Trenchmen Looking to Turn Iowa's Fortunes

(ORLANDO, FLORIDA) Iowa's offensive line had a rough go of it in 2004. The Hawkeyes rank 117 out of 117 division one teams in rushing the football, yet they somehow managed to win nine games and a share of the Big Ten title. That doesn't mean that the trenchmen are happy about things. Read comments from Lee Gray, Pete McMahon, Brian Ferentz and head coach Kirk Ferentz in this update from Orlando.

LEE GRAY

So who gets to block Marcus Spears?

It'll be that man, right there. (Gray pointed to Pete McMahon)

Their whole defensive line is good. They all play with a high motor. We just know that it's going to be a tough battle. We know that it's going to be a fight every minute of the game and that we can't let down for even one second.

Talk about your improvement this year.

I had a few injuries, but my teammates helped pull me through. I used my teammates as motivation and that helped me fight through the pain. (NOTE: Gray had a knee injury later in the year, though the exact injury has not been revealed. Gray is fine now and apparently the injury will not require any ‘fixing' in the out of season.)

How has the line improved during the season?

As an offensive line, we knew it was going to be tough to live up to the expectations set last year. We just stuck together through it and pulled through. We knew inside of our group, we were improving. We saw improvement in practice and in games. Maybe a lot of people didn't see it, but we saw it and knew it was there. We knew that if we kept working hard, we'd pull through.

Do you felt that this was a good year for your, in that you made the move from defense to offense less than two years ago and then replaced Robert Gallery, and you've more than held your spot?

Hopefully, it was a good year for everyone. Last year, we had some stars on the offensive line. We were missing those guys, so we had a lot to prove to ourselves. Everyone improved, and that's what we really needed to have. Everyone needed to improve and everyone did that.

Have you had any contact with Gallery?

He calls the coaches' office sometimes, relaying messages, letting us know how the NFL is, wishing us luck and reminding us to listen to the coaches. And what he's telling us is the truth.

PETE MCMAHON

You will be the player who blocks Spears.

Yep.

How does that work? The left end goes against the right tackle..

He's been playing left end in almost all the films. In some formations, he's kind of a wanderer guy, but most of the time when he's down on the line, he's lining up over the right tackle.

A lot of teams will try to take their best rusher and find the weak link; do you think they'll try that?

Who knows, I'm sure they're going to try to do something we haven't seen. They could do that. Really, it doesn't matter. We're confident in all of our linemen, left side, right side, linebackers or tackles, we'll be all right no matter who we're going up against.

Have you guys had a lot of D-lines try that this year, switching to find the weak link?

Minnesota moved their good end around, Darrell Reid. They moved him around a little bit. But we dealt with it fine, so it was really no big deal.

Spears looks like Roth, plays with the same punch, but he brings 20 more pounds.

He's an all-American. He's the real deal. We're just going to have to go out there and be confident and do what we can do.

This game means a lot to you. You're a senior, invited to the combine, you want to make a name for the draft. A good film here, will that go a long way for you?

Yeah, I think so. Going up against a guy like Spears, who has gotten all kinds of honors and is a really good player. If I can have a good game against him, that's not going to hurt. Yeah, it's an important game.

Did you see improvement on the offensive line this year?

That was our goal from the start of the season. We wanted to improve each week, everyday, every practice. I think we've done that. We finished strong against Wisconsin, going up against a tough D-line. We did a good job. We prepared well all that week and all season. Going into the week, it's going to be another improvement. We're going to have to suck it up again.

BRIAN FERENTZ

Was the team's inability to run the ball a slap in the face to the linemen?

Obviously, it's frustrating. We're ranked dead last in the country in doing it. It's not something we're proud of. It's not something we sit around and congratulate each other on. There are circumstances that forced us to do the intelligent thing. The intelligent thing was to use Drew. I think in Drew, we have a pretty special player. We'd really be stubborn and hardheaded not to let him throw the football.

Do you see LSU trying to play musical defensive linemen with Spears, trying to find a weak link?

They haven't done it all year, but I'll tell you that a lot of people have thrown stuff at us that we haven't seen all year. We wouldn't be shocked. If they come out and do that, we better be ready to respond and play. They might, they might not. We really can't worry about things like that.

Minnesota did that with Darrell Reid and it didn't work.

We've improved. You always hate to toot your own horn, but now, I think it's fair to say that we've improved. We're obviously not where we want to be, but we've improved a little bit and hopefully we've added some depth, experience and maturity. So maybe our lineup is a little more solid across the board now. I'll tell you what, that'd be great. And if we can keep it that way, it'd be really tremendous.

KIRK FERENTZ

Does being ranked dead last in the country in rushing yardage per game frustrate you?

I don't think frustrate is the right word, but there's nothing you can do about injuries. That's something you learn really quick in sports. We've tried to do the best with what we have in the most intelligent way. I never quite envisioned us finishing last in the country in the running game. When we were 1-10, I don't think we finished last in anything. I'm not losing sleep over it. It's out of our control. We're doing everything we can. We'll patch that up this winter.

On going against LSU's talented front line

We've played some good defensive lines. These guys have seven or eight guys who can play. It's not just the starting front four. And then they mix the blitz in very well. They just give you a lot of looks.

On the sight seeing and other trappings that go along with bowl trips, and how that can affect his players.

"Those things (Disney, etc) should be a reward for our players. All that being said, it's still a ballgame and we want to focus on that. Our plan was, the first four days here we'd be focused on practicing and short meetings, but also getting to go out and enjoying Orlando and all the great events."

"I think we learned a couple years ago to not celebrate too much. Our season's really not over until our last ballgame."

"Starting Tuesday, we'll get into a normal game-week routine where we're watching our hours a little bit more closely."


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