Chuck Hartlieb: Certainly, I think this team is presenting us with different looks week in and week out. Thankfully it's on the ‘W' side the last three weeks. It sure is an odd group of outcomes that we are dealing with as fans, but the bottom line is that it could be a 7-5 season. If you would have said that at the midway point, we would have all said no way, not possible. You have to admire the character of this team.
Q: Talk about the pressurized circumstances these guys have been playing under, knowing since after the Purdue loss that they had to win out; a loss meant staying home for Christmas.
Hartlieb: I get the sense that this is a team that went into each of the last five or six weeks trying to focus on playing the best ball they could. They have had to do a lot of soul searching from the first half of the season. Look at all the different aspects of the game, and I think week in and week out they are doing their best to reach their highest level. Sometimes they have, sometimes they struggle. It is amazing that they have had good fortune with the schedule and th4ey have gotten some breaks, but they deserve what they are getting with these wins.
Q: Iowa averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the first half. Albert Young had about 80 yards. In the second half, they threw on six of their nine first down plays. They seemed to leave a running attack that was working.
Hartlieb: The theme has been consistent this year, we have mentioned that we don't know is going on on the sidelines, what goes on during the week, but I am on your side from the standpoint that it sure seemed to me that running the ball made more sense. But we don't know every aspect that goes into the decisions. The one factor that is in Ken O'Keefe's defense would be with seven or eight in the box and the pass defense they had, Coach O'Keefe is putting the players in the best possible position to move the ball. He is looking at his play list and thinking that we have a shot at winning this passing scheme, or that passing scheme. The unique thing with this team, it's not that the plays are not working. I think the plays are probably extremely well called and the right call for the situation, but just the odd thing with this team, when they breakdown or the plays fail to work; it's not because of the wrong play call but a lack of execution. Either the quarterback misses his target, or the wide receiver drops the ball or an offensive line bust. Coach O'Keefe is putting the play out there with the best intention, but it's a team that is having a hard time in the passing game.
Q: You have been around the game a while, you have seen how players can grow from one season to the next after their freshman year. As you look into the future with this offense, what type of improvement should fans expect out of the line, receivers and quarterback?
Hartlieb: You look at QB and wide receivers now; their initial year is almost over. From a practice standpoint, it's behind them. They have had games and a lot of practice exposure, they should be playing more like veterans and executing more consistently. For some reason or another, the consistency is not there. I think it's realistic to expect a quarterback to play flawlessly except for two to four snaps. I think that is the sign of a great quarterback. If you have 70 snaps, you need to be accurate or making the right decisions 90 to 95% of the time. Jake is in the area of five to ten now. He has to eliminate those plays, those off plays by half, either from an accuracy standpoint or decision standpoint. He has a good chance and strong likelihood that he will get to that point. But its not a certainty. Coach Ferentz is doing a great job standing behind him. The other factor to consider is that Nelson or Stanzi are not anywhere close to challenging him now, and because of that they have to put all of their commitment into Jake. That is the right thing to do. You can say the same thing for James Cleveland, or a Paul Chaney, etc. For them to get to a point where they are going to win 10 or 11 games as an offense, they have to, each one of them, has to come of the games saying that I only missed on a few plays, not six to eight.
Q: After Penn State game, people openly questioning Norm Parker, should he retire and that sort of thing.. They have seen some pretty salty offenses down the stretch. Going into the last drive this week, and Minnesota has been putting up over 400 yards a game, they had allowed just 215 yards. This defense has been a few men down, but they continue to be a strength.
Hartlieb: You can understand Coach Ferentz's commitment to a vanilla offense and defense when you look at what the defense does. It's not sexy, it's not eight or nine different looks. What it is is consistent, well executed and hard nosed. It's been amazing watching them. They were not going against great talent, but regardless, for them to accomplish what they have done in Division 1 and be put in some tough situations, Coach Parker has done a great job, the entire staff and defense has. On top of that you throw in the injuries in three or four key spots and say outside of the Indiana game, these guys have really done a tremendous job and my hat is off to Coach Parker.
Q: Aside from the benefits of going all out on recruiting when you don't go to a bowl, or going to the bowl and getting those practices, Coach Ferentz has said that a bowl game is a great reward for the kids. What do you think of that?
Hartlieb: These guys put their heart and soul out there for 11 months. The off-season workouts in the summer, spring practice, the commitments are holding down a 45 hour a week job without the pay. I think Coach Ferentz hits it on the nose. That is issue #1. It's what you work towards, the culmination of a sound season. These are the type of kids that deserve a bowl of a decent magnitude. I agree with that completely, it's something that even though its just seven days, it is an unreal time for those guys to get in a warm environment, have some fun and get those new experiences and enjoy it as a team.
Q: What are your thoughts heading into the Western Michigan game?
Hartlieb: This is a very scary game. One of the things that I think is curious right now is if you look back to Iowa-Iowa State, who is the better team right now? My hat is off to the Cyclone Nation, to Coach Chizik. Iowa State over the past four or five weeks has played very good ball as well. I still wonder what kind of team we have? We have had a pretty decent schedule down the stretch. Western Michigan will have had 10 days to prepare. IF you look at them this year, they played some MAC teams tough and this will be their bowl game. I expect a very difficult game, and the outcome will not be determined until the fourth quarter. I am not looking past this one, and I hope the Hawks will bear down one more week for a chance to get to Phoenix.