What Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh said about Big Ten title game matchup

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The Minnesota-Wisconsin football game was on the TV at Kirk Ferentz's Iowa City home on Saturday, as he was surrounded by family and celebrating a belated Thanksgiving. The 23rd-year Iowa head coach knew what was at stake for his football team.

“I was trying not to get too sucked in emotionally about it,” Ferentz said Sunday, less than 24 hours after Minnesota’s win combined with Iowa’s Friday victory at Nebraska sent the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten Conference title game against Michigan. “As the game went on, it became apparent that maybe this would be a reality. When the final whistle went off, it was a really good feeling for us. Just really happy for our players, everybody involved, the staff.

“To have an opportunity to play in the championship game is always special. And we certainly took the hard road to get there.”

Iowa players returned to the team facility Sunday, having won four straight games to earn the outright title in the West Division. The Hawkeyes will treat this like a normal game week — film study and meetings were Sunday; practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; an off day Thursday; and then final preparations and travel on Friday to Indianapolis.

Ferentz and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh appeared on a media call to discuss Saturday’s 7 p.m. CT, Fox-televised matchup between No. 12 Iowa (10-2) and the second-ranked Wolverines (11-1). 

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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh spoke highly of Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeye program on Sunday.

Here are some of the highlights.

Ferentz will 'probably' make an announcement on Iowa’s starting quarterback Tuesday.

Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla?

Ferentz wasn’t ready to publicly reveal which direction the Hawkeyes would go for the title game, adding that he hadn’t had a chance to talk to the players after they had Saturday off.

“Overall, been pleased with both guys,” Ferentz said. “I think both of them have really performed well during the course of the year.”

Ferentz dismissed the notion of keeping the decision under wraps beyond Tuesday, saying that Michigan would be preparing for both quarterbacks either way. Petras, who has started 17 games for Iowa, came off the bench to spark Iowa’s 28-21 comeback win at Nebraska. Padilla, the more mobile option of the two, directed the Hawkeyes to three straight wins against Northwestern, Minnesota and Illinois but is 12-for-31 passing over the last two games.

More:Hawkeyes sit at No. 12 in USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll, Michigan makes big move up

“We’ll probably say something on Tuesday,” Ferentz said. “… It’s not like we’re trying to be coy. I just want to have an opportunity to visit with the team, visit with the staff and we’ll push forward.”

Monday update: Iowa's depth chart listed Petras No. 1 and Padilla No. 2. Ferentz will meet the media Tuesday.

Where do things stand with the flu bug?

Petras and Padilla both got the flu last week in what was a significant team-wide issue for Nebraska preparation. Ferentz indicated that was why offensive linemen Connor Colby and Mason Richman were pulled in the second half of Friday’s game.

“It was a matter of how long guys could hang in there,” Ferentz said, adding that the preliminary reports Sunday on the flu “are really good. Hopefully it’s run its course, or at least we’re on the tail end of it. Made for an interesting week, to say the least.”

Ferentz added that he didn't know of any new injuries from the Nebraska game, but noted that cornerback Matt Hankins wouldn't be available Saturday.

Lofty praise for Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson

Ferentz said during his six years as an offensive line coach in the NFL, there were two players that “were as problematic as anybody you faced” — John Randle of the Minnesota Vikings and Howie Long of the Oakland Raiders.

“Mainly because they didn’t take plays off. All the time, every play,” Ferentz added. “They kept you up at night, just wondering how they were going to disrupt things. And that’s what you’re looking at with No. 97.”

That would be Hutchinson, who has suddenly entered the Heisman Trophy conversation after a three-sack performance in Saturday’s 42-27 thumping of Ohio State brought his season total to a school-record 13 sacks. Hutchinson is listed at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds and could also be entering the conversation as the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

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Saturday’s game will offer Hutchinson a chance for another spotlight performance against an Iowa team that has had struggles at tackle and allowed 31 sacks.

“He’s elusive, strong and has got such a tremendous motor,” Ferentz said.

Aidan Hutchinson had three sacks of Ohio State's C.J. Stroud in Saturday's 42-27 win.

Mutual respect between Ferentz, Harbaugh 

Harbaugh played for the Baltimore Ravens in 1998, Ferentz’s final year on that NFL staff before he was hired as Iowa’s head coach. Ferentz also was on the sidelines as an Iowa assistant in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 game vs. Michigan in 1985 when Harbaugh was the Wolverines’ quarterback. Bottom line, Ferentz shared his longtime respect for Harbaugh on Sunday.

“Jim’s a great person, from my vantage point, and outstanding coach,” Ferentz said.

And the feeling was clearly mutual from Michigan’s coach, who once lived in Iowa City as a boy.

“Nothing but respect at the highest level. Pretty much nobody I respect more,” Harbaugh said of Ferentz.

Harbaugh said after his one year with Ferentz in Baltimore, he continued to follow Ferentz’s career. When Harbaugh was Stanford’s head coach, former Iowa athletics director Bob Bowlsby was the AD. They would have conversations about Ferentz.

“Somebody that you’re interested in how they do things … and what’s caused them to have the success and track record,” Harbaugh said. “Since being in the Big Ten as a coach, the opinion hasn’t changed."

Jack Campbell has two defensive touchdowns for Iowa and leads the team in tackles by a wide margin.

Who or what on Iowa impresses Harbaugh the most?

“Just how conscientious they are in all three phases,” Harbaugh said. He noted that he could tell that Iowa spends a lot of time on special teams and respected that attention to detail.

“It’s a finely tuned organization that knows what they’re doing,” Harbaugh said. “I’m a big fan of the back (Tyler Goodson). Really like the quarterback (Petras). The linebacker (Jack Campbell). They’ve got really good players.”

Harbaugh was asked a follow-up question about Campbell, whose 124 tackles are by far the most on the Hawkeyes. Only two other teammates (Seth Benson with 89 tackles and Jack Koerner with 76) have more than 48. Campbell, who also has two defensive touchdowns, should have a good shot at first-team all-Big Ten recognition this week.

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“He’s got a nose for the ball. That’s probably about the best thing you can say about the linebacker,” Harbaugh said. “Somebody that shows up where the ball is, repeatedly."