'Monday Morning Quarterback' with Chuck Hartlieb

One of the most popular features HawkeyeNation.com has ever had is our weekly 'Monday Morning Quarterback' question and answer session with former Hawkeye All-American signal caller Chuck Hartlieb. In this 'Subscription Preview', Hartlieb tells you about some things that you might not be aware of, like the 'Poor Decisions' grade card that coaches use for quarterbacks, and Chuck also talks about timing and spacing on offense plus his thoughts on the 2003 Iowa defense and much, much more.

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HN.com: There are still some voices out there that are critical of Nathan Chandler. It seems like we have some of that each week, win or lose. We all know that consistency and continuity on the offensive line is important for an offense, but can you talk about the importance of consistency and timing as it relates to the receiving targets?

CHUCK HARTLIEB: "I think you are right there Jon. We mentioned this a few weeks ago; when you look down the line and something opens up that you think you can get a 15 yard comeback to the wide side of the field and all of the sudden you are looking at new receiver like Holloway, Chandler or Davis, when it is somebody different every time there is always that sense of wonder or doubt if he sees what you are seeing and expecting the receiver to do what you want him to do as far as timing is concerned."

"I think that the issue does come down to one word: timing. Everyone is going to get there (run their route) one way or the other, but everyone runs their routes a little bit differently and breaks it down a little bit differently and comes out of their breaks differently, so that is certainly a factor."

"There are the same issues at tight end. The poor guy had (Erik) Jensen out this week and had to get used to a new guy in (Tony) Jackson. Jackson came in and made some plays, but it has been a tough year to be a quarterback at Iowa. The running game is not as efficient as it was the last few years, though Fred (Russell) is having a good year, but they have been in more second and long or third and long situations than they have been in in past years. That, combined with the injuries, makes it difficult to be a quarterback at Iowa this year."

"Another thing I would add, to share something from a quarterback's standpoint, is I think that to a team, each offense measures poor decisions or bad plays. There are probably 20 to 25 actual snaps that are critical to a quarterback to make good decisions and taking advantage of certain situations."

"When you get your report card back on Sunday or Monday, there is typically a column that reads ‘Poor Decisions'. Obviously, you would love to have zero, but one or two is acceptable. The last few weeks, I imagine that Coach O'Keefe has probably sat down with Chandler and just made a note that maybe there have been four or five poor decisions. That does not mean that the quarterback is playing poorly, it just means that there have been a couple of bad plays in there that he needs to try to avoid."

"A poor decision doesn't have to be a turnover. It could be the need to throw the ball away a little bit better, maybe forcing it into coverage and having it go incomplete, and maybe that is the wrong thing to do in that situation, so he gets a blemish there. That is one thing that I will watch here the last three or four games. Nathan Chandler is at a critical point here. He probably has leveled off as far as improvement goes, unless they can get people in the lineup consistently the rest of the way. He is still playing fine, but to finish in a championship manner, he needs to play like a championship quarterback and bring those poor decisions down in the range of zero to two per game from three to five."

"Those are the things that you look for. Sometimes interceptions and touchdown passes happen and there is not as much weight put into them, given the circumstances. What you do put a lot of weight into is what your coach thought were your good and bad decisions during the course of the game and to the fans, it might look like a quarterback plays a great game and throws for 300 yards, but if you come in on Sunday morning and you get six poor decisions put next to your name, in your mind you did not play well."

"Hopefully this will help the fans understand a bit more on how the coaches grade the quarterback. Like on that fluke touchdown pass to (Matt) Melloy. It looks great for the stats, but what they talk about Sunday and Monday is the decision to throw the ball to Calvin Davis when he was double covered."

"I like Chandler. I think he comes up with three or four big plays in the game that come up big for the offense and at least helps put some points on the board. His completion to Holloway near the goal line in the first quarter was a risky throw, but he checked his progressions and ended up putting the ball where only Holloway could catch it, and Warren made a nice adjustment on that play. Nathan is having a good year and he is more than capable. Is he an NFL guy? Probably not. The issue is taking those poor decisions from four to five a game down to one or two. I think if he does that, the offense can be that much more efficient."

HN.com: If Iowa beats Illinois next week, and they will be heavy favorites to do just that, Chandler will be the quarterback at the helm of an Iowa team that started the year 7-2. That has only happened five other times since 1961, and a guy by the name of Chuck Hartlieb was never 7-2. (Laughs.) Do quarterbacks get too much praise when things are going good and too much blame when things are not so good?

CHUCK HARTLIEB: "I think that is why some people need to lay off of Nathan Chandler. I don't care about passing yardage or touchdown passes at the end of the year. A quarterback is and should be measured by wins. I think that is why he should be regarded as having a great year and doing some good things. He would be the first to say that it is the team that will be talked about for the wins and losses, but a lot of it has to do with the leadership from the quarterback position. I am sure he wishes that he could take some plays back, but the thing that stands out to me is that he is a guy that seems to have tremendous poise, great communication skills with his teammates and is a super leader. Those are traits that cannot be underestimated. If you gave me a couple of minutes, I could think of some situations across the country where there is plenty of talent on a team, but some issues at quarterback as far as intangibles."

"I guess off the top of my head, I seem to think there is an issue at Michigan. I think Michigan has better overall talent than Iowa, but over the last couple of years they have not been able to put together a complete season. I think John Navarre is not that strong of a leader. I don't see that team rallying around their quarterback. Navarre might be a bit of a stretch, I am not a fan of his, but besides what happens after the snap, I think what Chandler has been doing from a leadership standpoint has been great this year, especially for a one year guy. Nathan has a short memory and he is aggressive and the offensive line loves that."

HN.com: Chuck, I know it is hard for you to be critical of Iowa, but if there is one thing you want to see improved in the passing game, being a former Hawkeye quarterback, what would it be?

CHUCK HARTLIEB: "Jon, it is hard for me to look negatively on this team when they are 6-2 and when they are close to the top 10. But one thing I think that Coach O'Keefe probably works on with his quarterback, tight end and wide receiver group is just the concept of spacing. We talked some about it last year, but it seems sometimes that their spacing downfield is off."

"What I mean by that is that there are vertical and horizontal lanes when you attack a defense. If you are getting three and four guys downfield, you want to challenge a defense vertically and horizontally and to do that, you have to stay in your lanes and keep the proper spacing and when they don't do that, it makes the job of the defense a lot easier."

"Just looking downfield during the course of the game, it seems that spacing is an issue. They have guys in the same area a bit too often. They don't take advantage of the zone defenses and how they can spread them out better. Any offensive coordinator is working on that week in and week out and for Iowa, it probably has a lot to do with inexperienced tight ends and receivers. If there is an area that they can improve on, be it vertical or horizontal, just spread them out better vs. the zone defense and take advantage of certain pockets that are there. Just try to do it better from a spacing standpoint."

HN.com: Have you seen a better linebacker duo at Iowa than Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge?

CHUCK HARTLIEB: "I sit back and shake my head when I have watched these guys. I have watched Iowa football for 20+ years and I have been watching it pretty closely. To have last year be clearly the best offensive line in Iowa football history, then you have this year to be noted that it might be the best linebacker corps in Iowa history, if not the best overall defense. I do not throw that around lightly. I am really impressed. I don't know if disappointment is the right word or not, but I think these guys should be getting more credit than they are because we are giving up goofy touchdowns in spots that can not be attributed to the defense. That was a shutout on Saturday, yet they wont get their due because Penn State put 14 points on the board. The offense gave up one touchdown and there was the Cervantes fumble that gave Penn State the ball inside the Iowa 30 that led to the other touchdown."

"In my mind, the defense basically ran another shutout at a decent Big Ten team. What has changed in the game in the last five years, and it is pretty obvious, is that successful teams are lighting quick at all positions. The thing that sets these linebackers apart is that they have that extra step or extra burst to make big plays. I think that you will see Hodge, Greenway and one or two of the others in the NFL for five or ten years. It is a lot of fun for me to see that type of talent in an Iowa uniform playing at such a high level week in and week out."

"Another point is that you can have great defenses that mentally don't step up in one or two games. I think Oklahoma had a great defense last year, but there were a couple of times towards the end of the season where they did not show up. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State ripped them. I don't have that concern this year with Iowa. Maybe it will happen, but this defense is just extremely mentally tough. They played almost a perfect season to this point and I think we can count on them from a mental standpoint the rest of the way."

"So the two things that stand out to me is the quickness in the overall defense and how mentally strong they are to show up and play four quarters each week."

HN.com: Is it a National Championship caliber defense?

CHUCK HARTLIEB: "I am not a person to exaggerate. But the defense and special teams, which is pretty much led by many of the defensive players, are of a championship caliber. It is a decent secondary and they are playing good and aggressive, but it is in zone coverage. I am sure they will have some spots here against Purdue where they have to play man to man and they will be put on an island on the outside, which Coach Parker has not wanted to do to this point. That Purdue game worries me from a pass defense standpoint, but all in all, these guys are playing lights out."

(NOTE: The Iowa-Purdue game is set for a 2:30 central broadcast on ESPN)

"Wrapping up, I think that we sit back and count poor decisions this Saturday. If Iowa wins 17-10 but our poor decisions get better, that is not a bad deal. Hopefully, Iowa can get the poor decisions down to one or two and hopefully that equates to 28 to 35 points on the board. I am sure that this offense is licking its chops to have a breakout day where they don't have to rely on the defense as much and put up some big numbers and the Illinois game looks to be that kind of game."

"Coach Ferentz does a tremendous job of keeping his players level headed and very focused on the task at hand. I am looking for a game where the offense is efficient and continues to do what they want to and the defense has a typical game. Hopefully they win something like 42-10. I really think that Illinois is hoping to get the season over with as soon as possible and this is a spot where Iowa can get the momentum going for three strong games after this one."

This feature is typically reserved for subscribers to Hawkeyenation.com, but there will be a few thousand new eyeballs on the website this week and we want to give everyone chance to 'peak under the hood' at the type of work that we produce on this website.

If you are interested in trying out our five day free trial membership to read all of our Premium stories and check out our 'Members Only' message board, CLICK HERE

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