Q&A with Kirk Herbstreit: Iowa's impressive start, Ohio State's explosive offense & more B1G talk
Saturday Tradition’s Dustin Schutte spoke with College GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit this week about several topics as it relates to the College Football Playoff, the B1G football season and a new Goodyear and Waze Integration that helps fans own the road by extending the stadium experience to their vehicles.
From now through Jan. 31, Waze users can select to have the Goodyear Blimp guide them to their destinations and College GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit as their navigation voice. You can receive more details on the Goodyear and Waze Integration app here.
Below is the Q&A between Herbstreit and Saturday Tradition:
Dustin Schutte: Having experienced games during 2020, what’s the difference, what’s the atmosphere like having fans back in these college football environments?
Kirk Herbstreit: “Incredible. College football is blessed to have great fans, great energy in all these stadiums. We obviously missed that so much during the 2020 global pandemic. As we got ready for 2021 and it looked like we were gonna be ok — people were gonna be in the seats, fans would be back tailgating and marching bands would be back — I think all of us were just so excited for this sport to have that back. I’ve always had gratitude for that aspect of the game, but I personally don’t think I’ve ever looked forward more to a season starting that this year because of that.
“It’s hard to put into words what this season has meant to all of us who love this game, what’s it meant to the people to get back into the stadiums and do what they love to do, which is be at the games, cheer for their teams, tailgate with their buddies. It’s been huge.”
Schutte: Looking at the Big Ten, you’ve got five teams in the Top 10. It’s one of the best years for the conference, at least to start the year. Which team has impressed you most at this point in the year?
Herbstreit: “I’m gonna have to say Iowa because of how they’re winning. At six games in, I think a lot of people are like, ‘they’re not that great offensively,’ but you know what? They’re a team. A team wins by playing three phases of the game — offense, defense, special teams. And Iowa, with (Tory Taylor) and with their defense and with the turnover margin, they don’t need an offense that’s gonna score 50 per game and throw it all over the place. They play a very smart brand of football. Kirk Ferentz, one of the most underrated coaches in college football and has been for years. I think it’s been fun to watch. It’s an old-school approach, but I happen to love their way. I love their home fans. I think it’s a great story.
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“I think Ohio State is the most talented team. I don’t think we have any idea how good their defense is yet and we will after their bye week when they go to Indiana, then they have Penn State. Eventually Michigan State and Michigan, so we’ll see where they are.
“As far as a team that might be the most complete team, and I know they just lost, but if Sean Clifford didn’t go out with an injury, there’s a really good chance Penn State goes on the road and wins in that environment. If he’s able to come back and be close to 100%, I still think they have a really good football team.”
Schutte: Michigan is 6-0 but I feel like we’ve seen this from them before in a few previous seasons under Jim Harbaugh. What’s different now that you think that maybe they can get the job done at the end of the season and wind up beating Ohio State, getting to the B1G Championship Game and maybe get to the College Football Playoff?
Herbstreit: “That’s a fair point. The biggest thing I’ve seen from them is…they’re not turning the ball over much. They have not fumbled, I’m knocking on wood for them, only a couple interceptions. That part of it has been great. If that continues, they’ll be a tough out. And I really think that this defense, even though I’m a Don Brown guy…they needed a change. Aidan Hutchinson and this defense, it just feels a little different to me than what we’ve seen in the past. We’ll see. They’ve got some big challenges ahead of them still.
“As we sit here right now, they’ve got Michigan State on the road, they’ve got Indiana, Penn State on the road, Ohio State at home, so, you’re right, that’s a fair thing to say. We’ve seen them do this before, why would it be different now? And I think it is now the confidence that they have, especially after the year they had a year ago.
“The way Cade McNamara is playing, you wish Ronnie Bell was healthy to really give them some leadership on the perimeter. I haven’t felt this kind of running game from them since Mike Hart (was playing running back). Blake Corum is legit. You throw Hassan Haskins in there, who is a power guy, so they got a nice tandem there.
“I don’t know. They look like a team that loves each other. They’re all kinda pulling on the rope together, so they’re a team that’s standing out right now.”
Schutte: Let’s go a few miles down the road to Michigan State. They’ve had some playmakers emerge in Kenneth Walker III, Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed. The thing that stands out to me, I don’t know if there’s a team in the country that embraces the personality of its head coach more than Michigan State. At 6-0, is Mel Tucker the Coach of the Year?
Herbstreit: “Yeah, he’s gotta be. When you come into the middle of what he inherited and everything that was going on, that’s a tough ask. Things obviously did not go really well (in 2020) during a COVID year. They were doing the best that they could. He decided to go to the (transfer) portal and it worked. They found really good pieces.
“If you know Mel, he’s got that scowl, but he’s actually a loving guy and a great guy. But he’s got that scowl and he’s a defensive coach and he’s not afraid to get after you. The team has definitely taken on his personality and playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, which is perfect for Michigan State. When Michigan State is good, they play with a chip on their shoulder. That’s what they’re doing right now.
“They’ve got a tough road ahead, but regardless of what happens, to think about where they were (last year) and where they are now, it’s refreshing and great to see.”
Schutte: Ryan Day made the decision to make some changes to his defensive staff and put Matt Barnes in charge of play-calling. How important was it for him to recognize the troubles defensively and make that change early in the season?
Herbstreit: “You don’t see that very often in the middle of the year on a team that is chasing a championship. It may happen on a team that is 2-4 that’s off the radar, but to do it with an entire defense — not changing a quarterback, changing an entire defense — that’s hard to do. That’s something you do in spring ball, that’s something you do in camp. It’s not something you do in four or five days when you’re getting ready to play another game.
“So, you’ve gotta give him credit. We have no idea how much these changes are really going to help them because they haven’t played Penn State and Sean Clifford. They haven’t played at Indiana. They haven’t played Nebraska and Adrian Martinez. They haven’t played Michigan. So, we’ll find out if they’re improved on that side of the ball.”
Schutte: If I put you on the spot and made you pick, is it Ohio State or the field to win the B1G East?
Herbstreit: “I still think Ohio State, because of the firepower on offense, I still think they’re the team to beat, even with the loss to Oregon. CJ Stroud was a guy who threw his first college pass on the road against Minnesota. He played OK against Oregon, even though they didn’t win. Since then, he’s kinda settled in at the spot. And the receivers, the best trio of receivers in the country. TreVeyon Henderson is an elite back averaging 9 yards per carry. They’re gonna score 40 to 45 on just about everyone they play. I don’t know if you can say that about anyone else right now in the Big Ten.”
“They’re still the team to beat because of that offense and the way they can score.”