Monday Morning QB with Chuck Hartlieb

For Chuck Hartlieb, Saturday was a good starting point for several of Iowa's units. It was a head scratcher in some areas as well, namely, the amazing number of dropped passes. Hartlieb talks about that, talks about his thoughts on Jake Christensen's performance, the offensive line, the defense and much more in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback feature...

Q: Iowa wins the game 16-3 and the offense was inconsistent, as I expected it to be with a mostly new offensive line. Kirk Ferentz said the line played better than he thought it was going to play. What were your thoughts?

Chuck Hartlieb: I would want to look at it as far as where is my base to build from over the next 11 games. I thought it was an excellent base to begin with from the standpoint that there were not a lot of penalties, they looked sharp for being inexperienced. In pass protection, I thought their blitz pick up was good and from a run offense standpoint, I would give them an ‘A'. We don't know how good Northern Illinois front seven is, but from that standpoint, I thought it was outstanding. What we mentioned last week was coming out of the game with three or four sustained drives. I think all in all, it was an excellent start for that group.

Q: Jake Christensen didn't have a great stat line, but there were a lot of drops, and I didn't see Jake getting flustered out there. What was your read on Jake's first game of 2007?

Hartlieb: I put it in the same bucket; a great place to build from. I thought he showed excellent poise and great wherewithal as far as grasp of the offense. He maybe surprised me with his footwork; I thought his feet were excellent and that he moved around in the pocket well. For the most part, I think his accuracy was solid. For seeing the bullets fly for the second time and being at Soldier Field, I thought it was a pretty good all around start. The dropped passes; in 25 or 30 years of watching college football, I have never seen a group of wide receivers have this issue. I am at the point of just being shocked with what is going on here on a game to game basis. I am speechless. I joked to someone that if I was a quarterback, I would have transferred by now. I think it really wears on the patience of the whole unit. Let's hope it was first game jitters and that it will get drastically reduced going forward.

Q: What do you do here? How do you get better? How do you stop the drops?

Hartlieb: Two things come to mind. One is that it's certainly in my mind more mental than physical, I would hope. You do everything you can to instill confidence, to get the kids thinking positively, just try to get them better each week. On the other hand, this is something that is somewhat contagious. The second point would be if its physical and if it's a true problem, you need some other numbers in there, some other wide receivers in there. I don't know which it is. With Brodell and Moeaki both having a couple of drops, and then being in that category last year, I would be watching them the next few games to see what they do and if they can get over it.

Q: The offensive line play was key in the running game, obviously. Sims and Young ran to both sides effectively from the second quarter on. Talk about that tandem, and was the Albert Young you saw on Saturday different from the one you saw last year?

Hartlieb: I didn't see that level of leg strength last year, in my mind. He hit the hole harder, and at first contact, he seemed to be a stronger running back on Saturday verses prior years. I was really, really excited to see him run. Strength comes to mind, as to his ability to take that initial tackle and get another three to five yards. He was hitting the hole hard and withstood the first blow really well. Overall, you wear defenses down in the first two or three downs, and then Sims comes off the bench and has another gear to hit. What a great, 1-2 punch. This could be the start of something good. Last year, and not being close to the program on a day to day basis, but they tried to come up with a balanced attack. In the early Kirk Ferentz years, it was run first. It will be interesting to see how this team progresses, because I would think that indications would be that the strength of this offense is in the running game more so than in the passing game.

Q: How nice was it to see the defensive pressure, harassing of the quarterback? We are not talking about a great MAC team, but still, there was a lot of pressure and that helped the secondary.

Hartlieb: For the first game, I thought it was an excellent showing across the board. However, it did not seem to me like an 8-4 MAC team, it looked more like a 4-8 MAC team. If that was the case, it's only a building block and not something to get too excited about. Still, any offense that lines up and has a balanced attack and we held them in check for the most part, that makes me think that at least we have a unit that is starting off well together, that looks cohesive with strong leadership. Godfrey looked like he could take it to another level as a cover man. Shada had a couple moments where it looked like he was out of kilter, but for the most part, the front seven looked outstanding. Again, it's focusing on getting better each week and peak going into the Wisconsin game.

Q: The play from special teams are shaky, and it looks like this could be a group that spells the difference between a win or a loss in a couple of games this year.

Hartlieb: Jon, a little cliché there buddy. Special teams are the reason for the outcome of at least two or three games each season. Clearly, they are going to have a huge impact this year. You will look back and see a few field goals to make it an 8-5 team vs a 6-7 team. It will have a huge impact from three to six points here and there, to field position on kickoff returns, to a punter being consistent enough throughout an entire game. It's great to get the first game out of the way. Each one of these kids has a sense of what they need to get better at and it will be interesting to see if they get better or worse over the next few games.

Q: Any final thoughts that stick out to you from what you saw this week, related to going forward?

Hartlieb: I am hopeful that James Cleveland gets better each week. To me, he looks like a difference maker. He popped out as a guy that could be a major contributor this year. He would go in that category of what we talked about last week, and that is for a team to go 9-3 or 10-2, you need difference makers, playmakers. Cleveland made a big play on the deep post route off play action; Godfrey made a few huge plays. Those are the types of things on both sides of the ball that we are going to have to have. It wasn't just a 16-3 win, it was a win that was underscored by four or five critical plays that were made by guys that we hopefully can look at as our playmakers for the year. We are one for one out of the chute for having some big plays at the right time.

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