CHUCK HARTLIEB: Simply put, it was a complete game. From my vantage point in the stands, it was as if we were playing an old Northwestern or Indiana game; completely dominant from kickoff to finish.
I was really impressed with the intensity that the players came out with. I almost liked the fact that we did not come out and score on that opening drive. Sometimes we do that, and put all of our eggs in the first few scripted plays, but now, these guys are starting to get into a rhythm as an offense that the entire group is really believing in, and now they are going out and believing that they can move the ball pretty well and in a consistent fashion.
Being able to see that throughout the game, and not just a new play here or a gadget there to get that big touchdown, this offense is settling in right now to be pretty impressive the rest of the way.
HN: Being just a few weeks removed from the Arizona State debacle, and before that, the offense not looking all that great either, is it amazing to you how they look now and how they have shifted paradigms mid-season?
CH: They have shifted the paradigm significantly. It's a blast to watch, and it's something that you and I have talked about over the last two or three years. Their offensive mentality has been time of possession, ball control and an outstanding running game with a passing game to supplement. And in just a couple of games, to switch to such a strong passing attack is really impressive.
However, we felt over the last few years that the potential was there, it was just that they didn't need to do it.
HN: Maybe it was that they couldn't do it, based on the personnel?
CH: I think they didn't need to do it. They knew that their bread and butter was the best offensive line in the Big Ten, and that they were going to run the ball down your throat and chose not to focus on a complete passing game. It's tough to be all things. This year, they committed to giving the running game a chance as long as they could, but with the running back injuries and the first couple of losses, it's been impressive as to how much they have been able to transition this offense into such a strong passing attack. It's really unbelievable.
HN: In golf, there is an adage that you don't practice on the course, you take it to the driving range. But Iowa has changed things on the course, if you will.
CH: A lot of it goes to Drew Tate; he is a special kid. There is no reason to talk too much about the obvious, but you have to put a lot on his back as to what he has done with this offense over the last month. Again, he shows no real weaknesses and is playing as well as you could right now.
HN: For throwing the ball 39 times, there were six or seven drops, the end of the half bomb to Townsend and Tate threw it away two or three times. That almost accounts for all of his incompletions. Could he have played much of a better game from a decision-making standpoint?
CH: I agree completely. It was a great game for him from that standpoint. I am sure there were a couple of bad throws, if you sit down and think about it, but in general, his throwaways were impressive to me. That is not something he would have done a month ago. I was really impressed that he didn't take sacks and ditched the ball and said ‘I will take the next snap'. That was as impressive to me as anything.
I do think that a couple of those drops might have been a little bit on Drew, as he was getting the ball a little bit over the helmet which makes for some tough catches. But still, those balls touched the hands of the receivers.
HN: Tate seems to go from game to game, breaking down his mistakes on film, watching what he is done wrong, and then it's gone…sort of like he is a computer. It might sting him once, but after he reprograms himself, its gone.
CH: He does not make the same mistake twice, does he? I agree completely. He has gotten better each week, and you are right; you see a different facet to his game each time. I felt like he ran the ball better than he has in any other game this past weekend. I thought that he made more bad plays into good plays, where Ohio State had pressure, or where, off of the waggle, he had someone in his face, yet he still managed with his feet to dodge pressure and get positive yardage or get the ball downfield. It's really, really impressive.
HN: Since Kirk Ferentz and Ken O'Keefe can no longer deny the decision maker they have at quarterback, when the offensive line comes around, be it this year or next year and can once again run the ball like we have grown accustomed to, will it be tough to throw this type of attack back in the trunk?
CH: That is a good point, but I bet even Drew Tate would want to see this team have a more balanced attack, because a couple of things still have not happened.
We could see Ohio State wind up being a 6-5 team or a 5-6 team. We still have not really beaten a Top 20 team. Ohio State looks to be a really average team this year. But I think the other things are that the coaches will ensure that we play well on the road. Being on the road passing the ball, or in bad weather, which we have not seen yet, we have to have a great running attack. Those issues are going to come up over the next month or two. The away environment and bad weather necessitate a balanced attack and a good running game to win.
Again, I still think teams are coming into us saying Iowa is a run offense. I still think that we are playing to that to a certain degree. I felt that Ohio State didn't play a lot of nickel, they didn't blitz all that much and were very run centered. I was really surprised at the lack of pressure that they put on Tate. We still haven't seen that blitzing type of pressure that we saw quite a bit of in the Arizona State game.
CH: I think they are a bear to prepare for now. IT's a great system that they use and they can come at you from a lot of different angles. But the future looks awfully bright. I still say we have to be more consistent against pressure. Ohio State did not bring that last week, but we will see it against Purdue and Wisconsin.
I have to say that a month ago, I felt this could be one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten and I think you thought I was a bit off base there. To have 120 rushing yards and throw for as much as we did with very few offensive line breakdowns, I think that this line is turning into one of the three or four best in the Big Ten.
HN: Having said that, the common denominator that was not there three weeks ago is Brian Ferentz.. He starts two games in a row, and this team has its best two games offensively, on the year. Coincidence?
CH: I think that would be a feather in their cap. He is one of their better linemen, and having him back has made a big impact. He seems to be playing tremendously, and I am sure that has elevated their play.
Pull out a Lee Gray or a Mike Elgin, too. There have not been many breakdowns. Elgin, from an line calling standpoint, has to get a pat on the back for his strong season, and Gray has gone up against his share of decent pass rushers, but you don't hear anyone saying that the left tackle is letting us down too much. There are other guys playing well right now, too.
HN: This was the first time the defense played the way we thought they could play, and they looked great.
CH: First of all, I think its an absolute crock that Chad Greenway and/or Abdul Hodge are not on the Butkus finalist list. I don't understand, and would like to know more. To put a kid on there from Alabama-Birmingham, and not put a Greenway or a Hodge on it makes the Butkus Award a joke this year, if you can't pick at least one of those guys on the final list. That is a shame. They both stepped up strong this weekend.
I just love the intensity of that defense. I think there are a lot of guys with big hearts on that defense, and as much as anything, that is what you want to start with. The DB's, to the LB's, down to the front four, this team just has great heart. They are still the strength of this football team.
I felt the other interesting development was the use of dime and nickel packages. They did not stick with their base defense when Ohio State brought in their pass formation packages, and that seemed to work well for us. We covered well on third downs and it didn't seem affect us negatively against the run. It was nice to see those packages get back into the game.
HN: Do you have any final comments on the Ohio State game before we look ahead to Penn State?
CH: I want to now go back to a month ago and ask, do you think we could have beaten Iowa State by more than seven? We took quite a bit of grief when I said Iowa didn't have its full offensive package in and played conservatively. I maintained then, and still do, that we played pretty vanilla and that game could have been worse.
I am saying look at what Iowa has now, and what they were capable of doing in that game and what they chose to do. That was and is my point.
HN: Iowa beats Ohio State as badly as they have in school history and now can beat Joe Paterno's Penn State team five times in a row. It's a tough venue, especially for a passing offense. What challenges must Iowa overcome this week?
CH: Our theme as we have talked through the year, is that it gets tougher. You have more teams aiming for you, and you don't have the underdog, revenge mentality any more. Preparation on our end gets harder. Penn State is a tough place to play.
But we have talked about match ups and what we do in certain spots, and we match up well with the Nittany Lions. We have played well over there. The only challenges I see is that Penn State does throw the ball quite a bit, so we need to be consistent against the pass for four quarters on defense, and I think we are capable. Offensively, win a tough game in front of a huge crowd with a passing attack at its core; it's going to be a new challenge for Tate and the group.
This game will be won or lost not necessarily by what Penn State does, but rather, if Iowa can play like they can play, without the turnovers and road mistakes. I think we will be fine.
I will go with Iowa 27, Penn State 14.