Q: The defense played good enough to win, the offense put some points on the board early and they broke a few tendencies. They came out firing in the first quarter again, and then stalled. Is it them or their opponent?
Chuck Hartlieb: I think plenty of fans have rehashed this one plenty already. I really liked our two tight end set. It reminded me back to the Coach Fry days using the double set where you have them both down with two wide receivers. That put Michigan in a predicament if they wanted to play their base defense. I hope we see more of that, because with Chandler, Moeaki, they can run block and get downfield. I think that is an excellent formation and it was the key formation in the first quarter. What I saw happen from the second quarter on, Michigan went to nickel when we went to that set and our schemes just didn't work as well because they were really playing a five DB umbrella coverage which makes it difficult to get downfield.
That being said, we had plenty of opportunities on offense. I thought Coach O'Keefe called a great game plan, and put us in some great situations. Saturday was about execution. It's a great thing about football. You look back in each one of those instances and the players from Tate to Melloy to Solomon on down; you can say that they played great 65 out of 70 snaps, but they each could look and say ‘boy, if I would have just done one or two more things, it could have made a difference in the game.' Drew is a good example. He played a great game with great stats and threw the ball well. Anytime you go 27 for 39 you have to walk off and feel like you played well, but he is a kid that is probably saying that if he could have done a few more things, we would have had the win. That is just a frustrating part of the game of football.
Q: Some people, including myself, sort of wondered if Iowa didn't get too conservative after they got down to the Michigan 21 with over a minute and a half left in the game and down three. I don't know as much as the coaches, to be sure. What were your thoughts on the last drive?
Hartlieb: Our success was between the twenties. That is typical of a game between these two teams. They have tremendous talent on their team. Michigan did a great job defensively against Iowa. In addition, Coach O'Keefe had a great game plan. You think back on four or five plays that he put us in would have made the difference in the game. The one area where we struggled, and it's just tough, is near the red zone on offense. We had been near there before in the game and did not have great success. I am sure that on the sidelines, they had to be worried about more that could go wrong than right, and they were going against the nickel deep coverage that keeps you out of the end zone. You don't want to take a sack or force something.
I thought the shovel call was a great call, and it had worked in previous Iowa-Michigan games. With their hard rush, it could have worked. The frustrating thing that the coaching staff and players are probably working on is that you would have liked to have seen it been executed with more confidence, crispiness and organization. It's easy to sit back and say ‘coulda' in the heat of the battle, or after. I had no problem with the call. One of the things that happens is when you get caught in a big game like that for the first time this season, late in the game close, it may not go as smooth from a process standpoint. I think those last plays, and at the end of the second quarter, things could have been executed a little bit cleaner.
Q: What were your thoughts on the defense. 317 yards allowed in regulation, 17 points allowed in regulation. What have you made of their progression in the Big Ten game to game?
Hartlieb: I feel for the seniors. I feel for players like Greenway and Hodge because they are having great years. That entire defense has played well with losing some talent from last year. To only give up 10 points until the Breaston bubble screen, I thought it was a great effort. Just to walk off the field in that situation, it just kills me because those kids deserved better and it would have been one more break and they could have been fine. Again, they are playing well. They are doing everything that is asked of them.
If they look back, they probably wished they could have come up with one more big play, but they had a few fumble opportunities and made an interception. I think the defense has got to be feeling like they are progressing the way they want to. Hopefully they continue to take those steps forward. If the defense can keep doing that, we are in excellent shape of winning the final three games.
Q: Let's talk about that. Iowa is 5-3 with three to go and the bye week. Each team has a few challenges. Northwestern has one of the best offenses in the nation but one of the worst defenses. Wisconsin's offense has been capable but they allow yards too. Minnesota the same way, but more one dimensional. What do you look for?
Hartlieb: Maybe you and I can talk about it one game at a time just like Iowa does. Each week is going to present a different set of challenges off of the previous week.
In general, it's so cliché, but they have a chance to win the Big Ten championship. A very clear and possible chance to win the title. They have the ability to compete with all three of these teams and they have shown that they are excellent closers of the Big Ten season during the last three years. I have a lot of confidence that they can get it done here and finish with an extremely strong season. That in combination with the bye week just bodes very well. The bye week coming before the Northwestern passing attack is awesome for our chances. If this game would have occurred at the start of the Big Ten season, if we had not made our adjustments or had gotten into the flow of figuring out how we wanted to beat a spread offense, I think we would all be more worried. We have found ways to mix it up, put pressure on the quarterback from time to time, and come up with plays at opportune times. I was in the stands on Saturday and kept hearing people being frustrated with a lack of pressure on the quarterback. But at the end of the day, we didn't give up any big plays except for a bubble screen that we had our guy held on badly.
So it's not all about putting pressure on the quarterback, it's putting yourself in an opportunity to diffuse the offense gradually. That is what we need to do in a couple of weeks. It's not going to be us getting five or six sacks. It's us making those guys earn it with 10 or 12 play drives, and every once in a while if not the majority of times, you need to come up with three good plays in a row. They can go first, first, first, and then you put them into three bad plays and you make them kick it in some fashion, and that is a successful drives. It does not matter if the first seven plays went 60 yards, you just need to come up with a three play sequence, win the third down conversion ratio and you are fine. They have had plenty of experience against this kind of attack. They need to find key spots to break up the rhythm of Northwestern. We have a good chance of doing well on the defensive side of the ball two weeks from now.