Question and Answer
How much have you seen of Florida?
Not a lot. Myself personally? Not a lot. A snap shot here and there on TV, but I have not had much time the last two weeks to do much in preparation for the game, but that is how it was planned out. We have tried to focus on recruiting. Some of the guys that have been in the office have spent some time looking at Florida, and the comments that I am receiving so far are what you would expect: they are a very talented football team and well coached. I have not seen much, but starting tomorrow the entire staff is going to bunker in here a little bit and get ready for the ball game.
What is Jonathon Babineaux's status for the game?
I think he has an outside chance. We certainly are not counting on it (him playing). I think his rehab is going well and he feels good about it. We will see how it plays out. He has another couple of weeks to go here. It is a possibility, but unless its 100 percent certain, its not a smart thing to do. I think outside of Jonathon and the other guys that had surgery during the season, we are in pretty good shape.
Talk about the growth of the defense this year and its personality
It has been fun to watch our defense develop over the years. I think we have made progress year in and year out. Going back to over a year ago, I think when they started to get their feet settled, that gave us a chance to make a run in the conference and that is just what happened. We were really counting on our defense to do a good job this season and I think that is exactly what we have seen. They have played well through facing good challenges.
We are going to see a tremendous quarterback in Chris Leak, but we have seen a few great ones this year. The way that we started out the year against Miami and the fine quarterback they have, I felt that our guys have done a real good job all along. Bob Sanders has meant so much to our football team as far as giving it a personality. A lot of our younger guys have really followed his lead. We are moving in the right direction.
Does Leak compare to anybody that you have played?
Like I said, we have played against a lot of good ones this year, he (Leak) is primarily a thrower, but he can pull it down and run with it. He is not a stiff; he is a good athlete. But I think his biggest attribute is that he is a very good passer and he is very poised, considering his level of experience at this given point. The fact that he has not played all that much, and to see the poise that he plays with is pretty revealing.
Are you concerned about keeping up with Florida's team speed?
They have speed on the outside, their backfield, defensively, etc. The other thing in watching that Florida State game on TV is their tight end (Ben Troupe). They went to him in some very critical situations and Leak connected well with him. He is an excellent football player. You don't see that kind of threat too often at tight end.
Does going to Florida for two bowl games in a row help to raise the profile in that state?
I think it helps us. That is an area that we like to recruit so it helps us from that standpoint. Then also an area that is significant is playing in January. Playing back to back in January is very significant. The fact that we recruit in Florida helps us a little bit, but playing in January back to back is more significant.
Is there anything in your preparation from last year, things that you would not have done or would have done in hindsight?
If I put my finger one thing it's the break that we had at Christmas time. We had that extra week due to not having a bye week in the Big Ten. We had the long layoff, and maybe taking the break around Christmas was tough. The reality is that we have so many guys from all over the country, so not everyone got to go home anyway, which was our intent. So, it just seemed to me that it made more sense to develop more of a rhythm during that time period. You have to resist the temptation to not practice the guys too much, but hopefully we will be in better synch this year.
How much does January success mean? Iowa has not won a game in January in quite a while.
It's been about 40 years? 40-plus years? That is something that we will mention here over the next couple of days. It is a great opportunity for us. If we win, a lot of great things will come out of that. To be in this game is special; no one is discounting that. The most important thing is to come away with a good feeling, win or lose. That was the most disappointing thing about last year. We just did some things that were uncharacteristic of our football team in that game. That is not the way that you want to end the season. If you go down with your best effort, that is different. I don't think we were there last year and that is my responsibility.
The first half was indicative of that, and all of the missed opportunities that we had. In the first half, by my count, I think we probably could have put 21 points on the board in that first half, but we just didn't get it done. I don't know if that would have decided the game, or if it would have been a factor, but it sure would not have hurt, that is for sure.
Just the way the whole game went and unraveled, that showed you that we were not sharp. Jumping offsides and doing things like that just means that you are not in synch.
When it is all said and done, and I have been through a lot of bowl games as a coach and I am sure the players feel the same way, the ones you played well in, you feel good about. The ones that you play poorly in, you don't feel so good about. It does not really matter the location. When you don't perform the way you want to, you don't feel good. It's kind of funny; it gives a stigma to that city or that bowl until you can do something about it.
But Florida beat the two teams that were in the SEC Championship game, so that speaks to the kind of team they have.
How do you slow them down?
Let the grass grow, but we don't have any control over that. It's like any game, we have to try and make it go the way that we want it to. That is always easier said than done. If we can keep the ball out of Leak's hands a little bit that would be a good thing.
So do you want to run the ball?
That would play into our advantage, but they know that too. When I was down there last Thursday, there were a lot of Big Ten stereotypes going around. But in a lot of cases, that is true for us. If we can get a ground game going, that would help us. But we are not good enough to be one-dimensional.
Is it hard to be focusing on recruiting, and then switch gears to the game?
I think it is pretty similar any time you get involved in this. December ends up being a crazy month for the coaches, but it is a good problem to have, it really is. Nobody is complaining. It makes it more challenging, but that is part of the deal. We have a lot of guys coming onto campus this weekend. This will be the biggest weekend to date this month. It was not done that way by design, it just worked out that the players were available to come. It makes for a busy time for everyone. What we are hoping to do is get as much finalized next week before we get on the plane, and that way the players can enjoy the bowl a little bit more than we did last year.
I think it was tougher in the early 80's. I remember going to Daytona for a week, then we went up to Jacksonville. I remember for the first Rose Bowl we went to, we were gone for quite a while, because we were without the indoor facility. I think 8 or 9 days is manageable. There is a lot going on with the guys to keep their minds stimulated. Hopefully if we do things right, we will have most of the game plan in and practiced before we leave. That way, we will be able to have shorter meetings and practices down there, because I do believe that the activities away from the field, it better serves you to do things quickly. Plus, when you go through your game plan a second time, you don't want to lose the guys. Mentally, they get a bit stale. So we will watch that. We will pop a few things in on them down there to keep them stimulated a little bit.
I think this will probably be an easier place for our guys to enjoy (than Miami). Just from my snapshot look at it last week. Miami, it was a 30-minute ride to South Beach, and South Beach is a long way from Iowa. I did not hit it, but from what I understood, it is a little different place. And I think that Tampa may be more our speed. I think our players will enjoy Tampa from talking to players and coaches that have been there. Not that we didn't enjoy Miami, but I think this might be a little more Midwestern, that may be the best way to describe it.
We will let the kid be kids a little bit. We don't have curfews here on Saturday nights after a game. The team sets the rules during the course of the season. We try to simulate things at the bowl the same way. We give them a little freedom and flexibility, let them roam a little bit. They will be curious, but once we get closer to the game, we will get the focus where we want it.
Do you think you will be the visiting team?
Yeah, I think so. I think that is clearly the case. The fact that they were released a few days before the announcement gave their fans a few extra days to gobble up a lot of tickets. I am sure if the tables were turned, it would have worked in our favor. I would assume that we would have in the neighborhood of 20,000 people there. I am sure our fans will be boisterous and Florida will have more than that, then there will be those in between. It is definitely SEC territory. The reception that I was at last Thursday was prominently represented by SEC people. That is OK. We will try to play off of that one a little bit.
We are going to practice at one of the high schools there, Tampa Jesuit. I think one of the Super Bowl teams practiced there a few years back. I think that might fit our needs a little bit better.
It sounds like we are going to take more weights than we ever have. I am not sure where we are going to put them, but we are going to take them.
Some writers have classified this game as two ‘wait til next year teams', possible title contenders. What do you think of that?
Who in the hell said that about us? (Laughs)
I don't look that far ahead. Once the game is over, we might try to piece some things together. But our focus has been all year just to do what is best for these kids each week. It has been interesting at times, as things have looked a little like a jigsaw at times, but that will be our approach. We have a great senior class; those guys have done a fantastic job of meeting a lot of challenges. Nobody picked us back in July to finish with the kind of record we had. I think the guys accepted that challenge. They want to finish this game. I think our older guys, as much as anyone, are stinging from the bowl game last year. I have talked with them, and based on limited practices, they are giving us great leadership and I expect that to continue. I know our guys want to win the football game. They want to go out and play well.
The long layoff hurt your offense last year. What effect do you think it will have on your team's rhythm this year?
We are the perfect team, since we never had a rhythm this year, to be playing in a bowl. If we had one, I am not sure when it was. I think we will be OK, I really do. The first few practices, we looked awful. But I thought the guys came back last weekend and did a nice job. We looked halfway decent out there. We are looking good on the field, but the trick is to get them on and off the field and kind of keep things moving. We might be working harder now and the volume might be more, but we are out there less, if that makes any sense.
What are your thoughts on the Kinnick renovations plans?
I think it is exciting. The nice thing I have seen is that they are not going to change the feel of Kinnick Stadium. They are capturing the beauty of the place, and that is important. Other than a recruiting vehicle, and I am not sure how much importance that has, I think our fans are going to appreciate having more room and having the inside done. I have not used the restrooms, but I imagine its like going to Wrigley Field. I think things will be more fan friendly when all is said and done.
Have you been practicing outside or in the bubble?
What do you think (laughs). It has been a little chilly. Last year at this time we were outdoors. The Heisman weekend we practiced outdoors twice. Last weekend, we went inside.