Iowa football notebook | Kirk Ferentz weighs in on Wisconsin’s head coaching change, updates status of two players

The Hawkeyes’ head coach said cornerback Terry Roberts will likely see more action this week. He added wideout Diante Vines won’t play against Illinois.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa football head coach Kirk Ferentz touches the Nile Kinnick statue during the Hawk Walk before a football game between Iowa and South Dakota State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. The Hawkeyes are favored to win the game.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

While Illinois football’s defense ranks third in the nation in both total and run defense, Iowa’s offense is rated 130th in the 131-team FBS.

A major part of the Fighting Illini’s success against the run can be attributed to their defensive philosophies. This season, Illinois has been prone to stacking the box against run formations.

Under head coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa’s offense is run-centric. The Hawkeyes have called 158 run plays and thrown 126 passes this year.

“They pack the box,” Iowa running back Leshon Williams said at a Tuesday media availability session. “Like, if you put six down, I feel like they’ve always got an extra man, a free man. They put a lot of responsibility on the extra man that they bring down to make the play. But at the end of the day, they’re really just packing the box and selling out on the run and hoping they can stop it.”

Iowa struggled in the run game during its 27-14 loss to No. 4 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium last week. Iowa netted 35 yards on the ground on 24 attempts. Not counting the 31 yards senior quarterback Spencer Petras lost via sacks, the Hawkeyes amassed 66 rushing yards.

Michigan’s run defense currently ranks 13th in the nation. Before the Hawkeyes took on the Wolverines, it appeared their rushing attack was building some momentum.

Iowa netted 129 rushing yards during its 27-10 win against Rutgers on Sept. 24 at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. At the time, the Scarlet Knights’ run defense ranked inside the top 10 nationally. In its 27-0 victory against Nevada on Sept. 17, Iowa gained 162 yards on the ground. The Wolf Pack’s run defense is rated 104th in the country.

Despite the Hawkeyes’ woes in the run game against the Wolverines, Williams said he and his fellow halfbacks are still moving in the right direction. He added that penalties played a role in Iowa’s rush offense stalling.

“I wouldn’t exactly say the running game wasn’t going,” Williams said of Iowa’s rushing performance versus Michigan. “I mean, there were a couple big runs when they were called back on us playing hard and playing through the whistle. So, I wouldn’t exactly say the running game wasn’t going.”

Illinois has allowed 70.2 rush yards per game and has given up just one rushing touchdown this season. 

“They’re playing really confident right now,” Petras said. “They’re playing with enthusiasm, playing hard, which is the sign of a good defense, to me. You know, schematically, they have a pretty strong identity that they want to do.” So, it’s on us just executing and knowing how we’re going to be played and knowing how we want to attack them.”

Iowa defense prepping for nation’s top running back

Illinois running tailback Chase Brown leads the nation with 733 rushing yards in five games. Brown has scored four touchdowns and averaged 6.1 yards per rush this season.

Before its bout with Michigan, Iowa’s defense ranked sixth in the nation against the run. Through the first four weeks of the year, the Hawkeyes allowed 73 rush yards per game.

Last Saturday, the Wolverines picked up 172 rush yards against the Hawkeyes. Iowa is now rated 13th in the FBS in run defense. The Fighting Illini’s rushing offense is 30th.

“They’ve done a great job over there,” Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell said. “You just get a sense of the pride, and the effort, and the energy that this offensive line is going to give this running back. You just gotta tip your hat to that.”

Campbell added Illinois does a nice job creating seams and gaps for its runners. One of the biggest things Campbell and the Hawkeyes’ linebackers can do to slow the Illini’s run game is fill gaps Iowa’s defensive linemen can’t.

“The biggest thing is being able to play with fundamentals that allow us to provide a clear read for our linebackers,” Iowa defensive lineman Logan Lee said. “Our linebackers are going to be the guys that ultimately make the majority of the plays. The more productive we can be, the more we take off of them. So, just being able to give our linebackers the best read while also being able to be productive and make plays yourself.

Ferentz comments on Wisconsin’s head coaching change

Two Big Ten head coaches have been dismissed this season: Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst and Nebraska’s Scott Frost. Ferentz said he isn’t surprised the Cornhuskers and Badgers quickly dismissed their coaches.

“Disappointed, but not surprised,” Ferentz said. “I think it’s the fifth [dismissal] this season, right? The toll has mounted. Ball kind of got rolling last year … But that’s the world we’re living in right now.”

Chryst went 67-26 during his near-eight-year stint with the Badgers. He won three Big Ten West division titles and led Wisconsin to seven consecutive bowl games — including the Orange, Cotton, and Holiday.

“It’s not surprising, but it’s surprising,” Ferentz said. “You think about the success they’ve had, but again, I’m not privy to all the details. I’m not there, so I can’t comment on anyone specific. 

“Broad-based, though, it’s kind of like us picking up two schools from the West Coast into the Big Ten. We’re living in different times now, operating in a different world. We live in a very reactionary world, too, right now. That’s obvious … We basically are in the entertainment industry, and some things come with that, and that’s kind of what we’re seeing.”

Ferentz also noted that football is a results-driven business, and he would change his staff midseason if it served a purpose. He added he’s never been in a situation where he’s felt like he should consider changing his staff during a season.

Ferentz also appreciates the patience of Iowa’s athletic administration in an increasingly impatient collegiate athletics landscape.

“I’ve been really lucky in my career, if you think about it,” Ferentz said. “I’ve been places where people are pretty reasonable, and they understand competition, and they help you work through things. To me, there’s only two ways to do it if you hit adversity: Just trash the thing and then start over again, or you try to work through it.

“For whatever reason, it’s just kind of worked out and I’m appreciative of that. I’ve always been appreciative of working in a good, stable environment. Don’t take it for granted.”

Ferentz updates the status of cornerback Terry Roberts, wideout Diante Vines

Senior cornerback Terry Roberts has been out since Week 4 with an unspecified injury. Roberts went through pregame warmups against Rutgers on Sept. 27, but was ultimately held out of the game. He returned to the field on a limited basis versus Michigan, playing most of his snaps with the special teams unit.

Ferentz said Roberts has looked better in practice this week and has a chance to play more against Illinois.

“It looks like Terry Roberts is doing better,” Ferentz said. “He was pretty limited last week. Didn’t play much in the game. He’s having a better week of practice right now, so that’s encouraging. Hopefully we’ll get him back this week and that’ll help our depth a little bit in the back end.”

Sophomore wide receiver Diante Vines hasn’t played a down this season. He broke his wrist during one of the Hawkeyes’ summer practices. Ferentz said there wasn’t anything new to report on Vines.

Sophomore wide receiver Arland Bruce, however, told reporters on Tuesday that Vines practiced for the first time since he sustained the injury.

“It definitely helps,” Bruce said. “The more guys, the better. Diante Vines just practiced for the first time today, which is awesome. It just helps having more guys out there.”