CHUCK HARTLIEB Most of the players on Iowa's team had not been in Memorial Stadium before, including Drew Tate, and I don't think that many of them had played in that kind of wind before, either. I thought it was another strong game from the Hawks. The first quarter stood out to me as a decent quarter.
Our defense has been outstanding all season against opening drives, and we give up the opening drive touchdown. You know that I discount those a little bit, because they are scripted plays and you are seeing new formations and schemes. Iowa made some quick adjustments from that and made great stands the rest of the way.
You can't say enough about the defense and the fundamentally strong approach they take into the game. Hats off to Norm Parker, the coaches and all of the players, because this is one of the best defenses in the country and I hope they can finish strong.
On offense, what a great controlled passing game into the wind. Sure, we didn't put any points on the board in that first quarter, but the game could have been different if we would have had a lot of three and outs and kept the momentum on Illinois' side and the wind at their backs.
I have to give kudos to Coach (Ken) O'Keefe. He has done a great job over the last several weeks in transitioning this offense to a very controlled passing attack that still works the clock and doesn't put you in difficult spots and is putting points on the board. The first quarter was a good example of ball control and taking care of business, even though Iowa did not score.
Drew Tate played tremendous into the wind. I think there are a lot of quarterbacks who would have told their coaches that it was too tough to throw into the wind, but Tate didn't shy away from it and he threw good balls into the wind all day.
We have some real challenges on offense yet, and Tate is leading the way. If you drop back 40 times in a game, you are going to have two or three mistakes, and Tate made two or three of those in this game. That is compared to games against Ohio State and Michigan State at home where he played near flawless football. However, I felt that he played a great game this last week, but a few mistakes happen on the road and when you drop back 40 times. He bounced back well from the Penn State game, and we may look back at the end of the season and feel that Penn State has the best defense in the Big Ten. It's nice to get to 6-2, and now we have the three big games to close the year.
HN: There was a point in this game, when Aaron Mickens was carted off the field in an ambulance, for the air to go out of Iowa's sails. But once again, the team responded in the face of adversity.
CH: They could have easily have been distracted and gotten down. I feel this was another example of how disciplined this team is and how Coach Ferentz's teams have always been extremely disciplined. When you think about what it takes to have a successful program, one of the key themes is discipline.
You could go back to 10 to 14 plays where we showed tremendous discipline from staying home on defense, to not turning it over, to staying focused after Aaron Mickens was carted off in an ambulance, to ignoring the wind. The wind on the road can be a huge detriment to a team; it demoralizes you and it's tough to get going.
Yet this team stays focused throughout all of that, as they have all year. It is the theme of this coaching staff and it's really impressive. Contrast that to Illinois, and you saw plenty of missed tackles, kids not staying home on defense; I just saw a tale of two teams out there from a discipline standpoint.
HN: Let's talk about Purdue. Just a few weeks ago, they were a top five team, Kyle Orton was the Heisman frontrunner, and now they have a three game losing streak and Orton was benched on Saturday. That kind of ‘momentum' can be hard to turn around.
CH: I agree. I think at about 2 o'clock on Saturday, I sat down and said, ‘what a second, this is a different finale that could be shaping up for Iowa,' because I was very concerned at how we matched up against Purdue. Now, they look more like a pretender instead of a contender. They have created a real mess with the whole Orton thing. I am a lot more confident going into the game this week. We have talked in the past about momentum, and there is tremendous negative momentum coming out of West Lafayette right now, and it will be difficult to turn that thing around.
HN: Then they have to come into Kinnick Stadium, where Iowa has won 16 straight, it's a 2:30 start on national TV which adds even more of an aura to the game from the fans point of view.
CH: You are right on there. Most fans underestimate how much of an impact they have on these games. We have some of the greatest fans in the world, and their intensity rubs off on these players. They need to take some credit for this winning streak, but they also have to really crank it up in these final two games. The ebb and flow of these games will be more challenging than in the previous home games. Hopefully they will be into it for four straight quarters and pick up the team when their backs are against the wall. Hopefully we can finish with two great games from a fan standpoint.
Back to momentum, we have an unbelievable amount of momentum and confidence when we are in Kinnick. You can't discount that, and we are at our best at home and it will be a huge adantage for us down the stretch.
HN: A quick look ahead to Minnesota. They lose to Indiana this week and they have not beaten an upper division team from the Big Ten in a long, long time. Now, they play Wisconsin before their game with Iowa. Are they just the paper tigers that some thought they were?
CH: Everyone always wants to share with me how they think Minnesota is tough this year and that they are really worried about that game up there. I am sorry, but I have not seen Minnesota, under Glen Mason, be a challenging team. They are a run dominated, soft on defense type of team. They benefit from a soft schedule early on and then they can't stand up to the challenge the rest of the way. It takes great effort and a great attack to win up there, don't discount that, but this is not surprising at all; it's the typical Minnesota finish.
HN: Iowa is 6-2 right now, and Kirk said that was the best they could have been after losing at Michigan. Did you feel that 6-2 was possible after the Michigan game, and then you throw in all of the injuries?
CH: I definitely thought 6-2 was possible after the Michigan game. I felt like Ohio State would be down, and I felt 6-2 was feasible and I would have taken that to start the year, as well. I think we said 8-3 and 7-4. That would be a heck of a year and very much attainable right now. That combined with the worst rash of injuries that Coach Ferentz has ever had, he should be a candidate for coach of the year.
HN: You have commented on Purdue's defensive coordinator Brock Spack in recent years in this column, and you have a great deal of respect for him. Purdue has played Iowa better than any other team over the last three seasons. What do you expect to see from them this week?
CH: We talk a lot about match ups. We fare much better offensively against teams like Ohio State, teams that line up and play strong football, but you know what you are going to get.
Purdue is the opposite of that. They will give Iowa all kinds of looks, stunts and blitzes and make it challenging. It will be difficult when you don't have a running attack that has been as strong as in year's past.
The benefit we do have is that other teams have realized that (lack of a running game). Illinois was successful with the blitz at times, and at times they were not. We will not be going into this game cold turkey, like we did against Arizona State. This team has matured a lot on offense from a blitz pick up standpoint, and I am more confident being at home with four or five weeks of that stuff coming at us, that Drew Tate and the rest of that group will hopefully be able to digest what Purdue is throwing at us, and hopefully get 20 to 24 points on the board.
The other thing is that the defense has a lot of maturity, and they all realize now that their biggest challenges come when they play good passing attacks. Regardless of if it's Kyle Orton or Brandon Kirsch, this is a great passing attack with an outstanding system. There will be tremendous amounts of focus and pride going into this week's preparation, and it will be really interesting to see our strategy in handling their four-wide sets, and if we are going to play base or mix it up with nickel and dime looks. Coach Parker has a big challenge on his hands.
But with our front four and the way our back end is playing, hopefully we can stay away from the big play. That has been Purdue's downfall the last three games; in that they are getting forced to put 10 to 15 play drives together. When they get put in that position, they are having a difficult time driving the ball. They have a big play attack, and when you can keep them away from that, you put them in a corner.
So stay away from the big play, force them to put together 10 to 15 play drives. If that is the case, we will be all right.
I think that is the way it will end up.
I will go Iowa 20, Purdue 17
Chuck Hartlieb, in his third year as HawkeyeNation.com's football expert, was a star at Iowa, earning All Big Ten and Academic All American honors during the 1987 & 1988 seasons. He and his wife have four children and reside in Clive, IA.