HN.com: Chuck, after last week's conversation, I was interested to see how many ‘poor decisions' that Nathan made after your enlightening us to a degree on how quarterbacks are evaluated. I am certainly no expert, but I don't think Nathan had more than one or two of those on Saturday against Illinois?
HARTLIEB: "I think that you are right. I thought the same thing. I felt he played a good mental game and it was a typical Chandler game. He led the team well, made some good decisions, kept the chains moving; but I am sure there were two or three balls he would have liked to have back. As a fifth year guy, I think that he would love to have one big breakout game where he throws for 300 yards and run the offense primarily through the air. I'm sure he wants to do that, but then again, he knows the style of this offense is more conservative in its nature and putting up the ‘W's' is what it is all about. It would have been nice to have one big offensive game from a big yardage standpoint going into the Purdue game."
HN.com: As far as this Iowa offense goes, the Illinois game was perhaps their best game. There were several plays that gained 10 or more yards, Nathan made several big pass completions, more so than in any other game. After I watched the game on tape, it really seemed like the offensive line began to gel a bit and Iowa has some playmakers back on offense now with Mo Brown and Jermelle Lewis…this offense might be getting ready to shine a bit?
HARTLIEB: "You are right. To me, it's a critical turning point. They have had two very solid games; they have thrown and passed the ball well. But has that been because of the competition, or have they gotten to that next level and are now ready to finish the season strong? I have my doubts, due to the level of competition. But this is what you would want to see at this point. The offensive line seems to have gelled a bit better. The running game is going to be strong for the most part. They just have to come up with some big plays in these tough games. You have to take it up another notch. Having confidence and believing that it could happen is what they did get, you are right. They have to make it happen now on the road."
HN.com: When you have receiver like Mo and he comes back, that is a big moral booster. How much does that help you as a QB to have a guy like that come back into the lineup? You had Quinn Early…a player that you know you can go to when you get in a tough spot; a player that you know where he is at all times on every route and you almost feel like you can go to him to bail you out. Nathan has not necessarily had that since the ISU game.
HARTLIEB: "I agree. A 100-percent Mo Brown is a player I would count on. The question is, and we don't know this, is if Chandler and Mo have that 100-percent confidence yet. Mo had a hard time getting out of that break down in the red zone (Mo made a cut, stumbled a bit and dropped a pass on the three yard line on third down). It would have been nice to get five or six balls his way. But you make a great point. If you have a guy that has the complete respect of the pass defense, that makes it so much easier for the quarterback."
"One, because you have a go to guy but two, it significantly alleviates the pressure off of the tight end and the second wide receiver. It is a win-win from the standpoint that ‘boy, I have my guy back out there' and Ochoa might be able to get the soft corner now or the tight end might get more ignored. It has a huge impact, not just by having your go to guy on the field, but there is a trickle down effect on the entire offense."
HN.com: What does a game like the Illini game do for you at this late point of the year? Is it good to have one of those just prior to a tough road test at Purdue?
HARTLIEB: "I think in general, the schedule has set up really well for this team and the last two games came at the perfect time. You have two workmanlike performances to get solid wins. It gave you a bit of a mental relief and some of the young guys gained some more experience, etc. Now, you are into the fourth quarter of the season and you can really try to crank it up to its highest level one more time. I think the Illinois game came at the perfect time and it had a great impact on the team from the standpoint that a lot of guys got on the field, plenty of guys played well and you can take a breather in the second half and focus on Purdue as soon as you get off of the field. I think it was a great set up game for Iowa."
HN.com: Does it amaze you any more at how this defense keeps plugging guys in and they come out and play at the same high level as the man they replaced?
HARTLIEB: "It is amazing. I don't know, and only Norm Parker could own up to it, is if it's just the unbelievable strength of the linebackers that really supports the front four or is it truly a package of the two deep, 14 guys up in there that are just all players. Now we take it to another level. These guys are all capable, but we will see if they can finish strong with the injuries they have had. But you are right; it has been a tremendous year defensively for the coaching staff. Norm has to feel good about his schemes and what they are trying to accomplish. And then from an execution standpoint, it has been amazing how well these guys have played the system week in and week out."
HN.com: Drew Tate has not played against anyone nor has he played when the game was one the line. But he has something that I don't know if you can teach. Some sort of moxie…do you get the sense that he has that extra something that leaders have? What did you think of Drew?
HARTLIEB: "So far so good. I think you are right, this kid looks like he has some playmaking ability with his feet and his arm. The way he controls himself out there as a true freshman is impressive. Would I have confidence that Iowa has one strong candidate going into to next year at quarterback? Yes. Would I like to see two or three guys really compete and make sure that we have our best foot forward? Yes. Drew Tate still has to prove himself to me because it's not very often that you see a 170-pound kid do well in the Big Ten at that position. Is the potential there? Yes. But it is a whole different scenario when you are going against the first string Illinois defense as opposed to their backups. So far so good, but he is not even 10% there yet."
HN.com: Chuck, and final comments on Illinois and looking ahead to next week against Purdue?
HARTLIEB: As Coach Fry said back in the 80's, it does not matter if you are playing Iwojima Junior College, an impressive win is an impressive win. I think Coach Ferentz has to take a lot of pride that his players show up week in and week out and are not really hitting a true flat spot. One of the things that I have worried about all year is the strength of the pass defense. Knowing that the Big Ten is not filled up with many sophisticated pass offenses, and then seeing a few poor plays by the corners against Illinois and a deep post or two getting over the top of us in that game, Purdue will lick their chops. I am sure that both Coach Parker's for Iowa are going to hammer these guys on how they play the ball this week. Some poor plays, but certainly correctable on the back end."
"In general, Coach Ferentz will not talk about it, but internally I suspect that he is concerned with how his teams have played over the years in tough road environments. I believe it's two Penn State wins and a very impressive Michigan win, but other than that, over the last four-plus years when the Hawks have hit the road, they have not come up with good performances in difficult games. This is going to be one of his biggest road games in his career up to now."
HN.com: In your estimation, what is it that has to happen for these guys to play a good road game?
HARTLIEB: "I think, and it appears to be against their nature, but I think Iowa has to get more aggressive. Where we might sometimes get on our heels early, we have to go out, if we can, and put the home team on their heels right off the bat. You can do that with a no huddle offense, new formations, three wide receivers, no backs, double tight, etc. On defense, do things that they have not seen all year. On special teams, maybe you come up with some exotics like an onside kick early. When you do things aggressive early on, even if it does not work out, the Purdue team is on its heels a little bit and it makes a statement for your team that ‘Our backs are to the wall, but we are coming out here with our guns loaded and we are going to start out kicking and screaming and fighting'. That is one way to break that and it will be interesting in that first half to see who gets on their heels first. I think that we typically do on the road and it would be nice to have that the other way around."
HN.com: That would seem out of character from what we have seen. But Michigan did that to Purdue and they sacked (Kyle) Orton seven times. They blitzed a boatload."
HARTLIEB: "That is a great point. I bet you Michigan blitzes about 10 to 15 percent of the snaps on average, and they did it about half the time against Purdue. It was not the fact that Purdue didn't know how to handle it, is was the fact that they did not expect it and Michigan set the tone early. Once momentum starts going away from you, it's awfully tough to turn it around. You are dead on Jon, that is the best comparison right there and it's the kind of thing that we need to do on Saturday."
HN.com: I will believe it when I see it.
HARTLIEB: "Yeah, but it's against Iowa's nature so it sets up all the better for them"
HN.com: What does Iowa need to do offensively?
HARTLIEB: "Brock Spack (Purdue's defensive coordinator) is the Mike Stoops of the Big Ten. He really wants to get aggressive and he wants to get in that quarterback's face and really screw up things for you and he does a great job of doing that. We are going to have our typical running game, but we have to mix the pass in there more. When we do and we have the pressure, we have to pick up the blitz when they are only bringing six and not let their zone packages hurt us when they are bringing just six. So the backs have to pick up the blitz. But when they give us one on one situations on the outside, we have to execute early. If you can come up with a good 15 yard slant our out, you start taking away some of the packages they want to bring. You can change what they will do defensively. The receivers need to run good routes, be intelligent as far as what the defense is trying to do and make the big plays."
"So the first thing is the offensive line, the second is the receivers and the third is that Chandler is going to have to make some big plays in the first half and that is not something we have gotten from him that much this year. This will be his big chance and he will be put into situations where there are opportunities. All three of those areas have to come together right off the bat."
HN.com: A win at Purdue might not be the same magnitude as your win against Ohio State at Columbus in 1987 because Purdue does not have the history of Ohio State, but this is Nathan's opportunity to have a game like that and possible etch his name into the annals of Iowa football history because I think this may be the biggest challenge of the season.
HARTLIEB: "I agree with you 100 percent. This would really make his year special, if he could win a big one on the road. You are dead on. It's even more special to someone like me who has played the game, because I recognize how unique Purdue is from an offensive and a defensive standpoint. They bring a lot of issues and to beat them on the road would be a huge accomplishment. I am pulling for them so hard to get that ‘W'. I don't care if it's a 6-3 score…win and then you can seriously think about January 1."
HN.com: So how do you see things playing out on Saturday?
HARTLIEB: "I would love to see Iowa win, and I expect that they can, but my prediction would be that if we are positive in the turnover department, we will win 20-17, if we are negative, we will lose 24-13. We have to stay away from the bad plays offensively. If we can pick Orton off a time or two, or we just need to get to him and turn the ball over, if we can win that battle we can win the game."