Q: The offense comes out firing in the first half again, but for whatever reason, they don't put up many points. What happens in the second half with this team?
Chuck Hartlieb: A consistent theme during the last three or four years of us talking have been our challenges offensively in the redzone. I don't think that is something that is just unique to Iowa football, it's tough in all of college football. Maybe just a little more so with the Hawkeye offense. For the layman out there, clearly when you are inside the 20, there is a lot less pressure on the defensive backs to worry about anything behind them, the linebackers are not on deep drops and can play run better and defensive linemen pin their ears back and concentrate on run because the back end is more covered against the pass due to the boundary. I am sure during game weeks, they are putting in their redzone packages, but to me, we really struggle with how to execute and how to convert long drives into seven points instead of three points and that caught up with them on Saturday. To me it's all about the redzone and what do we do to get it done?
Q: What were your thoughts when you were seeing the defensive players on the sidelines yucking it up a bit? Are people making too much of that being a lack of concentration, even though they were up 13 and just had an INT?
Hartlieb: We are talking about young kids and kids that were extremely hungry for a win and had not been caught in a fourth quarter like this since when? It would be interesting to know when Iowa's last fourth quarter collapse if at all under Kirk Ferentz. We play sound, smart and intelligent football and those guys know that. But for just one small portion of the game, we got caught with our pants down. I think those guys are probably a little disappointed in themselves, and to point that out is not wrong.
We probably lost a little focus on the sidelines. You have to play 100 percent for an entire four quarters and to have some distractions on the sidelines like that means that maybe they were not at 100 percent on those last two Northwestern possessions. It's a tough situation. It wasn't the reason, but I am sure they wish they were more focused down the stretch.
Q: Albert Young has 1,070 yards now, and if he hits his average for the next three games, if they go to a bowl game, he is near 1400 yards which would be third best ever in a season, what do you think of him?
Hartlieb: To me, this is maybe the most unbelievable factor of the season. If you would have told me that we had a chance to have a 1,400 or 1,500 yard rusher, back at the start of the year, who does not put the ball on the ground and adds diversity to the passing attack, I would have said 10-1 for this team. I can't believe we are just so close with such a great running game and still can't close out these close games. Albert Young is fantastic and hopefully he can continue this. I do not want to jinx him, but this guy is turning out to be one of the best…if he continues down this path, he will be one of the best running backs we have ever had. I love his focus, determination and he doesn't seem to make a bad cut or a mistake. The Hawkeyes are blessed to have him.
Q: I am not sure if 1988 is the best comparison, because you had a lot of injuries. But 1988, 1997 and this year, you have high expectations and rankings in the preseason and there is disappointment of unmet expectations. How does this team get off the mat when everything they thought they were going to play for might be past them?
Hartlieb: It's funny you bring this up, because I was going to mention it today. Having gone through that whole particular sequence, I was worried that we might have a 1988 repeat. If Iowa football historians look back and look at 85, 86, 87, you had two ten wins seasons and one with nine, then a highly rated team in ‘88, and at this point in ‘88 you were 5-3-2 with three games left; it's eerily similar. It taught me a lesson about just how important positive momentum and positive attitude is. In 1988, as much as in our hearts we wanted to crank it up and stay positive and focus on the big picture, it was hard when little things happened. We had a goofy loss at Hawaii, fumbled at Colorado, otherwise those are two easy wins there. Then three ties where in each of the ties, we missed three field goals. You talk about nightmares, this is not anything compared to 1988 to miss three field goals in each of those ties.
All and all, right at this point, we had a similar type of schedule and really, it's a great lesson if it can get to the kids. They have a chance to resurrect and the seniors have a chance to finish on a note that they are proud of for the rest of their lives. We actually had an additional tie at Ohio State, had a so-so win against Minnesota and laid an egg in the Peach Bowl. If we could have just taken those three games and played at the level we were capable of, we would have looked back on 1988 and we would have had a much better team than 6-4-3. So those guys, it's just am matter of clearing their heads and focusing on what it takes to win 60- minutes of football. I think they are capable of it. I think Coach Ferentz really has great skills with his staff with regards to character building. I do think they are going to win out here and be fine. I think they have had enough bad luck into this and they will not continue that in Madison.
Q: The last game for Barry, great environment, but the Hawks find a way?
Hartlieb: We match up well with Wisconsin. I like the fact that we are catching them now and oftentimes in big games at home, it's almost too much pressure for a team like Wisconsin. With everything they want to do for Coach Alavarez and Coach Bielema, I think sometimes the negatives balance out the positives, just because there is so much focus on the game. Now, the one factor that will be extremely important for us to mitigate is the noise factor. I think if our kids can forget about all the hoopla and just focus and ignore the crowd and stay in there game, that is what is critical.
We are going to talk again on Monday and I think the key to the game will come down to our redzone offense one more time. It would be interesting to run the stats on past seasons inside that 20 to 25. Maybe it's because we get so many opportunities in there and need to finish better. I think Saturday will come down to us being able to move the ball, but I don't think Wisconsin will let us have the big plays, just like other teams have prevented those. We will have to find a way to punch it in down there in the redzone.