Ken O'Keefe Talks Hawkeye Offense

With head coach Kirk Ferentz on the road recruiting on Thursday, his coordinators answered questions from the media. Ken O'Keefe calls the shots for the Iowa offense that averaged over 30 points per game this fall. He talked about South Carolina, Shonn Greene and several aspects of his offense.

Q: Is it hard to double team your receivers since your offense is so balanced?

Ken OKeefe: We'd like to think that it keeps people from ganging up. If someone decides they are going to game plan to take someone away, they can do it. The only people I saw doing that this year, or the people being double teamed was the kid at Minnesota. A lot of people tried getting two guys on him, before he got hurt. I am not sure what we did. I don't see what our defense is doing. No one has really done that to us at this point. People are more bold against us, they make us prove to them that we can beat them. Minnesota is a good example of that, they came after us the entire first quarter, just blitzed us and forced us to start seven man protecting and throwing the ball down the field. When you have a running back like Shonn Greene, you would like to give it to him. But if there are nine people up there trying to stop him, you can get some people loose on the edge and you have to give it a try. Plus, we didn't have any more timeouts left with around 8 minutes left, so we had to go with stuff we knew we could get off.

Q: You went into this year thinking Jake was going to be the guy at quarterback and then Rick emerged. Did you have to change things?

OKeefe: Going into the spring, coming off of the 6-6 record, we told everyone that everything is wide open, and we meant it. 6-6 teams, there are not that many secure spots on it. The competition was between Jake and Rick the entire time. The spring, Rick did a nice job and Jake did a pretty good job, but Rick pulled alongside Jake. We expected that to continue once preseason started and camp came along, but Rick had that shoulder injury. That held him back a little bit. He caught up faster than I would have envisioned, that uses his arm to throw. He came back extremely fast. Our trainers did a great job wit him. We were able to get back into competing, and we were fortunate enough in the first few games to let it work itself out. Then we had to make the decision and move ahead.

Q: Have you been through something like that before?

OKeefe: Not since we have been here. We have gone through a few QB's, but not playing it out like we did this year. We used those games in the beginning of the year, we had a rotation set and we were going to stick with it. The guy that performed the best was going to be the guy that won the job. It happens sometimes at other positions, but the quarterback and the kicking position, those are the ones where it's just them. If it's not clear, you keep going until it clears itself up. It's not what you want to do necessarily, it's what happened.

Q: Did it get uncomfortable?

OKeefe: Not from our standpoint. Both Rick and Jake were great about it, as far as the willingness to keep competing; they had great confidence in their own abilities, so that part of it never made anything uncomfortable.

Q: Have you ever coached a running back similar to Shonn Greene, and did you have any inclination he would have the success he has had?

OKeefe: No. The answer to the first part of that question is no. How many running backs have you seen like that here at Iowa? You have seen some great ones. Shonn is pretty special. Could we see it coming on? I don't know that we could say we saw it coming on this year. We saw more of that stuff when he originally got here has a true freshman. But when a guy is coming off a year out of football, to be honest, most coaches aren't projecting futures at that point. We are just hoping you can get a guy in shape, you can get him back on the field to where he can make a contribution for the team, which was important for us. Other than Paki, we didn't have any other upper classmen there to help us. It was going to be Paki and true freshmen after that. It was critical that Shonn was able to come along like he did.

Q: Has he talked to you at all about his future?

OKeefe: No. That's not something we have ever discussed.

Q: Are you surprised that no one shut him down this year?

OKeefe: Our offensive line, I think had something to do with that. Also our receivers; he gets a lot of help from guys coming in off the edge taking out those safeties. He can do two things that are nice, or three things. Number one, he can actually get some yards on his own, he can run someone over if he has to. Even though sometimes people don't think he can make people miss, but he is good at that as well. The last thing that he can do that really makes everybody's job easier is he can finish plays. When you can score a touchdown from 75 yards out, that makes things a lot easier for everybody. It's not as easy as everybody thinks going 5 or 6 or 7 yards at a time down the field. You'd like to have some of those big plays in there that can open things up and make a difference. All of that, you put that together, and now you have a secondary that has to be concerned about getting down into the box to try and get an extra man in there to stop it, which helps some of our big pass plays. It's amazing, those big pass plays, which everybody likes, those become a lot easier to throw and catch when the safeties are sitting up in there like linebackers. He has great vision. The one thing that makes him different to me is that he has great patience in the run game, and he sees things extremely well. There have been a lot of studies done in the running game, what does the running back actually see. Most of them only react to the color of the opponent. But Shonn actually can see and tell you what guys are doing, whether it's the defender or the linemen. Somebody might not have reached the guy like he thought he could so he had to cut it back. He will tell you what the lineman did and what the defender did. When you question quarterbacks on reads, 95% of the time the coach is wrong and the player is right. In Shonn's case, 99.9% of the time he is right. He reads it real well.

Q: Does one of his plays stand out to you this year?

OKeefe: I loved all those big runs that score. The 75 yarder was a great one against Purdue. The draw against Wisconsin was great because to be honest, I thought he would get caught from behind and they blitzed a safety on that one, and Brandon Myers made a great play, he doubled bumped the safety and blocked his guy and Shonn was gone. They are all pretty good. That power play against Purdue was good too.

Q: You said you saw some of his abilities in his first two years. Why didn't he play more?

OKeefe: From what I remember, he had moved up the ladder pretty far and then he suffered and injury, I think maybe against Indiana. Albert got knocked out of a game and Shonn came in the second half and was running well the game before that. Damien may have been hurt. He was starting to climb up and then he took a hit and he had a bad shoulder injury that set him back for a while.

Q: What do you see in South Carolina's defense?

OKeefe: They are good. They are only giving up about 289 yards a game. Which to me, that is real good defense these days. They are big, they are physical, their linebackers are 255, 265. They are probably not too excited about losing the safety they just lost, but they are big and physical and well coached. They play multiple fronts, try to change things up on you. They bring some pressure at you. They are going to try to get as many guys in there as they possible can as well. They play a defense different than what we have seen this year.

Q: You mentioned Brandon Myers, who was a first team All Big Ten selection by the coaches and honorable mention by the media. He certainly grew into being a great player.

OKeefe: I never gave the assessment on who sees it better, the media or the coaches. Brandon, I don't know that we could have had the year we had this year without him, or even last year, with Tony's injuries. When you think about where he came from, primarily a basketball player in high school to an All Big Ten tight end, that is a pretty special story. Eric Johnson did a great job developing him and bringing him along. For a guy that is making that transition, developing the confidence and the belief in yourself that you can play. Norm talked about that with some of the defensive players. Once Brandon knew those things, good things happened. Erik Campbell did a great job with those guys again this year. It's nice having tight ends like we have had, that can run routes about as well as the wide receivers. One of the things he showed more of this year is that he can run with the ball when he catches it. We could have used him more than we did. He has come a long way.

Q: What is the biggest difference in the offense now to early in the season. Is it Rick?

OKeefe: It's not a one man thing. It's all 11 guys, we are playing better as a unit. A lot of people think that this all has to do with offense. Anyone remember the Rolaids commercials? How do you spell relief? I spell it D-E-F-E-N-S-E. When you play great defense, you can do some great things. Minnesota, we won't play any better than that on defense. My favorite play of the year was Spievey's touchdown on the interception, because that is one less score that we don't have to worry about. It takes everybody. Rick was just a part of that. Our offensive line is a big part of that, our tight ends, we just talked about. Reisner, Myers, Moeaki, our receivers really came along and matured this year, and Shonn as well.

Q: How have Vandenburg and Wienke developed?

OKeefe: They have both done a pretty good job. They are sharp guys, they have a lot of ability and they work extremely hard to learn the offense and probably pushed themselves further than most of the guys have as true freshmen in that regard. They always ask a lot of good questions, stopping by the office and they will ask about things. They come in and watch the tape of freshmen workouts and assess themselves. They are good. I think they are one their way, making a lot of progress.

Q: How much difference has Erik Campbell made?

OKeefe: One example, the play we threw for a touchdown against Penn State, that is an old play they used at Michigan. He has brought a lot to the table. He is a great person, he has a great deal of enthusiasm and that is infectious with the players. All of the players love being around him, not just the receivers and tight ends. He has a lot of great thoughts to add to the game plan.

Q: South Carolina has lost Emmanuel Cook, how does that affect your preparation?

OKeefe: I don't think so, because we can't be sure….they play such a wide variety of offenses in the SEC that you see a lot of different stuff. It looks like they are a different defense each week, and a lot of people are like that. I am sure they are going to be who they are. They need to plug someone else in there and we won't know that until game day.

Q: Could you talk about the improvement on the offensive line?

OKeefe: Number one, Reese Morgan has instilled a lot of confidence in those guys. I will go back to the believing in yourself, they are a close group. That makes a difference anyway, but they really believed and wanted to be more physical, they wanted to eliminate the mistakes that held us back a year ago. A lot of them were concentration errors, jumping offsides, things like that that held us back. They really focused on putting their faith in what they are being taught and trusting their technique, and that is how they got better. The thing that helped the most is that linemen are that way anyway, but they are really mentally tough. Sometimes that takes a little while to develop, but that made a difference. We have a lot of leadership there with Olsen and Bruggeman, those guys are great leaders. Even Bulaga; for a young guy he brings a lot of leadership to the table.

Q: South Carolina has one of the top passing defenses in the nation, does that play into your strengths with Greene?

OKeefe: They are not giving up a lot of yards in the run game either. They do what they need to do to stop the other team from scoring. For as big as they are, they run well. They will make it tough for you to gain yards. There weren't a lot of teams that ran the ball great against them, in my opinion. Not a lot of teams threw it against them. There were not a lot of yards. They had close games, until the end of the year. Tight ball games all the way down the line. They are a good football team, way better than their record indicates.

Q: Have you had a chance to talk with Jake about his future?

OKeefe: I haven't. We haven't at this point. We are focused on getting through exams right now. We are starting to get ready for South Carolina.

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