OPENING STATEMENT: Not much to say, I'm just tremendously pleased with the job of our team today. It was a tough ballgame. We knew it would be coming in. Our team has had a tough couple of weeks here. So, our sole objective was just to come out with a victory and hopefully be 6-2 at the end of the day. That's exactly what transpired. It wasn't always smooth or pretty. But the one thing about it, I thought our effort and our toughness out there was very consistent. We had things to clean up. We'll keep working on that, but I'm just really pleased with the way the team played today.
You guys tackled extremely well today.
We continue to play good defense. That's one touchdown we've given up now in two weeks, which is significant. Our guys are getting confidence on the defensive side. They're feeling good about themselves. They should because they're practicing well and playing very well. I thought they did an excellent job. The staff, as usual, did an excellent job getting them ready. Certainly they played well when that ball was snapped.
Is it nice to be bowl eligible now?
It is. That wasn't totally on my mind right now. We're just kind of had tunnel vision this whole week. The whole objective was to get No. 6, which does make us bowl eligible. And now we'll try to get seven. That's the next objective. We're trying to keep it simple right now.
You've won four in a row against Penn State. That's not exactly something to sneeze at.
We're pleased. And like I said, my fear this week was it was going to be a very tough game. A couple of years ago, and they're coming off a bye, they got off to a slow start and went up to Northwestern and really got that ball rolling. My sense is whenever they get it going they're going to get it going. I'm guessing that it's going to happen pretty quick. I was hoping like heck that it wasn't going to be today. I get more concerned when it seemed like some people on the oustide were like, "Hey, put this one in the bank." And when you look at our injury situation, the way we're able to practice right now or not practice, the guys that are missing time. We haven't had a lot of great news from the injury front. It's just a lot of things to worry about this week. I don't mind telling you that I was extremely worried. So, I'm just thrilled to death to get the win against a great program like Penn State. It's great to have that streak going.
Coach, were you concerned at all with Nathan's play and some of his decision making out there?
Certainly. I mean, we threw two interceptions right off the bat or at least in that first half. That's a major concern. We can't turn the football over. We can't do that and we can't give up special teams' plays, which we did last week. So, the three turnovers, it wasn't for a lack of trying or anything like that. But we just can't afford to give those up. Part of that goes back to how much practice we're allowed to do or able to do right now. We haven't been able to practice quite the way that I'm comfortable with on the offensive side. We've been a little limited with injuries.
Were you frustrated enough to start thinking about maybe going to the bullpen?
You keep asking me about that. I'm not going that route right now. No. No, it never entered my mind today.
What about your special teams play after having a rough one back at Ohio State?
We thought that was imperative coming in. We talked with our team about that. First and foremost, that's just something that we think that we have to have week in and week out. We knew it would be critical today. We did not get off to a good start with the blocked PAT. That factored heavily into my thinking there at the end of the half (on not trying a long field goal). But overall, I think we still did a very good job. Still, there were too many penalties, blocks in the back, that type of thing. But overall, we really did a nice job. Obviously, the blocked punt was huge. Darrell (Wilson, one of Iowa's special teams coaches) is doing a great job with those guys. That was a big, big play for us, really gave us a spark. Just like in the first half, Warren's catch really gave us a big spark.
How do you think Fred ran today?
Fred ran well. I'm glad that he's on our team.
You were able to work two new receivers in today.
(Laughs) Yeah, anybody that was healthy. It's pretty easy right now. If you can practice at all, you've got a chance to play. I'll think before I say this, but one of the guys I think practiced one day. That's kind of what I'm referring to, and it showed a little bit at a critical time. So, when guys aren't able to practice all week it's just so hard to get a rhythm and a tempo down. Last year, we really got better as the year went on because we had those good practices. Right now. we're just kind of trying to piece things together. I think, I don't even want to stick my foot in my mouth because it will bite me right in the tail, but I think we're going to start to maybe get some guys back. I thought we were getting close to that and then (Jensen) can't go today. Mike Follett is hardly at full speed. I don't know if you noticed, but we had C.J. Barkema in a tight end jersey out there just so we could kind of keep our gameplan halfway together. Those are the things that we have to get through. Hopefully we're going to be able to one of these days. If we do, we'll start making some progress.
Was this week especially critical?
I thought so, and I just told the team that. I'm not sure of they understand, maybe they will at the end of the year, maybe they will down the road, and maybe they do right now. I thought it was very, very important for a lot of reasons.
What are some of the reasons?
You can probably figure it out. I wouldn't say it was a must-win game. I'm not a great believer in that. But I thought it was a critical game for us. I really did, for a lot of reasons, a lot of it our psyche. I really thought we needed to win today. And I don't like to talk about winning a heck of a lot with our team other than just playing our best. That's kind of where we try to keep the focus. But, it was a big win for us. We really needed it.
Did you sense that the team's psyche was a little fragile after last week?
I worry about that. Yeah, I always worry about that with all of the hardships we've been through. It's been an unusual year in certain regards. So, I thought today if we couldn't come out (with a win), it was going to be really tough next week.
Other than you, has there been a player that's kept this thing together?
It's not me. I mean our staff does a great job. And I think all of our seniors are doing great, especially the guys that have played. They understand. They're doing a great job that way.
I mean, Gallery and Kaeding didn't have to come back. They'd be making money right now.
Yeah. Those guys just keep emerging too. You guys all know Nate's personality. Robert's a great player, but he is just emerging weekly as a leader. In that group right now, it's just so, so necessary because, as you know, we've been juggling guys around.
You want to beat everybody in the year, but to you feel for Paterno?
Yes and no. I didn't want them to get healthy today, their team. Again, I was very concerned about that because of the history of Coach Paterno and his program. Usually when it gets a little bumpy, they get really tough. I don't know who they're playing the next four or five weeks, but I'd expect them to continue to improve. You're talking about one of the great coaches of all time, and one of the guys that has been great for our sport. I don't wish anybody badly, outside of when they're playing us, in terms of wins and losses. But I wouldn't underestimate him. I wouldn't be totally surprised to see those guys really get it going here real quickly. They'v had a few injuries too.
You said that some of the people on the outside had chalked this one up. Did you feel the fans felt that way too?
It was a little different feel today. And maybe part of it...when an interception goes the other way for a touchdown, it doesn't help. I know that. It didn't help my morale and I'm sure it didn't help anybody in the stands either. I just worried that there was a sense that, "Well, yeah, Iowa is going to win this one." I told you guys that I don't look at point spreads, but my dad always keeps me informed. When I heard that, I'm thinking, what are they looking at? They're not seeing what I'm seeing. I'm watching it internally. I worry about the condition of our team.
Did you notice the lack of the crowd enthusiasm?
Yeah. A little bit. Part of it was the flow of the game probably too, the way the game went. It was a little bit of a strange game there for a while.
Do you worry about that next week?
I feel a lot better now. And I'll feel better if I get a good medical report here tomorrow. The best news I got during the week was Mo Brown, Thursday and Friday, he's starting to look like a receiver again. I think we have a chance maybe to...we'll work him tomorrow. We'll give him a good workout and let him do some things. I think it's realistic he might be able to play some next week. It probably won't be a lot, but play some. I'm hoping that's just like Bob's where once it turns, it turns hard. I'd like to think we'll get (Jensen) back. I'd like to think that maybe we're going to start to get some of our other guys back. If we can do that, we'll be able to practice and start getting some tempo.
What about Jermelle?
Oh yeah, Jermelle. I forgot to tell you that on Wednesday he kind of strained his hamstring. He was cleared today to play. Then I'm thinking in the back of my mind, you throw him in there and that thing goes, where it becomes serious, now you lose him for the season. That was one more log on the fire. It seemed like there were about 15 things that happened during the week that just kind of altered my outlook a little bit.
Clauss and Steen?
Those two guys we'll know more as things go on. The report I just got was so-so. But we'll know more here in a couple days, I think.
What's the key to handling a team with so many injuries?
The one thing that we preach, and for whatever reason up until those two guys getting hurt a little bit, it just seems like it's predominantly on one side. The one other bit of good news that I got was that Jovon felt full speed this week. He was kind of gimping around a little bit last week. He played. We got him back, so we were really down one guy. But it seems like it's more on the offensive side. I think it's just everybody on the team understanding that there are three segments to our team. We're one team, but there are three segments. And guys being respectful of the fact that, "Hey, you know, it's not going quite as smoothly maybe in one segment and there are some reasons for that." I haven't experienced or received any of that where guys come on offense or come on special teams. We haven't had any of that. The guys have really been good that way. That's why you have a team. Everybody realizes that "Hey, we're all working together. We're going to find a way to get it done, whatever it takes." I think our guys have that attitude.
What do you do when you sense your team in an emotional valley?
We just tried to...I was going to say chop wood, but I'm not going to throw that one out there (laughter). We just tried to forge ahead and worry about our football team and worry about getting better the best we could, given our circumstances.
So you just worry about the strategy and doing what you do well?
Yeah. There are certain things that we value as a program, I guess. We just keep trying to re-emphasize those. We just fall back on the fundamentals, the foundation of what we try to be about.
Can you talk about Nathan's ability to bounce back from a couple of early setbacks?
That's something that you worry about with any performer. Certainly a quarterback is more visible. When you make a bad play or a bad decision, what are you going to do with that situation? That thought entered my mind during the course of the game. You know, "Boy, where does he go on this? What's going to happen?" It was a little bit like the Arizona State game where he stuck the guy right in the chest, and he came back and played. And I think that's been his biggest redeeming quality. And again, I'll preface it with the passing game is not where we want it to be right now, but again, that's hard to do without the cohesion. So, it's hard to really get it down to where you want to get it. But that's the way it is right now.
Can you talk about these receivers? I don't know how to explain it, but you're down to the guys that you wouldn't even think would be in there this time of year.
Yeah. it's kind of funny, too. Warren was doing good things in the spring, good things in camp. Then, he gets an injury. So, he's out for six weeks. He certainly would have played during that span. And then today, he jumps in there and makes a great play for us. It's been an unusual year that way.
Did the offensive line seem to come together today?
They played better. They took a step forward. We're not there, obviously. But, it was a major step, I think.
The coaching business has changed. It's so cut-throat. Is anybody capable of feeling empathy for the other guy?
I can't speak for all, but I think in our conference, there's a real respect amongst us. I'm not a veteran head coach, but we go to conference meetings. We meet a couple of times a year. The press day in Chicago. And I think all of us are very proud of the conference. I think we're all proud of the guys in the conference. Empathy is probably not the right word; great respect.