HN.com: Chuck, last week you looked for Iowa to win big against Minnesota and they did. But did you expect things to turn out the way they did?
CHUCK HARTLIEB: First of all, it was great to see such a great group of seniors have such an outstanding day in their final game at Kinnick. It is more emotional than most people can even imagine. To see Kaeding, Ochoa, Chandler and all of the guys make such big plays and play so well, I think that was a special thing.
I think that Iowa fans are truly the best and you saw that on Saturday. You saw how the seniors complimented the fans back after the game and that was pretty neat. That was really enjoyable to see.
As far as the game was concerned, I felt that Iowa would win convincingly, but not in the fashion that it happened. Minnesota had the advantage in the first half and they outplayed us in a lot of areas. They moved the ball on us and we caught some breaks. Minnesota gave that first half to us to a large degree. That is a cause concern heading into this final game.
Certainly, we caused those mistakes and created some big plays, but you still have to worry about some of the things that happened in that first half.
I think that the defense is a little frustrated with itself right now and injuries are a problem. Steen and Clauss are not 100% and losing a couple of other players, it is going to be very difficult in Madison. The defense really needs to come back and finish the way they started and ignore the last two games where they probably felt like they could have done better. They have to take it back to the level they were at earlier in the season.
We have been talking off and on during the year for the need for Nathan Chandler to step up and have big games and I think this was Nathan's best day yet, which was great to see and I am happy for him. He would like to have the interception back, but I think it was pretty understandable. That man-free robber-look with the free safety dropping down is not something you see on a regular basis and it is tough to pick up. Having that happen early on and then him not making a big mistake like that the rest of the game; I thought he played lights out and hopefully that sets up well for a big trip to Madison.
HN.com: In watching the game on tape, I counted at least 10 passes on first down by Iowa in the first half. That was ‘out of character' for this year's team. What did you think of the game plan?
CHUCK HARTLIEB: You know me, that is my style of ball. I love that, obviously. But I also understand that Coach Ferentz and Coach O'Keefe's style is to be conservative and focus on time of possession and defense. A bit of frustration comes from me because during the course of the year, they have had a lot of one on one match ups outside. Teams have been putting eight in the box, focusing on the run and we have had opportunities to throw the ball and have not taken advantage of it. That was a great scheme and game plan this week in coming out and taking advantage of what the defense gave them. I go back to man-free robber; I think they were committed to that man free system where the free safety is playing in the back. But other than that, everyone is basically man-to-man across the board. If that is the case, you have to challenge those guys on the outside and that is what Iowa did. On first down, they knew they were going to get those man looks and Iowa ‘nickel and dimed' them to death with the unders, slants and hitches and all kinds of things. I think Iowa will see a lot of that man-to-man defense this week as well, so hopefully they can stick with that type of aggressiveness. Wisconsin plays a lot of man. Wisconsin takes a lot of pride in the play of their cornerbacks and they will let those guys go one on one on the outside.
HN.com: You mentioned concerns for this coming week What are they?
CHUCK HARTLIEB: I think on a broad scope, a theme for this year has been the difficulty for any team in to perform well on the road. Iowa has had that issue, but go back to the games at Kinnick and break down games like Miami of Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota; those teams went home that night and said that ‘we handed it to them. We didn't play near our best; that is not us'. Iowa has said that after the road games at Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. Obviously, the key to success is trying to figure out how to win on the road and execute at your best. That just has not happened this year in the Big Ten. If you look at the top teams in the conference excluding Minnesota, all of the home teams have won except for Michigan at Michigan State and Purdue at Wisconsin.
I think this has been an interesting year for home field advantage. That is where my concerns come. It becomes a mental thing after a while and Iowa has to bear down and get the best out of our players from a mental standpoint on Saturday. You don't go against the home team this year in the Big Ten.
HN.com: Can you remember a Senior Day where so many seniors came up so big?
CHUCK HARTLIEB:I can't remember something like that. Mo Brown made a great catch on the sidelines, Sanders made some great plays; they ran over Gallery's side on Jermelle's big touchdown run, etc. I think to a certain degree, the coaches' game planned it that way and my hat is off to them. Take care of your seniors and put them in spots to win. I wonder if it were not the last home game if Ferentz would have let Kaeding kick that field goal at the end of the half, because he has been in spots before where he has not done that. That was a ‘goose bump' moment for anyone watching that and giving Nate a chance to knock that through.
HN.com: Did you have any doubts that it wasn't going to go through the uprights?
CHUCK HARTLIEB: No. What a great kid. I have talked to plenty of people in Iowa City and have come across people that know these players and I really think this is a unique group of people, not just players. That is what makes me so proud is that coach Ferentz has once again assembled a group of senior leaders that are great people off the field, good students and they are putting a winning team together. I think that makes it more special when quality of character is winning the game and not just necessarily big time talent.
HN.com: There is one more game to go; where did you feel this team would be before the season?
CHUCK HARTLIEB:There are always two ways to look at it. What are your expectations, your guesses? I felt 8-4 would be a great season coming off of what they had to deal with as far as losing so many players from last year. But then you look at the course of the year and ask yourself if the team is playing close to its potential? Is this a 10-win team? I think coach Ferentz and his staff will look back and think that they could have gotten one or two more, but they could have lost one or two more. They are right where I expected them to be. I would term a win against Wisconsin to equal a great and tremendous season. A loss would still give them a wonderful season with nothing to be ashamed of. Either way they are fine.
HN.com: Chuck, I have said that I felt this was a rebuilding or a transition year. Did you see it that way?
CHUCK HARTLIEB:No, I disagreed completely with that. I felt that Iowa still had a lot of talent coming back. From the running backs, to Mo Brown, to the offensive line…I feel there are good offensive linemen. You can't compare it to last year, because last year was an anomaly. Every year you have to bring in new players, but you had Gallery coming back, you knew that McMahon was a quality player, Aiello had played a lot, and so we had talent.
On defense, I felt this group could be the best ever at Iowa. So to call this a rebuilding year, I felt was a mistake. I think that you and I have talked about Iowa coming off of January 1 bowl games with coach Fry, the following year was always strong because you build off of that momentum. I think the guns were loaded and these guys had a great season.
HN.com: What about next year? Is that a transition or rebuilding year? Or is Iowa past that now?
CHUCK HARTLIEB: Next year is going to be a little more difficult. You want to have great defensive leadership along with a good offensive line every year. I think the defense gets hit hard from that standpoint. New leadership is going to have to come to the forefront on the defensive side of the ball. Next year will be difficult; a young quarterback, new defensive leadership, plug some holes on the offensive line. My expectations won't be as high as they were this year.
They don't have to be seniors to get the job done. I look at the 1991 Rose Bowl, which was Matt Rodgers big year. That offensive line was made up of freshmen and sophomores that came together and played extremely well. Mike Devlin, Scott Davis, Mike Ferroni; just a real young offensive line across the board. To think that it has to always be seniors, I think that is wrong. With good talent, you can put together a good line and not be too concerned about it.
HN.com: Now Chuck, the focus turns to Wisconsin
CHUCK HARTLIEB: I am real close to Wisconsin. Barry Alvarez recruited me out of high school and my brother Jim lives in Madison. I am a Wisconsin fan after Iowa, as I love that school and think that it is a special place. Anyone going there for the first time will enjoy his or her trip.
We have some bad timing in a way. Michigan State was kind of an anomaly; they have always been a bad character team and I am sure they quit to a certain degree on Saturday. But it gave Wisconsin's offense a lot of confidence and they really needed it. This team has good talent on offense but has not been consistent this year. That is the way things have gone for Coach Alvarez these past few years: just getting by with seven or eight win seasons.
I think one of the keys is that our defensive line has got to get in Jim Sorgi's face. We have our first five guys that have to get pressure on him. If you let him have an extra second, it will put too much pressure on the back end, not just with Lee Evans, but their first four or five receivers are really the strength of the team. But Sorgi is a very average quarterback. If you can get in his face, I think that you rattle him and cause some problems. I think that pressure on the quarterback is critical.
It's like the Ohio State game that we talked about. Wisconsin is loaded at the wide receiver position; just make sure that you don't give up the big play. This is not a team that can put together 10 to 15 play drives. I think coach Parker has a fine balance to create pressure on the quarterback, but to not put pressure on his cornerbacks or free safety on the back and. He has done a great job with that and I think that is the balance he will have. Protect the deep ball and get into Sorgi's face.
I hope that on offense, we can stay aggressive, Chandler can play off of last week's game and Mo Brown can get a little more healthy. I think the difference these last few weeks is just having Brown out there. It increases the level across the board. It is no coincidence that Chandler is better when the people around him are back. You have Lewis back, you have Brown back; Chandler has gotten better.
It goes back to turnovers. If we can keep the turnovers to zero or one, I think we win the game. I think Wisconsin's defense is not as strong as it was four or five years ago and I think that we play off of the momentum. If we play smart, we will win this game by three to seven points.
It comes down to being ‘it's not can we beat Wisconsin, but can we beat the demon of playing on the road?' It is not who we are playing against, it's us executing the way this Iowa team can.