HAWKEYE NATION: You are hot this year in your assessments and prognostications on what Iowa might do in a game plan sense. Last week you felt Iowa might try to establish a ground game after setting it up with the passing game, or substitute a lot of their ground game with the short passing game. That is what we saw this week. What are your thoughts?
CHUCK HARTLIEB: What we did back in the 1980's was a controlled passing attack; a version of what is now referred to as the West Coach Offense. It was not a true downfield attack, it was nibbling away at those defenses and this was the first time in the Kirk Ferentz era that they chose to go that route. If I were a head coach, I would do things the same way Kirk is. You always want your running game to benefit the passing game, but we rarely had that advantage in the 1980's and now it looks like they may not have that advantage this year.
To develop the passing game this way could pay huge dividends. We will just have a reverse order, in that you set up your game with the ball in the air and the running game will follow. I think that if they continue down this road and develop it as much as they can, it will be just as successful as we have seen in recent years with the running game.
HN: Are you a proponent of this type of attack not being a stop gap measure, but using it more in the offense going forward?
CH: It's tough to be all things to all people, and it's touch to pound it down their throat and then jump into a sophisticated passing game. I think that can put a lot of stress on your offensive linemen. It's really difficult, I think, for offensive linemen to worry about drive blocking, their zone blocking technique, and then the next play absolutely try to incorporate the best pass blocking technique possible. That is a tough balance for a lineman to go through. Rarely does it get done well.
I think that is a challenge. But I also think this is an extension to the running game. What I enjoyed seeing, and something you and I have talked about in the past, is stay with what is working.
If they are not taking away the three step drop passing game, the eight yard hitch or the tight end waggle, do it over and over until it doesn't work. I saw them do that three or four times on Saturday. Defenses usually will think that they can't take away everything; we will let you have that and focus on stopping your run. So it makes those things great first and second down plays. When you can get six or seven yards off the snap without taking on too much risk. Then teams might start to cheat against the pass, and even with a line that is growing week by week, you will then be able to run the football. So I think this type of offense has the potential to make Iowa much more dangerous.
I still have not seen a waggle where Tate couldn't tuck it and get five yards on if he ran it. I am not saying he should run with it, as he has learned his lesson and slid for five or six yards when he ran it on one of those plays. What is he, option number four or five on that play? It goes back to three years of defenses coming into our games focused on the run, and it goes to show what can be developed when a defense is thinking ‘run, run, run'; it opens up so much in the passing game.
HN: If a sophisticated passing game is a challenge to the line, combined with your run schemes, that is an interesting thought, because this line has been challenged this year in the running game and they are inexperienced and still getting on the same page, yet they seem to pass block well. Is it a matter of them being a better pass blocking group, or being less physical against the run than we have seen?
CH: It's probably a little bit of both. I think your strongest offensive lines can be run dominant, and this year's group may not be at that level. I think it is easier to pass pro for three to four seconds than it is for all six guys to run block perfectly. You can have a breakdown in the passing game and still get the ball off, or flush Tate out and still make a play. If you get a breakdown in the running game, you will more than likely get negative yardage. I think more can go wrong in the passing game, but adjustments can be made, or the ball thrown away, and you avoid negative yardage, versus so much of that zone blocking running game has to be played to perfection to get three or four yards.
HN: Not to focus so much on the offense, but that was the storyline on Saturday. We have asked you numerous questions about Drew Tate this year, but we have not seen a performance out of an Iowa QB like this for a few seasons. From a former quarterback's perspective, what do you think about his command and grasp of the game? It seems like he is growing up more and more each week, and you can almost see it play out.
CH: Like I told you earlier this year, I sent him a note after the Kent State game telling him that he did a great job in the opener, good luck the rest of the way and go break some of those records. (Chuck) Long and I have not had any of those records threatened for some time, but it seems that if he stays healthy, he could push some of those pretty easily. I think that is great.
He played pretty flawlessly against Michigan State. As we talked about earlier this year, there are two levels of games; there are four or five games where you expect to win, and you just want to play within yourself, then there are some days when your game has to be top notch. The Michigan game was one where he had some key errors that he would want back. But against Michigan State, when he had to show some leadership, he stepped up. Now he has to try and do that in a critical top 25 match up.
HN: The TV guys were saying Iowa was in a lot of nickel and dime sets on defense. I don't know if some of that was seeing Edmond Miles in there in place of George Lewis or if they really employed a lot of five and six DB sets, but they did use those sets some and they blitzed out of them for the second straight week. But tell me what you saw out of Iowa's defense and if you liked it
CH: It seemed to me that they went into the game trying to mix things up. I love to keep an offense off balance and show them three or four different looks. It's not something that you have to do every down, but when you have an inexperienced quarterback who does not know what is coming, and the same thing will hold true in the Ohio State game, it gives you that much more of an ability to shut teams down.
I was excited about the overall scheme, and Miguel Merrick and Marcus Paschal really stepped up. I would like to see some more turnovers, but the defense is still the strength of the team and that will be key here over the next few weeks.
HN: Do you see any Bob Sanders in Merrick?
CH: I think so, and I really liked his emotion. I think that is critical for the team and for the home crowd and his teammates seemed to feed off of that. I love the big hits and hopefully that will continue.
HN: Let's talk about the home crowd for a little bit. Does that get overblown at all, sleeping in your own bed and all of that? Having played at that level, what is your insight on ‘home cooking'?
CH: First of all, I think that Coach Ferentz and his staff have done an unbelievable job of protecting the home field. What is it now, 15 straight? That is amazing. I don't know if Coach Fry ever came close to that. People think that sleeping in your own bed and the home crowd makes it all that easy, but there are more distractions at home with the families coming into town to see their kids, and perhaps a mind set of being in a comfort zone and not having to step it up as much as you might on the road. I think it can work against you as much as it can work for you sometimes. The staff has done a great job of protecting their house, like the commercial said. I don't think that should be overlooked; that is an unbelievable streak.
Second, it's critical to take care of your home fan base and they are doing everything they can to make sure those fans are leaving with smiles on their faces.
I still think the Hawkeye fans need to take it up another level. I was a little disappointed during the Iowa State game and there are times at these home games where we are sitting on our hands too much. It gets frustrating to me that we just can't get all 70,000 people breathing down the opponent's throats like we saw last year against Arizona State and Michigan. The Iowa fans are great, among the best there are and they can get loud. Hopefully over these next three home games (all against teams currently ranked), we can get it cranked up because it will be critical.
HN: With that being said, what are your thoughts on Iowa extending this streak to 16 in a row against Ohio State in two weeks?
CH: You and I have talked over the last few years at how two weeks preparation is so huge. Now you combine that with the fact that Ohio State is going Northwestern (L), Wisconsin, and Iowa, that is a tremendous advantage for Iowa. Everything is lining up perfectly for this game. Iowa needs to continue the lack of turnovers and lack of mental mistakes, something they did a good job with against Michigan State. The games against Michigan and Michigan State were night and day, and it certainly has to be maybe even better against Ohio State.
How you lose to (Jim) Tressell is if you beat yourself. I think that if you can play your game and execute and not let Ohio State outplay you mentally in the turnover game and in special teams, you are going to win this game. But Tressell wins week after week on the intangibles.
Iowa gets two weeks to prepare for this; Ohio State is having a tough stretch of the schedule…intangibles will be the key to this game. I think we will be OK there.
I see Iowa putting together their ‘classic' opening drive touchdown and playing within themselves. I will say Iowa 20, Ohio State 16.