Hawks Talk: Iowa Seniors Go Out In Style

Kirk Ferentz's early recruits went from punching bags to contenders. They celebrated their last day at Kinnick with a 40-22 win against Minnesota and will leave the place in better shape than when they arrived. "I knew in my heart that one day our program would be on top," SS Bob Sanders said. "One day we would be able to celebrate with each other. It's exciting to be a part of something that was down and now it's up."


What type of defensive adjustments did you guys make at halftime?

They were running some different stuff that we didn't expect out of the crash end. Some keys that we were keying before, we changed around and got after them in the second half. We had some adjustments at the line, and the linebackers got after those guys.

What did they bring offensive line wise that maybe you didn't see this year?

Their offensive line is definitely more mobile side to side than your usual smash-mouth, straight-at-you line. They could move. They had a real good center that could pull out around the edge. What they like to do is stretch you out and then run around you to try to get up to the second level, like the linebackers and the secondary. We've got a very good, athletic defensive line. We just ran with them and kept the guys off of the secondary. They came up and cleaned them up.

Did you see opportunities to get some turnovers coming into the week?

We knew we could get some turnovers. We didn't think that they would be coughing up the ball that much. They had some good backs; strong, physical guys that held onto the ball. Bob just came out hitting, and that just set the tone right away.

You guys were able to contain Abdul-Khaliq. Was that the plan going in?

We were real big on the run. I don't even think we practiced the pass at all this week. They run for 300 yards, and coach, after the Purdue game, was pissed. He stressed the run. But we knew that that guy could scramble around and get loose. It's like another running back. So, we had to keep contain on him. He can make some huge plays.

Can you talk about the depth on the defensive line?

We knew coming into spring that we had guys that were more than capable of playing. They'd be starting on other teams. Our depth is like at running back with Freddie and Jermelle. We've just got big time depth there. We've got young guys that will step it up next year, too.

You said that coach was upset that Purdue ran the ball. Were you guys also upset?

We were pretty upset. We practiced some things that really didn't come out in the game. Then they started running and we thought they were going to pass a lot. This week we knew that they were going to run. They had 300 yards rushing. We just got after them up front.


How big were the turnovers today?

Turnovers are always going to be big. You get turnovers and you're able to get off of the field and get some rest. The offense gets another chance to score. Both of them were in the red zone. That was key because they could have had 14 more points before halftime.

How big is this win to beat these guys and keep the hog and everything?

Big. Big. Being a senior, the last thing that I wanted to do was play my last game at Kinnick and come out with a loss. I was glad that we were able to put up the points that we did because it allowed the seniors that don't get to play day in and day out an opportunity in Kinnick. Thaat's what I like to see.

What has Kinnick meant to you?

It means a lot. I came into this game and I really wasn't taking it too serious. But when you go out and they're doing the seniors one by one, I thought I was going to be straight, but my eyes did get watery. It's a big thing. You really don't know it until it's gone. They call your name and everybody is yelling and stuff...I like how we do that. One senior gets to go out at a time. It really means something. You get your respect individually. When you run out people can say, "We know you. We love you. Keep doing what you're doing." You can't buy that feeling. It was a great feeling.

What type of defensive adjustments did you guys make at halftime?

We just made really simple adjustments. Instead of me attacking the tackle on certain plays, I went after the tight end. They did a great job of watching film on us because they came in and they were using our technique against us. We had to adjust things that we had been doing for years and years. Little things make a big difference. Once we got that cleared up, I'm not saying we held them, but I felt like we did a great job on the run after that.

What does it feel like leaving here knowing that the Cy-Hawk Trophy and the Pig are safe here in Iowa City?

Hard work pays off. I've been here 1-10 and 3-8. We got the Cy-Hawk Trophy for the first time this year. We kept the pig. I didn't want to give that up. The last thing that I wanted was to be on the sidelines as a senior and see Minnesota run across the field and take the pig. I'm glad that we kept Floyd.


How bad did the virus hit the team this week?

Even our head trainer had to leave the game at halftime. There's a little bug going on around here.

Was it part of the plan to sacrifice yourself a little bit today as a decoy?

Yeah. That was part of the plan. Coach wanted to make sure that I stayed fresh because I was returning kicks today. Me being a decoy, that's no problem.

What was it like finally getting back there on kickoffs?

I felt really good. I was kind of mad that I didn't get to break the first one. But it was a good return to get the crowd into it.

What was it like coming out for your last game at Kinnick?

I'm going to miss the fans a lot. I'm really going to miss them. That's the one thing you'll always remember about this place. I have friends on other teams that come in here and they say "Your fans are crazy."

Was it special to see your parents when you ran out?

It was a special thing. It was my last game here. It was kind of emotional to be out there with them. It's a wonderful experience here.

What made the offense click today?

Usually we go 60-40 run to pass. Today, we went 50-50. We've got a certain formation that we thought that they would have problems stopping. That formation is when Jermelle is in the backfield. They don't know if it's a run or a pass.

How important was it to get a win today?

It's good to get our confidence back. We're going to have to be ready to play this week. Our seniors are going to have to step up and keep our younger guys going because we've been having problems winning on the road.


You guys really rebounded from last week. What was the difference?

It's something in Kinnick that we've been able to do. We've been able to have the offensive, the defense and the special teams come together and play a team game. That's what won it for us today.

How did Nate's kick before halftime energize the whole team?

That was big. Anytime you get some extra points like that going into half, it kind of carries over into the next quarter. It just brings the fans to their feet and it kept us going.

Tell me about running out and seeing your family.

It was a little more emotional than I thought it would be. You start to run out there and you realize that your career and the careers of your classmates are coming to an end. we were able to channel that emotion into a win. So, it was great.

What did yoy guys see on tape that worked against Minnesota today?

On that touchdown run by Jermelle, we actually had a naked called. I really wanted to run the naked. I knew they were coming. I still thought that I could get them with the naked. But I got about halfway through my cadence and it wasn't looking good. So, I kind of stood up and made the audible and it ended up being a big play for us.

What are you thinking when you're running?

I just want to be moving forward. I probably don't think a whole lot. As a quarterback, you kind of have an advantage because a lot of times, even when you start running, the DBs will stay in coverage. That's kind of what I thought was going to happen (when Nathan took the shot near the goal line), but the guy came off.

A lot of quarterbacks are told to slide or run out of bounds to avoid the hit. Is that that you're told to do?

Yeah. And if I ever got hurt, they'd be upset about it. But it's hard for me to feel like going down with all the other guys out there busting it. When I have an opportunity to run over a guy that is five inches shorter than me, it's hard to run out of bounds. If I can make a big play running the ball and energize our team, I look for those opportunities.


What did your last day in Kinnick feel like?

It's kind of setting in now. You really don't think about it until it's gone. I'm sure down the road it's going to it harder. But it's been a good ride.

You've had a lot of good memories here. Where does coming out on the field today rank among them?

It's right up at the top. The feeling you get the first time you come out of the tunnel is unbelievable. This is 10 times that. To hear that, it's an unbelievable feeling. You can't put words to it.

Did you envision this would be how it ended up when you made that first start down in Indiana?

No. I really didn't know at that point. I had a lot of different things going through my head. Time has flown. It seems like a few weeks ago I was going out for the first time at tackle. Now, it's our last home game. It's been a great run, and it's something that I'll always cherish.

How much do you think Senior Day energized you guys? Could you feel the emotion at the start of the game?

Yeah. I think so. Especially for the seniors. It's the last time we'll ever play here. When you go out and do that warmup and do out for the introductions, that kind of hits you. You don't really think it's there until your parents are out there and you're like, "Oh, this is the last one." I think that helped us. Most of all, we were just hungry for a win coming off of last week. We knew we could put a good end to the season with a win today.


What do you think links Sanders and Kaeding?

They're willing to do whatever it takes to be the best. I think that Nate's the best kicker in the country. And I wouldn't want anybody playing strong safety behind me besides Bob. They do the things that it takes to get better. You can tell every day that they go out to play, to practice, to lift, to run, that they have something at the end of the tunnel that they're looking at. They're always motivated. You never see Nate and Bob go out for a lift and just be kind of moping around. They're always fired up. They've got goals in mind, and I think they pursue them pretty well.

Is that the kind of thing that's impossible to not have filter down to everybody else?

It filters. Any type of emotion is contagious. If people are down, then everybody else is going to get down. But the thing about the leaders on this team is that when they're working hard everybody follows them.

Was it important for you to play, not only because it's your last home game, but to because of the senior example?

Yeah. I wasn't nearly 100 percent, but I wanted to get out there because I needed to play my last game here. It was emotionally tough. It was tough.

You came off limping a couple of times. Was it bothering you most of the day?

Yeah. I had to let it rest. I'd play two plays and go back out. It was hurting today.

How much did the emotion early in the game kind of carry you guys through?

It did. Someone asked early in the week if seeing our parents and running out for the last day would distract us. I don't think it did at all. They got some points early, but I think we just fed off of that. The whole game, we had that in the back of our heads - "This is our last game here."

How do you describe going through five years of something like this?

Coach talks about how it makes you a better person for your whole life. You get in shape and you get some notoriety, but it prepares you for your whole life. I'm glad that I had the opportunity. I wouldn't have changed it for the world. And I'm glad I was a Hawkeye.


How did you feel out there?

It felt the same. As far as my mental state, I felt good out there. As far as how I did, it's got a lot to do with the seniors that were out there today, like Gallery, and Ramon and Rothwell. They made some key blocks.

Did you guys all feed off of the emotion generated by Senior Day?

I got a little emotional myself. Most of the growing up that I've done, as far as being at Iowa, was through a lot of the seniors now, like Gallery, and Mo Brown and Bob Sanders. To see them in their last game at Kinnick, that kind of got me a little teary eyed.

What made your offense click today, especially when you were in there?

A lot of teams, when they see Fred in there, they tend to blitz a lot. They figure with Fred in the backfield, he's going to run. When they see Cervantes in the backfield, they're thinking pass. I guess when I come in, I'm getting better at my pass blocking and I can run the ball too. So, when they throw me in there with three receivers, it kind of throws them off a little bit.

How big was it for you guys to get something going on offense this week after struggling last week?

It was real big. Last week, all we needed was to get started. We just started too late. This week, we made sure we started fast.

Fred took a little bit less work today. He was a decoy on play action. He returned kicks. He did a lot of things for the team. What do his sacrifices say about him?

A lot of star running backs that are seniors would have tried to be a ball hog on a day like this. Fred took it in stride and did what he could to help us win. That's what he does every week.


How much of an emotional lift did your kick before the half give the team?

It was a big momentum turnaround. We came out in the third quarter and we just dominated them. It was good to come out there and make a play that was bigger than the three points that I put on the board. We came out of the locker room pretty determined and had that little edge.

Did you feel that the air kind of went out of the Gophers' ship?

Exactly. We beat them on field position there in that third quarter. We got a couple of field goals, and then got that touchdown. You could see on the other sideline that they wished the seconds would tick off and they could catch there plane back to Minnesota.

Is it nice to keep the pig?

It's always nice to keep the pig. To keep him around as long as we can is the best route to go.

Is this what you envisioned when you came here?

No. You can't really envision anything like this. It's almost exceeded expectations. The way the coaching staff approached it was that we would come in and bust our butts every day. We'd focus on doing the right things - going to class, being on time, tucking your shirts in. Eventually, you build that solid foundation on what's right and you're going to end up having a program like this; something that's going to last.

What was going through your head when you were running out there today?

I wasn't really sad. I was just kind of emotional at the fact that this is the last game. Just seeing my parents, I know how much pride they take in having grown up in Iowa and having someone playing for the Iowa football team. It was special to see them out there on the field.

Was that a build up of emotions?

Yeah. I think so. It's my last game here in Iowa City any way you look at it. I've done a lot of things here in town sporting wise, and my last one was probably my most memorable. You can't beat that.

What sold you on this coaching staff when a lot of people questioned it?

They're hard working and they're honest people. As a state, that's what we're known as nationwide; the farming and the blue collar people. Coach Ferentz and his staff really reflect that. That's something that under coach Morgan I really bought into playing over at West High. I couldn't find a better fit.


It's got to be a good feeling on defense when you get the ball.

It is when they're driving on you like the turnovers today. It's a relief. You really don't want to get put in that type of situation. But once the turnover happens, everybody gets really excited about it.

Did you get a helmet on the ball?

I really couldn't tell you. It happened so fast. I seen him cut inside and I was outside. I came inside and tried to put a hit on him.

Did you land on the ball?

I landed right on top of it. I thought that I was on his foot. Then I looked and saw his feet in the air. I realized it was the ball and jumped up and started running.

Were you expecting to get Abdul-Khaliq today?

No. We didn't practice much blitzing. I was surprised when they made the call. They said "We're going after them." I was excited. Things worked out. Worthy actually helped me out by pulling the back to block him and let me go free.

What was going through your mind when you left the field for the last time?

It hasn't really hit me yet. I know it's done now, but it hasn't really dawned on me yet. It just seemed like a normal day. In my mind, I just feel that I'll be playing in Kinnick again. That's my mindset. It hasn't hit me yet.

Did you go out there trying to make a play to leave in the fans' memories?

No. I wanted to go out and lead my team to victory regardless of what I did. I just wanted to go out and play my best.

What are going to miss most about playing at Kinnick?

Everything. The fans. Teammates. Coaching staff. It is a family that has grown together. I'll miss Coach Parker being on me a lot. That's the way he made me better.

How satisfying is it to leave this program in a better place than when you got here?

I actually thought about it as a freshman when I came here and I wasn't playing. I knew in my heart that one day our program would be on top. One day we'll be able to celebrate with each other. It's exciting to be a part of something that was down and now it's up.

What gave you the confidence that you'd be able to turn this thing around?

Knowing the coaches and knowing how dedicated and hard working they are to be the best. If you're around people that want to be the best and strive to be the best at whatever it is they do, you'll tend to bring guys along with you. I think we've done that.

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