Chuck Hartlieb: Definitely. It has been a special two weeks for the fans. The young guys are elevating their play right now and you can just see that it seems like with both situations at home against Michigan State and at Northwestern, big steps have been made. I feel great for the whole crew. We talked about making a certain commitment to the running game, and I don't think that aspect was the end all for them. But the fact that they ran a decent amount on first and second down early, it sent a message to Northwestern that they had to not forget about it. That opened up a lot of one on one situations and helped out the passing game. Even though the running game wasn't tremendous from a numbers perspective, I thought it still had a huge impact on the outcome of the game, because it allowed us to open some things up downfield for the passing game.
Q: Jake struggled in the first quarter this week, and his change up needs some work and Jake has admitted that. But talk about the mentality of this kid in that he can start off rough, hear some boos as he said, and then have the ability to flush that and come back and make some of timing throws on the hitch and go routes.
Hartlieb: He reminds me to a certain degree of the whole Bret Favre attitude. He has a little gunslinger in him; he seems to be a very confident kid with a really strong arm. I remember Bret Favre saying that he didn't get into a game until he got hit hard a few times because he needed to flush some of that adrenaline out. I have felt the last several weeks is that the adrenaline is at such a high early on for Jake, that he has so much juice on the ball and is so intense, that he needs to settle down. I compare it to how Favre was.
I can appreciate the fact that you need to get in the flow and sometimes the best way to do that is to get hit or knocked down a few times. You take a few deep breaths and bring yourself down. The last two weeks, that is what has happened. He is very resilient, he has shaken off rough starts and built on them and finished them up strong.
Q: Talk about the receivers in this game. As I said, they looked like they belonged on a Big Ten field this week. I think they gave you some glimpses of hope going down the road.
Hartlieb: I agree. Both offensively and defensively, we have talked a lot about getting playmakers, some guys that will step up in big times on both sides of the ball. This week, it was about some playmakers on offense and at wide receiver. You can really see these guys getting their confidence going. Some of that is Jake's accuracy, he is putting the ball in spots where they can make plays, but they have to execute at as well, so it was impressive. I do have to say, I don't know if I have ever seen a cornerback play the ball worse in my life than #24.
I don't know how that guy in a one on one situation could bite on so many double-cuts, it looked like a junior high game. Hats off to Coach O'Keefe. You might call that one or two times and think that it wouldn't work again, but they ran it four or five times. It was almost like the kid was throwing the game he was biting so much on the undercuts. It was great to take advantage of it. You can't take it for granted, Jake put the ball in great spots and they ran well. The key to the game was one on one coverage with 24 and whoever wanted to take advantage of it.
Q: Kirk said after the game that Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard have convinced themselves that they belong on the field. We can talk about potential, but when Kirk says something like that, is it something that younger guys go through, even if they have all the ability, that it doesn't always translate into believing they can play?
Hartlieb: I believe that 110%. It's amazing, and sometimes it doesn't happen until their fourth year. For these two, it was their 10th game. It's neat to see the light bulbs go on early on in their careers. It goes down to who can play on Saturday. The kids that realize it the quickest and build their confidence will help the program that much more. It's funny knowing kids and watching them develop, you see them in practice day in and day out, and some kids might have a lot of potential and grades out poorly on Saturday. With the snap of a finger, all of the sudden a light bulb goes on and they figure it out.
The game is more mental than physical. Some of these kids are teenagers. In a lot of these instances it takes a second or third year. One of Coach Ferentz's experiments is turning out well, where some of these freshmen are having big impacts on this team down the home stretch.
Q: With two games left to go, games where Iowa will probably be double digit favorites at home, is there a risk of getting too comfortable with the good fortunate as of late? Because if they win the next two, they probably go to a decent bowl.
Hartlieb: I think this is a three chapter story here down the stretch, and we are going into chapter three. The first two were the most important. One, put these kids in a situation to come from behind and win a very tight ballgame. What they did against Michigan State and to do it in overtime like they did gave them a tremendous sense of confidence the next time they were faced with the challenge. That was a huge step.
Chapter Two is go on the road a slight underdog, and just prove to yourself that you can win regardless of who you are playing . We have not played well on the road the past few years. Besides the first quarter, what a tremendous step. They finished that challenge extremely well, and Northwestern was fighting for a bowl game, too.
Chapter Three is that the accolades are back, you are heavy favorites, show your character and come out and play two great games and keep your momentum going. Don't get into a field goal game in the fourth quarter. Play to your ability and deliver a knockout punch in those two games and finish with a great feeling. That would be winning five of their last six. That would be a great three chapter book to write that could really be a springboard going into next season.
Q: This is a hypothetical, but if they do win these last two games, is this one of Coach Ferentz's best coaching performances? Where would you rank it?
Hartlieb: It would be one of the better ones because it's so difficult to turn around negative momentum. Things were loaded against them at the halfway point of the year. So often teams cannot get the monkey off their back and they go downhill further. I also think this is one of the weaker Big Ten seasons as a whole. You have a 7-5 season if they win the final two, and half of you wants to ask what happened against Iowa State and Indiana, and the other half is that you got 7 wins. We all want to think it's a top 20 program; we don't want to go to Northwestern thinking that it's just a 50/50 shot. We want to start streaks against the weaker teams being them six or more times in a row.
But turning around the negative momentum makes it one of the best coaching jobs he has had, but on the other side, the conference schedule has been helpful as well. It's one of those deals that we want to have the program win the gimme games three or four years in a row and get that streak going again.