and that’s what he does. He’s really good at it, too.
But the big takeaway is it’s a real impactful thing, and this great is a great example. You’ve got two punters that can really alter the game. We spent a lot of time trying to come out of the end zone, I know that, last time we played against this punter.
That’s one more thing that’s on the list. That really impacts a game. It’s huge. If you can master that down — it takes a good punt, but it also takes guys on the coverage unit doing a nice job.
Q. Rutgers offense, they have a quarterback (indiscernible) run the ball. What sticks out to you about their ability to do so effectively in the first few games?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I mentioned Coach Schiano doing a great job building that program. They clearly had a plan and they’ve brought some new bodies in on the offense up front. They’re veteran up there. They’ve got big guys, and they’re good, so just outsider looking in, it looks like they had a plan of building that thing, so they’ve done a good job with their line, good tight ends, and they’ve got a couple backs that can run the ball very effectively, actually three of them. It’s something they do, and we’re going to have to stop that to have a chance.
Q. How excited does LeVar seem when it’s a special teams battle like this?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, the way we play, that’s always big. It’s a really critical thing.
He’s done a great job coordinating all the groups, and it’s been a plus for us. Like I said, the biggest thing were the two penalties, and they hurt you, and it’s like walking a guy in the ninth inning in baseball. Typically it bites you, and those were disappointing.
I think on the kick coverage, I don’t know if we just were assuming it wasn’t coming out because they didn’t seem interested in bringing it back, or when he dropped the ball, but somehow we didn’t look very good, and that ball came out pretty quick, and we can’t have that, either, because you’re talking about field position.
Q. A couple of players, just kind of housekeeping, is Jacobs available? Deasfernandes? I don’t think I saw him the other day. And then somebody I haven’t seen all year is Josh Volk.
KIRK FERENTZ: So the first two guys have a shot, I think, to be back. We’ll see. Deasfernandes, I think, he practiced today and we’re hoping Justin does tomorrow. Again, it’s soft tissue so it’s hard to predict.
Then Volk has been in and out, but we’ll see where he’s at. He’s not in the two deep right now, though. You won’t see him this weekend.
Q. He’d been in there before like last year a couple times —
KIRK FERENTZ: Yep, right.
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