Q: Are you surprised at the rate in which Drew Tate has developed?
KIRK FERENTZ: I don't know that we have been surprised, but we have been pleased. He is doing a real good job for us. He had a tough outing up at Penn State. But other than that, he has been doing a great job. As I have said all along, the most pleasing thing about him is that he learns from every experience that he goes through. When all players do that, it's a healthy thing. Ken does a great job with him, as well. He has done a great job with all of our quarterback's coming through, so we are really pleased. As we have shown time and again, he has the ability to make some plays for us, which helps in general, and that really helps us due to our situation; it has been a big lift for us.
Q: Doesn't seem to make the same mistake twice.
FERENTZ: He is a very cerebral guys. Football is cerebral. He is not working on his doctorate yet, but he really studies, he learns; he has a good football sense and is savvy. He misses some things out there, don't get me wrong, but he has been good that way. I think we will keep seeing that window get wider for him, that is the neat thing about experience. He maximizes the time he is on the field. Whatever he goes through, he learns from it, and that is a healthy thing for any player, but certainly at that position, because there is a lot to learn.
Q: How difficult is it to teach a quarterback to learn to throw the ball away?
FERENTZ: It's tough, because no quarterbacks want incompletions. I think Drew takes great pride in his completion percentage, but the other day, that hurt him a little bit, or rather, it hurt his percentage. But he helped our football team by doing the smart thing. To answer your question, he is extremely coachable. He wants to help us win, so he puts that over the statistics. His instinct is to complete passes, that is what he likes doing.
Q: What part of your defensive success is due to your front four consistently winning the pad level battle? It seems they win that battle game after game.
FERENTZ: If you can win on both lines, offensively or defensively, it gives you a real head start. I think we are seeing that with our defense this year. I think it probably parallels what our offense was able to generate in 2002. Those guys just work so well together. They are a senior dominated group, and when you have that going for you, it makes everything else easier. I think that those guys are playing like seniors, they are giving great effort and they are playing smart. I think that you have heard our other players, the linebackers and safeties say that it makes things easier for them.
That being said, those other guys are doing a good job, too. Collectively, everyone is playing about as well as they have at any point since we have been back here.
Q: Are there any specific drills that you work on?
FERENTZ: No. It's the same thing we have been doing five or six years ago. Ron Aiken has done a great job. We have a great staff of teachers, and Ron just does and awesome job with our guys. He has always been a great teacher. But like everything else, the credit goes to our players. They are willing, they are learning, they are receptive and they are playing with great energy out there, too.
Q: Earlier you said that you felt this was the best defense that you have had here since you have been back?
FERENTZ: I said that they are playing better than any of them, and I think that is true. We are playing as well right now as we have at any point in the last five and a half years, collectively. They are playing at a high level right now, I think that's clear to see.
Q: What is your blueprint for developing great defensive lines, as you have had them now for the last three years?
FERENTZ: It's like our entire defense, if you studied how they were assembled and what their blood lines are. It's an interesting story; I have bandied that one about a couple of times. Bottom line is that they are all working hard together and are playing well together. We have a good thing going right now, but it will be a challenge these next two weeks.
Q: What about the backups, next year?
FERENTZ: Laugh. We will worry about next year, next year. I am in that mode right now, I promise you. We may start worrying about that here in another week, after we get through the last ball game. We will dedicate a little time to that. We are doing that in practice right now, so I was being a little bit of a smart aleck. Seriously, we are not worried about that. The next two most experienced guys would be Mattison and Iwebema at this point, but as you have seen this year, we are not really rotating too many people in. We are going with what we have. The nature of our team right now is that every series and every play is important, so we are being careful there
FERENTZ: Maybe a little bit. You explore all options when anyone gets hurt, but Ben has been playing center since August, and he has been doing a nice job. I think our smartest approach is for Ben to do it. He did a good job Saturday, and I think he will continue that. That will be the smoothest ways to make the transition.
Q: Did Ben Cronin make the blocking calls, or did Brian?
FERENTZ: Ben does, and he has been doing it since August. He has been fooling around with it not only since this last spring, but previously. We always try to have four or five guys snapping the ball. But as far as getting significant time in there, he has been doing that since August, and I think he looks real comfortable in doing it. It's not like we are putting a first or second year guy in there, so he will do a good job.
Q: Has Ben Gates been getting reps at left tackle this year in practice?
FERENTZ: Not a lot, but some. Ben's problem has been his injury situation. He got hurt at the end of spring last year, so he has been in and out of the lineup so much the last 12 months, he has not been able to sustain anything. We have had him working out there at times this year. One thing is for sure is that we will lock him in there at that position, so that will be a benefit.
Q: Given the injuries, the new faces, are you surprised that this football team is 7-2?
FERENTZ: In some ways. Realistically, at the start of every season, you never know how things are going to turn out. Some of the things that have happened could not have been anticipated. When the season is over, we will look back and analyze it, but the bottom lines is that our guys have done a great job in reacting to negative situations. We have had our share of some potholes or bumps, but what has impressed me the most is that I have not heard anybody offer up an excuse or look for an alibi. They have really been more focused on finding answers; guys coming in and asking what they can do to help.
We have gotten a lot of great contributions from a lot of people. I have talked about Aaron Mickens a couple of weeks ago on a screen pass and a big run, Sam Brownlee on that third and nine against Ohio State. Then some not so obvious, some things behind the scenes that some guys are doing to help us out, even in practice. A guy like Devon Moylan coming into my office one day, asking if he could help out with the running back situation, in practice or in a game. We are seeing the attitude that you hope to see.
Q: Is this the best coaching since you got back here?
FERENTZ: I think our staff has done a great job all of the way through. We have had a few more obstacles and challenges this year than what you might expect, but the guys are doing a great job. We are lucky that way, as we have a great staff. None of them have complained in a meeting. What do you do? You just keep moving on, and everyone has had that attitude.
Q: Does this season make the adage of needing to run the ball to be successful outdated?
FERENTZ: That is a strong adage, and I believe in that. But the adage in front of that one is that you do whatever it takes to find a way to get it done. The bottom line is that in a perfect world, I would love to be balanced on offense. We would love to have 20 sacks and 20 interceptions on defense. But it's not a perfect world, and the bottom line is that you let the state of your team dictate your philosophy, and then you get the job done every Saturday. We will start over again in January, and put a new plan up on the board, but you had better no use permanent ink, I guess, at least on things like that.
Q: So you won't be going to the Mike Leach philosophy anytime soon?
FERENTZ: Probably not. You never say never, but probably not. A real strong probably there. But we still have 10 days left, so you never know.
Q: Why did Tate decide to wear a shield this week?
FERENTZ: I never asked him. I knew that he had it on Saturday, and I could not remember if he had it on the week before, but someone said that was his first time. If I get time, I will ask him. It looked like he was throwing it OK, so he can keep it on as far as I am concerned.
I know that there has been a little gouging going on. Not last week, but prior to that there has been some gouging in some piles. Our players did say that the sportsmanship was excellent from Purdue's players. Hopefully, we reciprocated.
Q: Have you seen the new travel trophy for the Wisconsin game, and does that add anything to the rivalry?
FERENTZ: I have seen it; it's upstairs. When we shot the show after the game the other night, I noticed it and commented on it, and Gary (Dolphin) said it was there a week ago. So that tells you that I am not that observant at times, my wife would attest to that. I will worry about that next week, but I think that is a real positive.