IOWA CITY, Iowa – With it being the Iowa bye week, defensive coordinator Phil Parker and his counterpart on offense, Brian Ferentz, met with the media on Wednesday here at the football performance center. The Hawkeyes hit the halfway mark at 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten.
Here’s are some of the highlights:
-Parker said that Amani Hooker has become the team’s starting strong safety. The sophomore replaced three-year starter Miles Taylor during Saturday’s game against Illinois. Hooker had taken over as the starting free safety in the absence of injured Brandon Snyder, who returned to the lineup versus the Illini.
-Parker said that middle linebacker Josey Jewell should be fine after injuring his right shoulder Saturday. The bye week also should help cornerback Manny Rugamba’s recovery, the coach added.
-Parker talked statistics as well. He said the defense is getting off the field on 67 percent of third downs with a target of 68 or better. Opponents are averaging about four points when reaching the red zone with a goal of 4.3. Iowa is blitzing about 10 percent of the time, off from 17-19 it’s utilized it in the past.
“Probably the most important stat to me is how many points you’re giving up, and right now we’re at 18.7, which compared to the last four years, I think that’s right on the mark, so that’s interesting. Our job is to keep them out of the end zone. I think we have done a better job the last week getting takeaways, and we were down on that, and I think somewhere right around five or six last week helped us out a little bit. We’ve got to continue to do that better,” Parker said.
-Parker said he’s been pleased with the team’s pass rush, which has recorded 12 sacks. He said the defense needs to be better in coverage.
“We’re not a big pressure team. We pressure when we have to, when we feel like it, and it’s selective, and it’s more of a feel thing than where we’re at. our guys up front have done a good job of rotating in,” he said.
-Iowa’s improved depth and speed on the outside of the defensive line has led to the Hawkeyes abandoning the Raider/Bandit package, which used three-man front with linebackers on the edges.
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“We still have a four-man rush and still can defend the run because just because you go over there and start playing the pass too much and don’t have your defensive linemen in there, now all of a sudden somebody pulls out a run play on you and you can’t defend it as well. Definitely that is a thing that we lean more on nickel with four defensive linemen than our bandit or raider package,” Parker said.
-Ferentz pointed to Iowa’s 3.7 yards per carry average and fumbles as the biggest concerns on offense. The Hawkeyes have coughed up the ball 14 times and lost nine. They lost two all of last year.
“I’ve never been around a really good championship level football team that’s fumbled the ball at that rate. The good news is we’ve got six games to clean it up. We certainly intend to,” he said.
-Ferentz said the key to hitting some deep passes that have missed this season comes down to…wait for it…execution. He doesn’t put that all at the players’ feet, however.
“That falls on us as coaches, starting with me. I’ve got to do a better job in practice making sure we get those things repped, making sure we get them hit, giving those guys opportunities to make those plays so that when we get to the game field on Saturday, we feel like we’re ready to do that, and we can reasonably expect to be successful doing it,” he said.
-Defenses have done a good job showing quarterback Nate Stanley a lot, confirmed Ferentz. The first-year starter has done well with it.
“He’s seen more defensively in six games than I think a lot of guys do maybe in two years, and that just is because of the schedule we’ve played and how people have chosen to defend us. That’s a real positive. How he’s handled it along the way, also very positive,” Ferentz said.
-Ferentz was very self-critical of his performance as a first-year play caller. He described a play that resulted in Akrum Wadley being dropped for a safety against Penn State a gimmick and one he should have have called. He was not pleased with his game plan at Michigan State.
“Unfortunately, our line has got to take the brunt of the criticism. I think that starts with me. I didn’t design it very well. We didn’t have a good plan going in there. We didn’t ask guys to do things that were going to help us be successful, so who’s fault is that? That’s mine. I’ve got to live with that,” he said.
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-The Hawkeyes have lived a lot between the hashes with their passing game. Defenses have noticed. Now, it’s time to counter.
“We need to focus a little bit more outside the hashes because the one thing is the defense knows this, it’s a lot easier to throw it between the hashes. Typically the coverage is going to be a little bit softer on the outside. I’d like to see us hit more comebacks and hole shots and things of that nature. It probably starts with me helping them out and getting some of those things called,” Ferentz said.
-It was thought that when running back James Butler injured his elbow in the third game, he would be back after the bye week. That timetable may be pushed back, according to head coach Kirk Ferentz last week and Brian Ferentz on Wednesday.
“I don’t know when James will be back; that’s probably a better question for the head coach,” Brian said. “I know he’s working hard to get back. It’s a serious injury, and we can’t heal up the bone. I know he wishes he could. He’s done a really nice job with his rehab.”
-The starting offensive line against Illinois is one Brian Ferentz hopes will be the unit moving forward with Boone Myers working into the rotation when he’s healthy. That quintet was (from left to right) Alaric Jackson, Keegan Rendger, James Daniels, Sean Welsh and Tristan Wirfs.
-It looked in the preseason that New Mexico graduate transfer Matt Quarells would help an inexperience wide receiver corps. It hasn’t happened. He’s played limited snaps without a catch.
“We’ve got guys that are ahead of him, and the challenge would be for Matt to push and move past some of these guys,” Brian Ferentz said. “They obviously had a head start on him. But right now those guys have continued to climb, and it’s not so much what Matt is or is not doing, it’s the fact these other guys are coming in every day and pushing it forward, and so I think the challenge for Matt would be to get going a little bit and try to pass them.”