normFirst of all I've been asked how do we utilize the extra time through the open week and we try to accomplish a couple of things. I don't know if there's a right way or wrong way to do things, but normally you evaluate it after you play the game. One would think it would be an advantage (having a bye) but it hasn't always happened that way for us. It certainly didn't help Michigan against Northwestern or Purdue against Michigan State. It's still how you play the game.
What we tried to accomplish was to try to rest our guys up to a certain extent, from a physical standpoint to an emotional standpoint. We really tried to recharge their batteries mentally. It gave us an opportunity to evaluate us. All too often when you go from one game to the next game even when things aren't going as you'd like, you're so busy with the preparation for the upcoming opponent you can't do that. Obviously there have been some things we haven't been happy with obviously on the defensive side of the ball so it gave us to go back and look at that.
It also gave us extra time to prepare for Iowa, although we didn't over-practice. We only practiced twice last week, but we did practice yesterday (Monday) which traditionally is a conditioning day, but a very limited practice day after a game. So in saying that on Tuesday afternoon, I feel good about our approach, what we've accomplish and the things that we've done, but only time will tell.
Regarding injuries, we're in good shape. We're very fortunate in that area. Anybody that was out for the season is out and anybody that hasn't been out for the season is back so we're okay.
This week we are playing the Iowa Hawkeyes. It's always one of those games that I look forward to because it's a rivalry. At any place I've been, there have been built-in rivalries that have something special about it and it's one of the truly great things about college football. Normally in a rivalry, you play for something and this week we're playing for Floyd (of Rosedale). It's a big thing, especially when you don't have it. You probably talk more about Floyd when you don't have it, than when you do.
This game is very important to us and one of the things that makes rivalries great I've always thought is when they're still great when there's nothing really in the balance and obviously there are other things in the balance for us this year, but even if there weren't, like there isn't anything for Iowa this year, you still expect both teams to come and play as hard as they possible can.
When you look at Iowa, you know the old saying "You're only as good as your last game", they're pretty good. You look at them against Northwestern and they were real good. I think they shocked people around the Big Ten, especially defensively. What they did against Northwestern was something no one, and I mean no one, has been able to do. It wasn't any gimmick defense. They just lined up and whipped them. The week before that, they won in overtime at Penn State. The week before that, they played Wisconsin and at 13-7, they very easily could've won that football game. So not only are you as good as your last game, you're as good as your last three games and they're pretty impressive. In our last three games, we've left a lot to be desired and that's as kind as I can put it. Really, maybe the story in the last three weeks is Iowa's been the exact opposite of Minnesota from a defensive standpoint. They found their defense and we lost ours.
Offensively they come up with big plays. They have a good running back and their offensive line is well-coached, but where they really kill you is they come up with some big plays from their wide receivers and they're good in the kicking game.
So what we're looking for hopefully is a knockdown, drag out game in the dome on Saturday.Minnesota vs. Iowa.
Lastly, not related to football, I couldn't be more happy about Coach Monson's newest recruit. Really, I mean that. For him to have the tenacity to stay with that after all indications are that the young man wasn't going to come here, I think it is an inspiration to all of us. I think it's good for all us, the athletic department, the university. Why? Because some people seem to have the perception that there is a black cloud hanging over this place and here's a kid that could've gone anywhere and he came to Minnesota. One of the great things about this state is they have a lot of loyalty for this institution. So I'm looking forward to watching the young man play.
(About the Big Ten race this season)
It's been crazy. We all started out talking about this conference tough. Why? Not because we had so many great teams, but because of the toughness of the conference from top to bottom and it's probably been a little tougher than anybody really expected. Like someone says, "It's great for the fans". I say who's fans? About the only fans happy right now are Iowa's. Ours aren't happy, Michigan's aren't happy, etc. Great for the fans, yeah right. Bad for coaches.
(Resting guys emotionally)
When you work at your job everyday and all of a sudden you have a couple of days off, don't you come back a little bit different? I gave the guys time off. We practiced two days last week. I gave them time to go be a student. It was real interesting how kids look upon that though. One of the players told me "Coach, you really surprised me". I said why is that? He said "well this is a big game and we haven't been playing that well. I really thought that you guys would panic and overwork us". It's amazing how kids look at things. I didn't consult them on doing it, I just thought it would be a good thing to do. I would've really liked to give my coaches some time as well. They're tired of me. I probably would've sent them recruiting for a couple of days, but I didn't do that, because I thought it was more important that we...I know I wanted to do a little self-evaluation and I wanted them here to answer my questions.
(On getting the guys to tackle better)
The natural thing you say is "well let's go out and scrimmage and make them tackle", but I don't think that's our problem. Again it's more a mental problem than anything else. But there are some things in there that you're doing that you're violating principles that make it more difficult for certain guys to make tackles. The guy that misses the tackle, everyone sees, but the things that go around it and for us to be successful defensively, I've said from day one, is we have to play great team defense.
(Bowl eligibility a motivating factor?)
I'm assuming that it's big. I am assuming because it's obvious. We got smart kids on our team and there's not a guy that doesn't realize that he has to win Saturday to go to a bowl game so the next thing is how bad do you want to go to a bowl game, if you are going to use that as motivation. I can only speak for myself, but am I going to bed every night thinking about a bowl game? No I'm not. I'm more worried about my team playing well. You say "well how are you going to beat Iowa"? You ask the smartest coach in the world that and they say "score more points" than they do. That's the obvious. But what do you have to do to give you a chance to win, you have to play well. You have to play a lot better than we have played defensively. We have to continue to get better offensively and take care of the ball and be solid in the kicking game. That will give us the best chance against Iowa. In saying that, if we play well in all three phases and we don't win the Iowa game, because they happen to play better in the three phases or get a break, there's nothing I can do about it anyway. So that's always been my salvation, how I've kept myself sane though the years of coaching the teams.
(Will you know if the defense is back during practice this week?)
Wait `til Saturday, wait `til Saturday. A lot of golfers think they get their game straightened out on the practice area until they go to that first tee. Doesn't count in the practice area.
(On the roller-coaster season)
I remember one year when I was at Ohio State, we lost three straight home games. Then we turned around and won out. Let's face it, the jobs that I've had there have not been a lot of fourth quarters or second halves that I'm just relaxing on the sideline trying to get everyone some playing time. I've said I wonder how many times Tom Osborne had to sweat out that last quarter. It just goes with the nature of this job. Realistically speaking and for the most part , I think that we've been there. The best thing you can hope for at Minnesota is to be competitive. To be competitive means you have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. That's where we're at.winning some and losing some.
(Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz)
They won one game last year and they looked like they were on that run against this year, but then they won and look to be bringing it together, his strength, which is the most important, is his kids believe in him. If kids don't believe in you, you don't have a chance. He has not lost his team. In fact, they've been playing pretty good. Against Wisconsin, they were very decent. A good Iowa team against Penn State and a great Iowa team against Northwestern. I say that because of the way you would describe Northwestern. How many points did they put up the week before against Michigan? 54? They've won 800 football games. Have you ever heard someone putting up 54 points on those guys? We're catching an Iowa team that is playing very good football.
(Two quarterback rotation)
We might ever use it a bit more. I like what we've been doing there.
(MN high school football)
There are some good players there. There are probably not as many as we'd like, but there are some good players there. Some players have already made up their minds while others are focusing on other sports and that's unfortunate because we really need to get literally every Minnesota player.
(if things don't go right against Iowa, is there a plan B)
There are a couple of personnel positions that I am going to watch. You know, it's great to say let's go to plan B, but sometimes there is no plan B at certain positions. Hopefully we've corrected some of the structural problems we've encountered.