The Iowa head football coach acknowledges the best way to improve a fan's experience. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com
CHICAGO – On podiums, at round tables and in lobbies, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and three Hawkeye seniors combined to conduct more than six hours of interviews Thursday and Friday at the Big Ten Conference's Media Days.
The Hawkeye headlines of the two-day session at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place were: Overcoming 2014 disappointment; C.J. Beathard as an affable leader and rallying point; Drew Ott as an eggshell-eating character; and the rise of LeShun Daniels and Jay Scheel on the depth chart.
But in a six-hour feast of questions and answers, there were some decent leftovers:
Focus on finishing
"Finishing" was a consistent message coming from Ferentz, who seemed especially perturbed when recounting the lack of second-half punt coverage in the regular-season finale vs. Nebraska. He admitted he woke up "sick" following that 37-34 overtime loss.
"You look back at our last ballgame at Kinnick, we didn't finish," Ferentz said. "Very clear. ... If you want to be a good football team typically in conference play, you've got to play your best football in November. We can't say that (about 2014). So that's got to be a point of emphasis, certainly. But it's not like you have a drill for finishing. It's more of a mindset, the way you do things."
Ott was asked if he got tired of hearing questions about finishing.
"Nope," he said. "We need to."
Ferentz-on-the-hot-seat questions also filtered to Ott. Refreshingly, Ott didn't deny that talk was out there — but instead shifted the focus to the guys wearing the helmets.
"He's got a good system. It's more on us than it is on him," Ott said. "That's what frustrates us a little more. It's more of an embarrassment to us as players in the program."
Could Kinnick drop below 70,000?
A $130 million proposal to create a new dormitory geared toward athletes and improvements in Kinnick Stadium's North end zone will be formally presented to the Board of Regents on Wednesday.
In a side session in Chicago, athletics director Gary Barta admitted the confines are "tight" in the North end zone (nearest to the water tower). The plans are to add more club areas and premium seating, which could ultimately take a chunk out of the stadium's current capacity of 70,585.
"Until I get clearance from the Board of Regents, it's hard to say," Barta said. "If it's possible, I'd like to stay above 70,000. That's a good size for us."
Did you know? Austin Blythe is married
Switching back from guard to center is not the only big 2015 change for Iowa's most experienced offensive lineman. Austin Blythe is also a new husband.
Blythe and Kylie Ritchie, daughter of Austin's high school football coach at Williamsburg and now a teacher, were married May 16.
The couple has known each other since third grade but didn't date until their freshman year of college.
Naturally, good-natured razzing from teammates followed.
"They kind of call me Dad or Grandpa," Blythe, 23, said. "Something like that."
Hints at changing offense
Generally speaking, Ferentz doesn't make sweeping style changes. But he did drop this nugget about the offense during a round-table session.
"We'll do some things a little different than in the past," Ferentz said. "The key is ... trying to move toward the strengths of your team."
Read into that what you wish. But remember, there is a new run-game coordinator, too, even if Brian Ferentz's title has been described as mostly clerical.
Greg Davis heads into his fourth season as offensive coordinator with a vote of confidence from Ferentz, although fans' digs continue to circulate about Davis' "horizontal" passing game. But, as Kirk Ferentz put it, "there weren't a lot of (style) complaints coming out of the Orange Bowl," in which Iowa's 2009 season ended 11-2 behind a pro-style, run-oriented attack.
"So I would argue or suggest it's not so much style of play, but ... the way the play turns out," Ferentz said. "For the most part, sports fans will embrace teams that play well."
Then, Ferentz added this: "When you can't cover a punt or a kick, it's hard for fans to get excited about that."
(We told you he hasn't let go of the Nebraska loss.)
Injuries, Nike and Quote Guy
•Recapping the injury updates: Tight end Jake Duzey (knee surgery) is still on track for a September return. ... Ferentz said "it's kind of a race against time right now" whether defensive tackle Darian Cooper can make it back from knee surgery a year ago. It doesn't sound promising. ... Freshman offensive lineman Levi Paulsen suffered a "pretty serious" elbow injury at the Shrine Bowl last month that likely will keep him out most of August. He was likely going to redshirt anyway.
•Speaking of freshmen: Anyone impressed so far? Ferentz said, "Give me till mid-August." Lomax said this of wide receiver Emmanuel Ogwo (6-0, 170) of Mesquite, Texas: "He's really fast. He has some speed. We'll see what he does in camp. You guys will like him."
•Nobody was spilling the beans (if there are beans to spill) on whether Iowa would wear any special uniform's in Nike's "Pro Combat" line. Said Ferentz: "We're open to those thoughts. We'll just kind of tread water and see where it goes."
•Ott could be a go-to guy for the media this fall. He speaks directly and honestly. He doesn't sugar-coat his answers. Or, his eggs.