The Register's Chad Leistikow and Rick Brown preview the Hawkeyes' game against Illinois.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz got asked about “New Kirk” on the weekly Big Ten teleconference Tuesday.
“This 'new me’ stuff has really taken legs,” Ferentz said later.
A Hawkeye program that had leveled off in recent seasons has a 5-0 pulse heading into Saturday’s homecoming game with Illinois. Ferentz took a deep-dive look at his program in the offseason after a disappointing 7-6 record in 2014.
“It wasn’t like it was a train wreck last year,” Ferentz said. "There are just things you can’t leave out there. That kind of pushed things forward.”
It was Ferentz himself who quipped “It’s a new me” at his news conference two weeks ago.
“I don’t know that the changes have been radical or all that extreme,” Ferentz said, adding, “really, the new thing is the old thing.”
Ferentz went back and examined the first few seasons after he took over for Hayden Fry in 1999. He looked at how the program found its way again.
“We haven’t split atoms or anything like that,” Ferentz said. “We’re just trying to do everything a little bit better. I know it sounds simplistic. But that’s really what it gets down to.”
Staff on solid footing
After several seasons of upheaval on the coaching staff, solidarity is back. There were no personnel changes in the offseason, only a few tweaks that have paid dividends. Brian Ferentz added running game coordinator to his duties coaching the offensive line. LeVar Woods switched from coaching linebackers and tight ends. And Seth Wallace was put in charge of cornerbacks and nickelbacks.
“I feel like things are meshing, jelling,” Ferentz said. “There’s really no way to microwave that or speed it up.”
The head coach jokes about his son's days in New England.
Having Brian Ferentz and Woods, both former players, on the staff have paid dividends as well.
“They know the culture of the program and understand it,” Kirk Ferentz said.
For the first time in years, everyone on the staff seems to be on the same page, and coaching that way. And that is more important than the arrival of “New Kirk,” the head coach said.
“To me, the story is more about the growth of our program, our staff, and the cohesion of our staff,” Kirk Ferentz said.
Double dose of Smith
Wide receiver Jerminic Smith, a true freshman, will start for the second straight game Saturday. He’ll replace senior Tevaun Smith, who is exected to be out until the Oct. 31 Maryland game with a knee injury.
Jerminic Smith is still looking for his first college coach. Quarterback C.J. Beathard targeted him four times at Wisconsin last week. Smith appeared to give up on a few of those routes early. That’s something Ferentz said he’ll catch up to with more experience.
“He’s going to be a really good player,” Ferentz said. “He and Jake Hillyer are our two guys out there. They’ll do well. We’re a better team with Tevaun. I’m not going to sit here and tell you no. He’s one of our better players.”
Ferentz said that offensive left tackle Boone Myers and running back Derrick Mitchell, who were injured and didn’t make the trip to Wisconsin, are “day to day. We’ll see how they progress as the week goes on. But I wouldn’t want to speculate at this given point.”
A telltale sign
The Big Ten’s weekly football awards offer a clue why Iowa’s football team is undefeated so far.
“An offensive player, a defensive player and a special-teams player,” Ferentz said. “Really, that’s kind of the way we’re winning.”
Cornerback Desmond King was named the Big Ten’s co-defensive player of the week Monday after his two-interception game at Wisconsin on Saturday. Beathard was named the offensive player of the week on Sept. 14 after passing for 215 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 77 more in a 31-17 victory at Iowa State. Placekicker Marshall Koehn was named the specialist of the week on Sept. 21 after kicking a 57-yard field goal to beat Pittsburgh.
“We’re playing good team football,” Ferentz said. “One segment is feeding off the other.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Illinois had lost 24 of 25 Big Ten games. The Illini come to Kinnick Stadium with wins in four of their last six league games.
“When you watch them on film, they’re just a better football team in every regard,” said Ferentz, whose team won 30-14 in Champaign last season.
Illinois is 4-1 and coming off a 14-13 home victory over Nebraska last week.
“What we see on film from last November and what we see right now from last week, it’s a whole different ballgame right now,” Ferentz said.
Bill Cubit coaches Illinois on an interim basis. He was elevated when Tim Beckman was fired a week before the season started. And Cubit has been to Kinnick Stadium before. His 2007 Western team Michigan beat Iowa 28-19 in the regular-season finale.
Ferentz said Cubit’s 2007 team “picked us apart. That was surgery.”