Q. Quarterback Joe Labas in the spring and throughout fall camp, it was about getting him up to speed with the quarterbacks in the room. How would you assess his progress through six weeks, and has he made steps to close the gap on Spencer and Alex?
BRIAN FERENTZ: Joe continues to do a good job, but the simple answer to that is he has not yet closed the gap on those two guys, but doesn’t discourage you from continuing to work with him, right, and hope that you get there.
Q. News flash here: People watching the Hawkeyes want more changes to be made. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you. What change —
BRIAN FERENTZ: You ask in such a somber — I don’t mean to laugh. You’ve got to let some of that off your shoulders. Just ask the question.
Q. What tangible change could you point to coming out of the bye week that might be different about this offense going forward?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I think we’ll have to wait and see. I don’t know how exciting that is as an answer. That’s not going to take any weight off your shoulders.
But the question is fair, right? Let me try to give you a fair answer. Look, if the run game is not effective, if we are not being able to move the ball on early downs with the run game, can we find a way to do it with the passing game?
Or are there ways to manufacture yards on early downs whether it’s quick game, whether it’s emptying the formation out, whatever it is? Can we create more space and then put the ball in space? Can we do that?
Are we asking the proper things in the run game out of the right guys? Can we do a better job of having certain backs run certain plays? Are we asking the guys up front to do things that they cannot do? I don’t know.
We have to look at that right now. That’s what we’re in the process of doing. Can we find better ways to create some of that success on early downs.
And then changes as far as third down, you know, I would point back to the Illinois game. We came out with some different looks on third down. We played a little more empty. We tried to open the field up a little bit more. We certainly tried to feature Sam a little bit more, which there’s some danger in that too. You don’t want to become too one-dimensional, which we got pretty darn close the other night. He had, like, 16 targets. He may quit at some point here and protest. Kind of running the wheels off of him.
Are we going to put guys in a better position to become successful? Can we put the ball in the perimeter more, however that is going to be, whether it’s bubbles, jet motions, fly motions, things of that nature?
I don’t have great answers right now. We’re in the process of going through those things, but the reality is, yeah, we have to look at doing things differently and changing some things moving forward here.
Are we going to be five-wide in the wildcat and things like that? I don’t think that’s the answer. If it was, I can assure you that’s what we would be working on doing. The reality is we’re trying to win football games, and we’re invested in this. This is very important to us.
What can we do to get better? That’s a question in our minds at every moment of every day, and that’s not unique to the bye week, right? These are things that you are trying to adjust and change week to week during the season in the midst of it.
Q. Jacob Bostick and Diante Vines got in uniform. Diante came out of uniform before the game. What could they add and to the offense moving forward? Because it seems like they’ll be back from Ohio State, I think, and what’s the status of Keagan Johnson and his return?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I’ll start with Jake Bostick. Obviously, he is a young guy, but he continues to show improvement. He has had to battle some injuries here. I’m not confident that he will play against Ohio State, so I don’t want to get anybody excited about that prematurely. Still battling through some of those things.
Diante, I don’t want to make that proclamation. I’ll leave that to the head coach next week, but we are confident that we’re going to get him back as we move forward here. Hopefully it’s Ohio State. I thought we were close last week, but there’s just obviously you’re always going to defer to the medical staff. The player safety would be the number one concern.
We are really excited about him because he is a guy that had flashed in camp. He is a guy that really before he had the injury, really thought he had done some nice things in the red zone. He has some speed that is impressive on the outside for a bigger guy.
He is not real lengthy, but he has some size to him. He can run and use his body. Really his ball skills impressed us since he has been here, but unfortunately, he has battled a lot of injuries. Camp was really the first time that he was able to kind of push it forward and get going. Really excited about that.
Hopefully we can incorporate him moving forward here and can just give us, number one, some presence outside, and then maybe we can continue to build depth.
Then with Keagan still continuing to battle some of the injuries, some of the soft tissue stuff, I would defer to the head coach just about his availability.
Q. When you look at the Big Ten, things have changed quite a bit where you have seen two assistant coaches fired this week, you’ve seen two head coaches fired, including one that was quite a shocker, or at least to me. Have you had any concern about your position and based on the success or lack thereof of the offense, and have you considered stepping down because of that lack of success?
BRIAN FERENTZ: Okay, so I will start, number one, with the last part of the question. In my opinion it doesn’t make it right. There’s two options in life in any situation. You can surrender, and if you surrender, then I think the results are pretty much guaranteed. Or you can dig in, you can continue to fight, and you can try to improve and do things better.
I will always choose option A. Done it in my personal life. Done it in my professional life. I wouldn’t be able to go home and look my children in the eye if I wasn’t an option B person. I think I said option A. I started with option surrender, right? That’s not me. Let me be crystal clear about that. That’s number one.
Number two, to the other question, you know, look, in this business we all signed up for this. This is a results-driven business. It has been since the minute I entered it. None of this is a new phenomenon.
Things that go on outside of this program never surprise nor shock me. Ever. Because this is the world we live in. This is the life we chose. You have to get results. Otherwise, they will move on to people who will. That’s the way it is.
You add on to it my emotional ties to this place. I already referenced it, player or coach, 16 years here. Was born in a hospital across the street, spent my entire childhood wanting to run out in that Swarm and got to do it and now got to coach here. I love this place. There is a responsibility and a privilege that comes with being a coach here or being a player here. I feet that deeply.
There’s another layer for me. My father is the head coach. I’ve been answering questions about nepotism my entire adult life. None of that is new to me either.
I would flip it and say if you think that I don’t feel an added responsibility or added pressure to perform well for my father, you are crazy. Of course, I feel that. I’m a human being.
But at the end of the day, what you can’t let happen is worrying about anything that’s not going to help you do your job.
I learned that very early in my career: Keep your eyes on the road. Keep your eyes where they need to be. Keep your feet where you are and worry about doing your job as well as you possibly can regardless of circumstance, regardless of what’s going on around you. Keep your focus there. Pour your effort into that. Whatever happens, happens. Do the best you can where you are at with what you got, and you won’t have any regrets.
That’s what I was taught at an early age. I continue to live by that. So I don’t worry about what’s going on other places.
Quite frankly, I don’t worry about what’s going on for my job status or anything like that. My focus is on the staff, the players, and doing my duty to the best of my ability to help them be successful.
Q. Along those lines, do you think that in terms of your job evaluation that that’s been influenced by the fact that the head coach is your father?
BRIAN FERENTZ: You would have to ask the head coach. I don’t think anything. That would be a question for him. I don’t want to speak for anyone else.
Q. I wanted to ask about the quarterback. What would be the downside of — I know we’ve talked about this. What’s the downside of going with Alex? You still have Spencer on the team. What would be the downside of giving him a shot?
BRIAN FERENTZ: The downside of —
Q. Making a change at quarterback.
BRIAN FERENTZ: What would be the upside?
Q. Making a change. I’m just asking.
BRIAN FERENTZ: I’m not trying to be coy. What I’m saying is — I think I addressed that, Scott, when you asked the question — what’s the downside? I’m not interested in making a change for change’s sake. What I’m looking at is I’m saying what’s the upside?
I don’t know. There’s unknown there. I know what Spencer has done. I know what Spencer can do, and I know what he does every day. That’s the evaluation piece that we were talking about. That’s what the decision is made on.
I do understand the question. I don’t want you to think I’m being flippant, but does that answer it?
Q. Eh, yeah.
BRIAN FERENTZ: Sort of? Kind of? Not satisfactorily?
Q. I’m thinking back to our last Zoom talking about the mobility aspect. It seems like a more mobile option with the line troubles you’re having. It would be a benefit to me, but maybe you can tell me.
BRIAN FERENTZ: I understand that question. Let me explain it this way. The passing game is a system, and the system is built on timing and location in the zone coverage world or if we’re dealing with man-to-man coverage, matchup leverage throws.
For example, in the game Saturday night we didn’t see a lot of zone coverage. There’s not probably great examples of that. There’s two. I’ll give you a couple.
In the two-minute drives, we started with quick game through a hitch route out to Nico at No. 2. We throw the hitch route out there. Ball was on time. It’s right decisions. Everything we talked about. The guy that could take it away was pretty darn close. Okay? It was pretty darn close. We come back to that play and throw it to the sit route twice later.
Now you’re beating that defender, you’re playing the game, timing and location. That’s one way to play.
The other way to play is matchup leverage. Plenty of those throws in the game, right? There’s a couple where it’s uncontested. There’s just a guy running wide open because the man cover guy falls down, or whatever it is.
But you even think about the second play of that two-minute drive at the end of the first half, we throw a circus route to Sam into the boundary. It’s man-to-man. It’s tight coverage. The defender is low and inside; the ball is high and away. That would be matchup leverage. Throwing where the defender is not, where only our guy can make a play on the ball.
In either case it’s still built on timing. The mobility aspect, certainly understand the question; but the reality is the majority of the passing game, it needs to happen on a timeline, and the minute that timeline is compromised, now all bets are off. Now it’s backyard football.
There’s nothing wrong with that from time to time. A good example of that would be the scramble where Spencer got hit on the third and two or whatever it was. You’re off your clock. You’ve got to go.
It’s also a good picture of improvement. We had the same situation against Rutgers. Similar play. Not the exact same play. Similar play. You’re not there. You’re off your clock. He ended up eating it on the 7-yard line end of the first half when we got down there.
You are looking at those things and saying that’s improvement. That’s what you like. That’s what you are looking for. But if that answers your question, I don’t know that the mobility — just having a guy running around, I’m not sure that’s going to solve any of our issues. You’re not going to be any more open just because a guy is running around.
Q. A finite amount of time in the bye week and the rest of the season to make improvements. How much of an improvement do you think is feasible for this offense?
BRIAN FERENTZ: We need to make any improvement. I’m not worried about how much is feasible. I’m worried about how much can we make? We need to be striving to make as much as we possibly can.
Going back to the first three points of the press conference: possess, advance, and score the football. How do we do those things better? How can we get them better? Any improvement is better than no improvement, but then let’s start building on that and let’s see how much we can make.
What I don’t want to do is say finite amount, how much, I don’t know. How much can we make? That’s how much we need to make. Whatever we’re capable of making in a short amount of time, let’s work on that; then understand that’s going to have to continue week to week.
Q. It looked like your running backs, Leshon Williams and Kaleb Johnson have made a lot of progress. Those two, how much do you think you can lean on them, and how much in concert can they grow with the offensive line to maybe give you a good punch the rest —
BRIAN FERENTZ: Hopefully a whole lot. We feel like Kaleb took a step forward in that Nevada game. That was his game to figure out, hey, I can do this. He did some good things there. Then he continued to build on those.
Especially the next week at Rutgers, I thought both those guys ran the ball extremely well. Especially between the tackles.
How much more progress can they make? Shoot, I think everybody can make more progress. Right now Leshon is probably a little bit more consistent than Kaleb because he has played more. He has been in the program longer.
You can trust him to do just about everything we do at a higher level than Kaleb because this is all still pretty new to him. I expect him to continue to close that gap, but also expect Leshon to improve.
And you can never have too many good football players. The better those guys are running the ball, the better we’re going to play. There’s no question.
Q. Schematically, how much can you change here in the bye week without overloading guys with information?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I don’t want to say this in a way that — how do I say this properly?
The scheme — you have a vast amount of scheme. It’s not that you are just going to overhaul the scheme. It’s what are you working to feature?
The playbook is expansive. Everyone’s is. There’s only so many ways to play offensive football. How much can you change? You’re really not changing anything. How much can you focus on different things? Plenty. You can do that.
At the end of the day a lot of our issues when we’re talking about making makeables, we just need to do that. Let’s start there.
Q. So you mean by that more execution is the problem more than schematics?
BRIAN FERENTZ: I think we need to execute a lot better, yes. Did I answer that question?
Thank you, guys.