Hawks Talk: MSU Pregame

With the non-conference behind them, the Iowa players open defense of their Big Ten title this Saturday in East Lansing. Read what the Hawkeyes had to say about the new-look Spartans.


Do you think you opened some people's eyes?

NC: I don't know. I try not to worry too much about that. As far as our team is concerned, we have confidence in each other. We just feel like that whether it's going well or not. If we just work hard, we have a chance every game.

Do you feel like you made a major step last game?

NC: I feel like as an offense we did. Throwing an interception, the first of the year, people could see how you respond. But as an offense, when you have a couple of things go bad, it can affect the whole team. Or, you can continue to fight. We all came together and realized that we really hadn't been stopped. We stopped ourselves.

Do you feel like you played your best game of the year?

NC: I think there is a lot of room to improve. There were some good plays made in that game. I still don't feel like I've played at as high of a level as I can.

What was going through your head on the interception?

NC: The first thing was making sure that the guy got tackled. As you're jogging off the field looking at the Jumbotron, that was a ball that I didn't really want to throw. You drop back and you're just kind of tight. And if you don't want to throw it, you need to not throw it. I went ahead and tried to force it in there. And when you don't go into a throw with everything, it will get away on you. It's something that we can learn from for sure. It was a route that we hadn't worked on a lot in practice. There's a couple of those that we don't rep a whole lot.

How often do you go against the No. 1 defense?

NC: In spring ball and two-a-days, it's almost exclusive. Once we're in the season, we kind of back off. We have a couple of sessions where we do run blocking against them, but we don't go against them much during the season.

What are your observations about your defense?

NC: We have a great team defense. There's the guys that make the tackles and then there's the guys that do all of the work behind the scenes. As a defensive team, you know the work that everybody is doing.

How did going against them help you guys?

NC: You have some confidence when you know you went against about as strong of a defense as you're going to see. We were talking about it. Maybe in the early games it might have hurt us a little bit. We hadn't had a whole lot of success moving the ball in the spring and two-a-days. It definitely helped the O-line. They got to go against some of the best guys up front that they're going to go against.

Do you feel like you've faced the kind of pressure against them that you're going to see from Michigan State?

NC: It's a little different. In practice, they just kind of touch you off. You don't even know that they're there sometimes. Clauss will come to me after practice telling me that he sacked me three times. We'll argue about it. In the game, you know when they're there. I have a lot of confidence in our guys up front. They have a great defensive front. They're going to bring pressure with those guys.

Where are you guys at in relation to where you thought you might be?

NC: We're where we want to be, 4-0. We don't really set out and nail down many individual passing or running goals. We've won four games. That's where we wanted to be.


Do you feed off of each other on the defensive line?

JC: I think when we started the year, not as much. Now, we're starting to a little bit more. That first game against Miami, we were all kind of assignment oriented. We were worried about doing our own things. We still are. But I think now there's more of a sense of feeding off each other. There's a lot more emotion out there. People are talking more. People are getting riled up more. I think it's just going to get better every week in the Big Ten season because now is when the fun begins.

Has this defense almost exceeded your expectations at this point?

JC: Not at all. I'm the type of guy that indvidually, if I make a bad play, it's going to bother me. I'm going to remember the three bad plays that I made compared to the 50 good ones, or whatever. I expect more. I expect, as for myself last week, I need to make the sacks. I think our defensive could have made a ton more sacks than we did. We have a lot more work to do.

How is this MSU offense different?

JC: They're getting out there with four wide receivers and one back, an empty backfield a lot more. They are doing some more silver stuff with the two tight ends. They're just throwing the ball a lot more.

Do you like a passing or running team better?

JC: I really don't have a preference. I like when teams run right at me though. I like a team that runs leads and a Power-O and stuff like that.

Why did you guys start to pick up the tactic of flip-flopping the ends and tackles against ASU?

JC: We tend to do that if a team is just focused on the pass. They were still trying to mix in the run every now and then, but they weren't successful. So, we're going to do that when we feel like we can get good pressure from all four guys. I don't know if we'll do that this week or not. It depends on what is going on.

What did that horrible game in 1999 at Michigan State do for your guys?

JC: I don't know if it was the turning point, but it was just one of those games where it's like "We've got a lot of work to do." The team speed was a lot different between the two teams that day. The field has leveled out a little bit on that.


Kind of jokingly, is there any room for Bob when he comes back?

GS: (Laughs) Any time you have a first-team all-Big Ten player on your roster, there's definitely room for him. I mean, Chris Smith has stepped in and played extremely well. I don't know what the situation with Bob is. He's going to get in there if he's healthy. We're looking forward to having him back.

With what you guys do on defense, is there any change when Bob comes back?

GS: Our defense isn't geared around one person. He's just got a great ability to make plays. But every guy has his responsibilities. Whether it's Bob or a freshman DB, they got the same responsibilities to take care of.

What type of effect did that '99 game against Michigan State have on this program?

GS: I was only a freshman. But it was pretty embarrassing to watch even though I was sitting at home watching it on TV. You can go one of two ways. Either you tuck your tail between your legs and go home or you use it to your advantage to get better. I think we've done a good job of learning from that.

How different is the preparation for this MSU offense compared to last year?

GS: They've got a lot of the same players, but they've just got a new attack. They're a little more wide-open. They'll try and spread the ball out. But they don't have the big back like Duckett back there to bruise you. They're running the ball outside a lot more than what they have been.

Are they like Purdue or Miami (Ohio)?

GS: They're not like Purdue or Miami because they're not constantly in the shotgun dropping back. Smoker is pretty athletic. He can get out on the edge and do some different things. So, they've kind of got their own little package.

Do you guys switch to another gear now that the Big Ten is getting underway?

GS: You've got to step up your game once you get into the Big Ten. Every week matters a lot more than a non-conference game. Your bowl is riding on this. There's a lot of pressure, but it's something that we look forward to.

What has made you guys a better road team?

GS: Guys were making too big of a deal of us being on the road. "We've got to get on a plane." Just little stupid things. It's just another game. We're not playing at Kinnick. We're playing at Michigan State.

What is the atmosphere like at Michigan State?

GS: It's an intense crowd. They get loud. They back their players real well. It's a great environment to play college football in.


Are you ready for the next step?

JT: I'm ready. It's the biggest game of my life. I'm going to go out there and give it my best. I do what I do every day for my daughter. I've got to do my best.

Coach said you had a tough adjustment period here initially. What happened?

JT: It was tough by me being away from my daughter and family. But that's just a part of life. You've got to go out there and handle your business personally before you miss everything back home.

Was it distracting you in practice?

JT: Yeah, but I knew I had to calm down. Coach sat down with me and told me that it's just a part of life. It's a transition that you've got to make from high school to college. So, that's what I did.

What's made the difference?

JT: Basically, it's just staying focused.

Have you settled into a social group?

JT: That's going good. I've got my boy from New Jersey, Albert Young. And I got Eric McCollom and a couple of other guys. By keeping with them, that keeps me going.

How good can this freshmen class be?

JT: It's good, to tell you the truth. We've got a lot of talent. I was expecting half of the class to play. The coaches, they've got to do what they've got to do to turn us from young men to men.

Do you feel like a well-rounded receiver? With your speed, I think everybody expects you to run deep routes all of the time.

JT: I can go across the middle. I can do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to go after that ball and make that play.

How much of this offense to you have down?

JT: All of it. I've got it all down. I'm a quick learner. I had one of the best wide receivers that played in the NFL as my coach back in high school, Irving Fryer. He taught me everything. There's nothing different that Lester Erb is teaching me.

What do you think this week will be like going into your first Big Ten road game, which is a sellout?

JT: I need to get way more reps in practice. Then I'll be ready to get out there on that field.

Did a lot of people back home watch you Saturday?

JT: Yeah, they saw me. They said that it looked like I have the same speed but maybe I'm a little bit faster.

What did Irving say?

JT: He said that I was looking good out there. He said that it was good that I got my feet wet.


Coach Ferentz said that it's up to the coaches to find ways to use you in the offense now that the redshirt is off. Do you have any suggestions?

EC: I really can't suggest anything. I do want the ball though. I feel like if I get the ball I can make some plays, whether it's options or they're throwing to me. I just want the ball.

Did they run any trick plays when you played receiver in high school?

EC: They ran a couple of reverse passes where I did a reverse and threw it.

Are you happy to be playing?

EC: Yeah. I'm happy. It's better than just sitting on the sidelines. I just want to be out there and contribute.

Does it make it more difficult having to learn two positions?

EC: No. It's easy going from quarterback. You know all the routes and stuff. It's just like second nature. It's nothing new.

Were you suprised when they approached you about playing?

EC: No. With the receivers being thin and stuff, I guess they wanted to find some athletes, playmakers. I feel I'm a playmaker. I guess they saw that in me too.

Have you ever returned kicks?

EC: Yeah. My ninth and 10th grade years in high school I did. They haven't mentioned that.

How good can this freshmen class be?

EC: We thought early on we could be a good class. We're starting to prove that we can play and that we can contribute.

How has the adjustment from high school to college been for you?

It's been up and down. Some days you come out here you feel like "Oh yeah, I can play with these guys." Other days, you have a bad day, and you'll be like "Man, it's kind of hard." But for the most part, it's been a little bit bigger guys and a little faster. That's about it.


Who did you give a hard time to in the radio interviews after Saturday's game?

FR: I didn't get a chance to talk to Kiper. I didn't get a chance to see anything that Kiper had wrote. But I was watching College Gameday earlier that day. They had a poll asking what was the best conference. (The poll) said the Big Ten, but (ESPN analysts) said that all the Big Ten had was Michigan. They said that Michigan was the team to beat and this and that. I knew we had one of the top teams just sitting back watching our defense and our special teams. For our defense to be doing what they're doing...man.

Do you know in the spring and the summer that these guys would be that good?

FR: I knew that they were good from last year, but I didn't know they were that good.

Aren't you supposed to be hurt by now?

FR: (Laughs) No. I'm feeling real good. That's the crazy part. The only thing that was really hurting were just my legs. I finally got those back yesterday. I'm real suprised I'm feeling this good.

How many of your people will be at this game?

FR: This game, it's going to be easy to get tickets for. So, I'll probably have 20 plus tickets. When Michigan comes out here, I'm not going to get any tickets.

Is this MSU defense different than last year?

FS: Yeah. They hustle a lot. That's one thing I noticed. I can tell that the coaches have talked to them about discipline. They've got a lot of talent.

Did you look at Michigan State at all when you were deciding on a college?

FS: It was always Michigan. It's just like here with Iowa and Iowa State. When you've got Iowa recruiting you, you just kind of brush them off. That's kind of what I did to Michigan State.

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