Q. How would you evaluate offensive coordinator the last four weeks? Seems like there’s a lot less complaining out there. Making the most of what you’ve got. What positive are you taking?
KIRK FERENTZ: With all that stuff, maybe when the season is over…
I think the big thing is we’ve gotten better as a team each week. We’ve talked a lot about the line. The line had a setback two weeks ago, but they bounced back and competed hard and pretty well.
I kind of look at the whole picture. Coordinators are important on minimizing them in any of the three phases. Still gets down to players doing things they’re able to do. You have to be realistic about who you have, what their experience levels are, things like that. Those are things I’m always thinking about before I formulate an opinion about something.
Ultimately it’s about finding a way to win. We’ve been able to do that the last four weeks. Hopefully we can do it for five.
Q. On the O-line, do you expect the same five starters even because of Beau Stephens?
KIRK FERENTZ: I think it will be the same. It will be good to get him back for depth purposes. If he was a fifth-year guy, maybe he’d be right back in there. He’s so young, still learning so much on the job.
The good news is we were really thin last Saturday. At least we get somebody back who we can put in the game. Keep pushing forward. Hopefully we keep getting better.
Q. What have been your impressions of Ostrenga and his development since he got here?
KIRK FERENTZ: He’s one of those guys, you’re never quite sure what’s in the box when you open it up.
Everything about him has been very impressive. I mean, everything. What he does on the field is one thing, but how they handle the training, how they handle their academics, feedback you get from academic folks, anybody with the players is important to us. Everything is just so positive.
Maybe most impressive, this is really true for younger guys, some guys don’t seem to be overwhelmed. Maybe they should be, but they don’t act that way. He’s kind of done that in practice. He’s taken shots from guys like Campbell and some of those other guys. He just gets up and keeps going. That’s an impressive thing.
He’s kind of handled everything the more you play him, the more things are apt to pop up, whatever. He seems to have the mental toughness where he can handle some disappointment, come back and go back to work.
Q. Seems like Brody is kind of stepping into his own. What have you seen, what has impressed you?
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s amazing when you practice, like actually practice, do it on a routine bases, like improvement follows it. That was part of our challenge. We never got to see him up until September of this year. I have to go back and count how many practices it would have been, bowl preparation. That’s basically been our window because he had the hand injury a year ago. We didn’t have him at all in the spring. He didn’t train, didn’t do anything June, July, August with us due to injury.
I think it was our first game week was his first week on the field. To think you’re going to play major college football at a real high level just walking n it doesn’t work that way.
I agree wholeheartedly each week he looks more comfortable. He made a really tough catch the other night, which was a really big play. Big 20-yard gain or something like that, but it was a huge play a conversion. It took real focus and concentration. He beat his guy on a tough, tight play. 10 weeks ago he couldn’t have done that in my mind. Now he’s getting it going.
We’ve always been high about him. Great young guy with an awesome attitude. If you’re injured, you can’t do anything. It’s just hard to get better if you’re not working.
It’s rare a guy can just walk in and be a really good player. It just doesn’t work that way. Kaleb has been the same thing. He is a freshman, but with each week we see him getting better.
Q. How would you assess Sebastian Castro?
KIRK FERENTZ: Different story because it has been a couple years in the making. Tough, competitive guy. We thought he had a chance to be a good defensive back. This wasn’t actually planned, his immersion into the lineup. With our depth situation, he was next guy up.
He has embraced it and done a nice job. I am happy for him. That’s what the whole thing is about, keep working, when your called upon, like Jermari Harris a year ago, jump in and do something. Two guys from the South Chicago area that have done a good job. They’re both good guys. That’s really helpful.
Q. Merriwether, basically being one of the biggest vocal leaders on the team in 2020, from your point of view how valuable is his leadership over the past three seasons? How would you describe what he means in the locker room but also the community?
KIRK FERENTZ: Absolutely. Outside of Brody, the guys we’re talking about weren’t recruited heavily enough. Kaevon fits that bill, too.
To your last point, I would circle back. That’s one of the things that attracted us to him. Good basketball player, good athlete. I really think a lot of things are transferrable if a guy has the toughness, mental toughness, doesn’t mind getting smacked around, trying to smack other guys. It’s a little different than basketball that way.
His personality… His mom, they’re great folks. That jumped out at us immediately. Recruiting people, not just players or positions typically. I don’t think it’s a huge surprise, but the credit goes to him, just like all the other guys we’re talking about. It goes back to doing that work. He has done that. He has also embraced being a leader. I always appreciate that.
You talk about Jack Campbell, Kaevon, I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been good at defense. We have guys at every position, not that they’re all the same, Kaevon is definitely a veteran, him and Riley are the two veterans in that group. Up front you have Noah, John Waggoner, Joe Evans, and linebackers we have a couple guys. They’ll be talking on Saturday.
You have that type of leadership in every group, they impact that room individually, but they impact that room when they’re all together, the whole team. That’s how you build a winning team. You have to have the right guys, though. We really appreciate that.
Q. Among your seniors, I’m sure you have some you are contemplating bringing them back, they’re contemplating coming back. Do you encourage everybody to walk, then worry about it?
KIRK FERENTZ: We haven’t had those conversations yet. As far as I know, there’s no NCAA rule yet about if you walk, you’re ineligible from there on. As long as we don’t give them a thousand bucks on the way out…
Yeah, we encourage them to do that. They can always change their mind. If they have second thoughts, it would definitely be worth a consideration.
We’ll have a couple of those down the road, but right now go and be honored. Who knows, next year we might have a pandemic again. I shouldn’t joke about that at all, it’s not funny.
Q. Big Ten media days, the videos all the coaches do, you mentioned offensive yardage being the most overrated statistic. Now you won back-to-back games not having the advantage in that stat. What is your rationale for why that is overrated?
KIRK FERENTZ: I’m not against it, first of all, just for the record (smiling).
Bill Russell said the most important stat is winning and losing. That’s the most important one. The next most important one in my opinion is turnovers and takeaways, if you’re looking over the long haul. That’s where it all starts.
Then probably somewhere, it’s scored points against, which ties into the goal number one or most important stat. You try to navigate the terrain based on where you’re at, where your team is at, all that kind of stuff. Not against getting yards, certainly not against getting points.
Sometimes there’s things that come with that. Everybody lives in a different world. I’d even venture this, when you get to January, whatever it is this year, when the last two teams are playing, that turnover takeaway is probably going to be more important than the yardage thing unless you can out-distance your opponent by a couple hundred yards on the board, you got a good chance to win.
At the end of the day it’s about figuring out a way to win the game. I think we showed up the other night somehow, some way, forced a couple turnovers. That was the difference in the game really. We did a good job of protecting the ball, being smart when we had to be, coming up with what we had to come up with.
My thoughts haven’t changed a lot in 23 years. It started well before that. You’re thinking about what is it that’s important. We’re all shaped by something, right? We’re all shaped by our past, the people I’ve been around, have had the good fortune to work with have impacted me a lot in terms of the way I look at the game.
Q. (Question about celebrating Thanksgiving.)
KIRK FERENTZ: Tomorrow night we will do a really nice dinner right here. Players’ families won’t be here, but our families are going to be here. It’s a real nice opportunity to have fellowship with each other.
I will highlight tomorrow’s meeting, just some quotes kind of ring true about what the holiday is all about, giving thanks for everything, being grateful for the things we have.
Worst-case scenario, we all have a pretty good deal going compared to a lot of other folks. Just echo that a little bit.
Thursday well, it will be like just a Friday for us. Friday will be a Saturday. One nice thing about playing on Friday, it gives us Saturday off to be with our families. Our players might have that same opportunity. It’s a great deal. Best holiday going. You eat good food and have to bring guests.