Q: I have said repeatedly this spring and summer that I have some concerns with the young, or rather, the untested defensive line. What are your thoughts on this unit as they replace four seniors?
Chuck Hartlieb: As far as the new blood coming in, I probably would withhold judgment until you see it on the field. That could be wiped out in the first couple of games with some great performances and some steady line play. I think the bigger picture that I am concerned about is that we might look back in several years and say that Matt Roth had as much of an impact on the Iowa team in general as any player in Coach Ferentz's era. I did not live it day in and day out over there the last four years, but I was always impressed by the fire and spirit that Matt Roth displayed on and off the field and feel that leadership will be very difficult to replace. It's almost as much of a concern or a thing to watch as far as what the defense looks like from a leadership standpoint now that you are without big 31 out there, leading the way the last three years.
Q: Did you feel that way last year when Iowa had to replace Bob Sanders?
Hartlieb: I don't think Sanders was near the impact player that Matt Roth was. I think that teams truly had to account for Matt Roth. I think a quarterback always knew where Roth was at. Bobby certainly was one of the best players to go through Iowa and he made a lot of great plays, don't get me wrong; but I don't think a strong safety can have near as much impact on an entire offense the way that a Matt Roth could. I do think that Roth was at a different level at an impact standpoint than Sanders.
Hartlieb: They would be the first ones to say, it I am sure. A quarterback is only as good as the offensive line, the receivers are only as good as the quarterback…everyone depends on each other. With three NFL guys coming off that defensive line, it's going to mean that they have less reliance on such a strong line and they are going to be challenged more. I am sure those guys are up to the task and will have an outstanding year.
Q: When you look at offense, what things jump out at you on the positive side and what areas do you feel need some tweaking, or a wait and see approach from this side of the locker room?
Hartlieb: The fact that I don't get to see them or hear much about personnel, I can't probably share many initial opinions. I think there are two areas to focus on going into this thing. Now teams that in three previous years came in and focused on the Iowa running game, maybe it's now focusing on Drew Tate's arm and making sure that passing game isn't what beats us. I think it's going to be more difficult to do things in the air this year than it was one year ago. I think they will get some things done, but Iowa might see more nickel back, more LB's playing off the line of scrimmage, the defensive lines more focused on the pass rush than a running game. It will probably be more difficult from a passing standpoint for Drew and company. Secondly, the last couple of years have been a challenge in the red zone and I think going into this year, they are highlighting that as to how they succeed inside the 20 yard line. When you look at last year's season, it was through big plays. That is great and the way you want to have it, but teams might come in and say ‘let's not worry so much about three yards and a cloud of dust but not give up the big play.' They will have a lot of respect for Tate and make Iowa put 10, 12 play drives together, which means we will have to execute better in the red zone.
Q: You had an amazing year in 1987 (Hartlieb threw for 3,092 yards, third highest total in school history. He then threw for a school record 3,738 yards in 1988.) How hard will it be for Drew Tate to come back from last year, a phenomenal year, and follow it up?
Hartlieb: First off perhaps would be not a challenge, but an improvement in that you have an elevated sense of respect on the offensive unit. You have players around you that have greater confidence in you which can elevate everybody's play. I am sure everyone on that offense is feeding off of Tate, so that mental level at a high level is an improvement. Secondly, a quarterback needs to sit back and look at what it takes to get it done. He is the first guy to realize it's not about one guy, but 11 guys. He needs to find out what it will take to get the OL producing as strong a running game as possible, to get the receivers and TE into a higher level of passing game. The ability to improve and challenge and get better is across the board. It is infinite in a way as far as possibilities. The have a lot of work ahead of them as the season progresses, as far as trying to get that running game back to a normal fashion and then getting that passing game to a level where it can make the big plays it made last year again.
Q: You guys came into 1988 with great expectations from the national media, just like this year's team is facing. The players say that they don't read into that, but is that player speak?
Hartlieb: 87-88 was a difficult time. You can make a little bit of correlation there. In 1987 we came off a 10 wins season and had a lot of guys coming back. Sport Magazine had us ranked #1 in the country. We were feeling pretty good about things. I don't know if ‘88 was more about anything than just injuries. We have talked in prior years about momentum and the strength of positive momentum and negative momentum, and once that ball starts rolling the wrong way, it's tough to turn it around. In ‘88 we had a significant amount of injuries. We had just one offensive lineman start the whole season and we lost Marv Cook for three for four games. It was just one of those years where we never got positive momentum going. Here you are sitting right now with everyone feeling tremendous momentum. The key is to hope and pray that continues. If there is any sequence of events that turns it the other way, it's a huge challenge for everyone to break out of it and get back on the road to trying to accomplish what they want to do. (NOTE: Iowa finished a disappointing 6-4-3 in 1988, with three of it's losses coming by five points or less and of course the three ties).
Q: What kind of record do you expect out of Iowa this year?
Hartlieb: My focus this year will be on different facets of the games, things to look for and to watch out for. I am going to stay away from the predictions this year and let Drew and Company hopefully run the table.