Q&A with Former Iowa Cornerback Matt Stockdale

Staff writer Dan Cagley was fortunate to sit down with former Iowa cornerback Matt Stockdale (1998-2001). Matt was a four-year letter winner and a regular in the Iowa Defense after the Wisconsin game in 2000 until his season-ending injury against Michigan in 2001. The Iowa Defense tremendously improved from the Wisconsin game forward with the additions of Stockdale and Bob Sanders.

Unfortunately, the loss of Matt to injury during the Michigan game played a large role in the 32-26 loss as Iowa was not able to protect a ten point lead in the second half. During his time in an Iowa uniform, the Hawkeye Defense went from being one of the Big Ten's most vulnerable in 1999 to one of the best in 2001. For his career, Matt had 106 tackles, two tackles for loss, an interception, and 20 pass breakups (12 in only seven games as a senior). He also started at least two games in each of his four seasons.

What was the atmosphere in practice during the week leading up to a big game like Michigan this week?

Matt Stockdale: Coach Ferentz tried to keep things the same week after week no matter who we played, and the other coaches also have that philosophy. He is a big believer in discipline and makes sure that the focus is there and the time is being utilized no matter who the opponent is. People may mess around in practice in some programs, but the coaches do a great job making sure that time is being utilized every time we go out.

The Michigan game was a big game for us last year, and it is this year too, but the preparation should be the same as any other game. The players realize what they got going on, and I am sure the guys will be spending a lot of time in the film room this week.

Can you break down the percentage of time that you used to spend preparing for opponents – practicing schemes and scrimmaging with the entire defense, individual techniques and skill development, conditioning, and film study?

Matt Stockdale: Every team spends quite a bit of time working with the entire defense, but we would do some of the same basic individual drills every day no matter what. The DBs would work with the linebackers a lot on seven-man drills, but we would spend a lot of time doing individual coverage drills or tackling drills a good percentage of the time. When I was younger under Coach Fry, we used to spend a higher percentage of time scrimmaging than under Coach Ferentz, but we still scrimmaged enough under Coach Ferentz and Coach Parker to prepare for opponents and what they will do. Plus, the scrimmaging and seven-man drills are needed for work on zone coverages and zone responsibilities.

Coach Ferentz has a reputation, compared to other head coaches around the country, as someone who is more focused on individual player and skill development than beating teams with schemes. Is that accurate?

Matt Stockdale: I would agree with that. The defense used to spend a lot of time doing basic drills like tackling drills with the same basic emphasis every week no matter how we played. Not every team does that stuff all the time all season. Some teams get away from it after two-a-days, and many teams slow down on conditioning. With Coach Doyle, that is not going to happen. Instead of lifting to maintain strength during the year, we continued to lift and train to get stronger and faster. Coach Doyle pushes for individual improvement every year, and the explosive lifts we do both in and out of season helps guys in the front seven beat on opponents.

Coach Ferentz was critical of the tackling against Indiana last Saturday. Can you remember a game in the past when the defense did not tackle well and how practice changed the next week?

Matt Stockdale: I remember Coach Ferentz's first game in the Big Ten against Michigan State in 1999. They kicked out butt (49-3) and it was also the first time that Coach Norm Parker (Defensive Coordinator) and Coach Phil Parker (Secondary Coach) had been back to MSU since they were on the Spartan side. We didn't change what we did for drills or drill work the next week, but let's just say that the hitting and physical play were emphasized even a little more.

You have been through the rough times and better times in Iowa Football. What are the big differences between Iowa Football now and 1999? Can Iowa stay up near where they are now?

Matt Stockdale: One thing that I found out playing in college is that every team has talented athletes. Almost all college teams are extremely talented. The teams that do well are the ones that do the little things and have discipline. Coach Ferentz and the assistants are big believers in discipline and make sure that every minute of time at the (football) facilities is being used correctly. Besides injuries, there aren't really as many other things that separate teams as it would sometimes seem.

We were really young a few years ago and lost a lot of key seniors when Coach Fry retired. We needed to get stronger and tougher, and we did. The trust in the coaches and what they are doing got better as the 1999 year went on as well. At first, some of the schemes that the coaches threw at us when they first arrived had us confused, and it took time to switch over from the old system. Part of not having as many veterans at that time was that we didn't have as many players who knew and did the little things to get better. I wish I would have studied film as much back then as I did last year.

What were your strengths as a cornerback? How much did your time at safety help you be a better corner?

Matt Stockdale: The main reason I ever became a starter and the main reason I was able to stay a starter in the lineup until I got hurt in the Michigan game was from studying film. I was a fifth-year senior last year and did not have the academic load that the younger guys had, so I could make football my main priority by far. I studied so much film that I could tell what teams were going to do just by the formation combined with down and distance. I remember playing against Marquis Walker of Michigan last year and knew pretty much what route he was going to run just by what formation their offense was in. It wasn't perfect every time, but through studying film you could get things down to two or three plays per formation. Having a dominant run defense also helps to get teams into tendencies since they are in passing situations all day. It made a big difference.

Who is the best wide receiver or best two or three receivers that you played against?

Matt Stockdale: Marquis Walker was pretty good. Everybody talks about guys like him or Charlie Rodgers being a stud, so it is hard to also pay attention and worry about those speedy little guys or blue collar guys that also make plays too. We held down Rodgers last year (in the MSU game), but Herb Haygood actually was the one that killed us in the first half. There are a lot of underrated guys in this league.

What was it like to play behind the biggest DL in the Big Ten last season?

Matt Stockdale: It was great playing behind that DL because us corners did not have to help run support much except contain responsibilities on the outside. That was a good thing since I remember trying to hit (Michigan State RB) T.J. Duckett helmet on helmet trying to get a good lick on him, and I just fell back seeing stars. Luckily, that didn't have to happen too often.

Seriously though, those seven guys put on an extreme amount of pressure, so it was great to sit in a zone and watch a play unfold.

Which style did you prefer the most, bump man coverage or zone?

Matt Stockdale: We played zone all the time, so you get a nice comfort level playing it. Many times we would play a soft zone until third down, and if it was third and long we might bring pressure and have man coverage. If that was the case, I could always hold on for a couple of seconds. Being successful at something comes from preparing and getting reps, so I would say zone since we spent more time with it.

Much has been made of the defensive statistics this year even though the team has won almost every game. Has the defense changed that much from last year? Teams still are having a hard time driving the length of the field to score a touchdown.

Matt Stockdale: The secondary does not have as many veterans, but the concepts are still the same. Norm Parker knows what he is doing. People get on him if we give up too many yards or stay on the field too long, but the guy has been around college football more than anyone. You have to believe in those kinds of people. When you can take away a running game, teams are going to pass. When teams are forced to become one-dimensional, they turn the ball over and lose most of the time.

Everyone has heard the stories about Bob Sanders, but another guy that is making a name for himself as a hitter is DE Matt Roth. What was he like in practice last season since he was only a true freshman at that time?

Matt Stockdale: There is a guy that loves the game of football! One the reasons Iowa is good right now is that there are a lot of guys on the team that love playing the game. Watch how hard Matt works on kickoff coverage, throwing himself into the wedge at full speed. He will hit anyone he can get close to, and that is why he is a player. You're starting to see that carrying on to the DL. He is not the biggest guy, but he gets to the quarterback with a lot of drive and determination.

Besides the strengths on both the offensive and defensive line, the special teams units seem to separate Iowa from other teams in the country. Iowa plays more veterans on the special teams than other schools, and guys like Bob Sanders and Dallas Clark seem to thrive on it. Can you explain why it is different here?

Matt Stockdale: I think everyone remembers their roots. Most guys, including myself, got their start on special teams. That is where you can get on the field, that is where you can gain confidence in your abilities, and the coaches get a chance to notice who can play on game days. We have a lot of players who are great special teams players.

Also, when we watch game tape on Sunday mornings on the 300-inch screen, you don't want your teammates making fun of you because you're not hitting hard enough on special teams. There is peer pressure to knock someone hard. You can get a T-shirt for a great hit and a lot of recognition from other players and coaches. The whole thing can just push you a little harder, and it is really emphasized when we get together to watch film.

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