Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media today as his team prepares to host Michigan State this week. Among the topics covered this week were injuries, the team's offensive struggles, a preview of Michigan State, Cedric Everson's status, some of the off the field problems the team has had this year, and much more.
Welcome. We'll start out with injuries real quick. I think we're optimistic we'll get Colin Sandeman back. Looks like he's ready to come back to practice. Hopefully we'll get him back on the field. Trey Stross, still a little bit of a jump ball. I think we've got a shot. We'll see what he does this week. As I said, this has been kind of ongoing, so we'll see how that goes. Rob Bruggeman was cleared last week, practiced last week. We opted not to put him in the game. I think he's back with us. Hopefully he can continue to work through a pretty long layoff. Tony Moeaki is still up in the air. We'll see how he looks in practice this week. He was cleared last week, as well. Just didn't look good enough in practice to put in the game.
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It's one thing to get cleared. The other thing is you have to go out and function, be able to play productively. He just wasn't at that stage. We'll see what it looks like this week and go from there, make a decision on that.
Captain wise, this week we'll go with the same four guys we've had the last two weeks, it will be Bryan Mattison, Mike Humpal on defense, and then Albert and Tom Busch over on the offensive side. So those will be our four guys.
Then one thing just to address last week, I did totally misunderstand someone's question about the punt before the half. I was more fixated on the one when they had three timeouts and it was a minute plus. I'll go back and address that one.
We could have thrown a Hail Mary. Probably more of an emotional response. We got sacked on third down. So, you know, I really thought they would take a timeout there maybe and try to block a punt, whatever. They let the clock go. So we opted to punt the football.
And, you know, that's a fair point, probably a good thing you weren't with me at Maine when we punted on I can't remember if it was second or third down, I can't remember. But you would have had fun covering that one, okay? It was a game we won. It was just kind of a way to tell the offense we weren't real pleased with what they were doing. Anyway, that's ancient history. And I can't tell you who we were playing.
But, we're moving on now. We've got Michigan State this week. They come in here with a good ballclub. Obviously I think as we all know they've always had pretty good talent up at Michigan State. Mark Dantonio and his staff have done a wonderful job. We expected that. Was able to witness their work as a staff at Cincinnati. We've seen them on film throughout the last couple years, and they're a very well coached team. I know they're continuing to have success with the players that that staff recruited.
So it's no surprise to see Michigan State playing the way they are right now. There are a lot of parallels to what you saw with their Cincinnati teams to what they're doing right now.
First and foremost, they're a big physical football team on both sides of the ball. They're very experienced. A lot of seniors. A lot of juniors. Good size. Good athleticism.
You know, on the offensive side of the football, very good skill players. You start with the runningbacks. Both of them are excellent runningbacks. Good change up, 1 2 punch, if you will. Very talented tight end. Hoyer has done a nice job running the offense. The receiver they picked up, a junior college player No. 5, Thomas, is a very dynamic player. They've done a good job there. I think if you take Illinois out of the league in option attack, they're leading the league in rushing the football.
Then defensively they're playing very, very aggressively. I think we all saw that last week, a good illustration. Not only are they aggressive, but they're tough. They create a lot of problems for an offense. They've done a good job creating turnovers. Team wise I think they're two behind us in turnover margin. They're second in the league, doing a nice job there. Big part of that is the way they play on defense. They're very, very aggressive. A lot of pressure. A lot of blitzing and dogging. They've got the athletes to do it. It's an impressive group.
Good on special teams, as you'd expect. So, you know, we got our work cut out. Our focus will be starting today working on our areas of concern. Nothing's changed since Saturday. We've got plenty to work on. So that's where we're at.
I'll throw it out for questions.
Q: After the Purdue game, your biggest concerns this week would be what?
FERENTZ: Obviously it remains on the offensive side right now. Not that we're taking anything for granted defensively. But, you know, what we need to do very clearly is just try to establish some consistency offensively. If you look at the last three weeks, we've only been able to do it one time. You know, what we need to do is try to find the formula that worked in that Illinois ballgame and see if we can't get that going a little bit.
We struggled at Penn State. Purdue wasn't quite as bad. But, you know, the bottom line is we came away with two field goals, no touchdowns. You're not going to win football games scoring six points, even 10 points is a stretch. We need to find out a way to get first downs, multiple first downs, sustain something offensively, and most importantly capitalize, get some points on the board when we get down in there.
That's the challenge ahead. There's no pixie dust or anything. We just got to keep working and see if we can't improve.
Q: Your best offensive game was against Syracuse. That's where Tony had a huge game. Do you think getting him back makes it that much easier?
FERENTZ: To count on him being back would be silly. I mean, we have to see him out there and see him playing, practicing, you know, full efficiency. We're at the point right now we can't count on the cavalry. They're not coming. I think Chris Gardner said that. I'm with him on that one. We have to go with what we've got.
We have players that are capable. We're just not very consistent right now. The good news is, as I've said all along, is young players have a chance to improve greatly. We've got four weeks left in the season. That's where our focus is right now: What can we do this week to gain ground.
Q: Was it surprising to you after how much better the offense looked against Illinois it kind of took a step back against Purdue?
FERENTZ: No, I don't think so. Disappointing certainly for everybody, but not surprising. Again, you know, we're a young and inexperienced group on that side of the football. It's one thing about young players or young teams, they're going to have highs and lows, they're not going to be as consistent as you like. Doesn't mean you like it. Doesn't mean you accept it. But that's usually the reality of things if you study things. If you study it, you know, the challenge right now is to see what we can do in four weeks. The other three don't count right now. What we can do this week is important. Hopefully we'll make some progress. Then we have to continue that once we get it going.
Q: You talked about a lot of the young people getting experience. Do you sense there's going to be a real payoff next year, two years down the road?
FERENTZ: Yeah, I'm really hopeful it will happen this week. We made strides in that Illinois game. We looked like a totally different team than we had against Penn State. A lot of times it's a very fine line. It's like anything in life, football is that way at times. If we could experience some good things, get a little momentum going, maybe something good would happen. There's still four games left this year. That's what we're looking at.
All that being said, you know, Michigan State has other ideas. They're going to come in there and try to stuff us right off the bat. They know where our hotspots are. They're going to attack us. We're going to have to be up for that, equal to that. It starts with having a good plan. We need to have a good plan. But then we're going to have to go out and really compete.
Q: Can you talk about Matt Kroul?
FERENTZ: He definitely has more access to pumpkins than anybody.
I always joke about the right guard. Nobody cares about the right guard. Well, the right defensive tackle is kind of a similar deal, especially when you play next to Mitch who is a little about more disruptive. Matt to me is an unsung hero on our football team and greatly appreciated internally, first of all just the way he's built.
I've said repeatedly, the leadership that we have on this football team is outstanding. The attitude is outstanding. Matt is a big part of that. I've talked about our seniors. We've got 12 of them. But we've got guys like Matt, Mitch King, Seth Olsen that are older guys that have played.
Matt is all about what you want in a football player. He comes to work every day ready to go. In season, out of season, you name it, anything he does football related, he's wired in. Does a great job in the classroom. I mean, he's everything you want.
But what a great example he is for the rest of our football team. We greatly appreciate his play. It's not flashy, but it's consistent. You know, he's a big part of the way we play.
Q: The hotspots you mentioned, what are they?
FERENTZ: Where do you want to start?
Q: I was thinking maybe left tackle on offense as one.
FERENTZ: That one's in the bank. You kidding me? That's in the bank. We're solid there.
FERENTZ: We're pretty solid there, too. He's played every game. Those guys have eight games' experience. They're doing well. They're veterans.
Q: Wide receiver?
FERENTZ: Yeah, we're a little green there. But, you know, we're learning. We're gaining ground.
Q: You don't want to go over your hotspots?
FERENTZ: We're not in sync offensively. I think that's pretty clear. That was pretty evident the other day. It's been the story of the season thus far. I mean, basically that's been the biggest story.
Q: Does it go beyond what we see on the field?
FERENTZ: We're not bad in meetings. Practice, we really practiced well the Illinois week. I think that's carried over. But, again, the consistency that you're seeing on Saturdays, I think it's probably true in all areas. But, again, you know, typically, I mean, it's pretty much the same old story. Younger players have to learn how to practice and do things cleanly and efficiently. Experienced guys, you know, they pick things up quicker on Tuesdays typically. Our defense, for instance, those guys, boy, they can hit the game plan pretty quickly. They're going to absorb at a higher rate than the offensive guys right now. We knew that coming into the season, that would be the case. Due to circumstances, we've got a little more growing -- there's been a little bit more of a growing process going on than maybe we anticipated or hoped for. But what are you going to do?
Q: Managers of baseball teams and coaches say that you play on Saturday, but have you played like you practice?
FERENTZ: We practiced okay. You know, Wednesday we practiced very well last week. Tuesday, okay. You know, the way we're built right now, we can't be okay on anything. We really have to be doing a lot better than okay. The best illustration I can give you on that, I agree wholeheartedly it's cliché, but how you practice is usually how you play.
Sometimes experienced guys can get away with missing practice. Klinkenborg is a good example. I wouldn't recommend taking a month off and then going out and playing 80 snaps like he did. But he pulled it off because he had a pretty good experience well to rely upon. But it's still not prescribed.
Our 2002 team, I've said this many times, by the time we got through coming out of Ann Arbor, I guess it probably would have been -- we pretty much -- the staff could have stayed in and played cards, you know, just sat at the staff table and played cards for the rest of the season. Those guys were an automatic pilot, particularly the last game. There was absolutely no way the players were going to let that thing get screwed up. They just took it and ran with it.
So when you get to that point, boy, you're in business. That's a great thing. It's hard to get there. It doesn't happen often. But it's an illustration. I mean, that would be the optimal, that would be the peak situation.
But earlier in that year, I mean, we were sputtering around. We were good one day, off the next. You know, the Purdue week that season, we had a less than spectacular week that week, and it showed up on the field. Sometimes you get exceptions to the rule, but usually it's pretty much the deal.
Q: Coach, do you expect the occasional bad practice as the season progresses?
FERENTZ: You do. You do. One of the concerns we have right now, you can't always practice as hard as you like because you have to consider, too, there's a game to be played Saturday. So like last week, you just take Sandeman and you take Stross out of the equation. The receivers you saw on the field at Purdue, pretty much that's who was at practice. So you worry about running those guys too hard. How many snaps can James Cleveland take because he's going to have to play 70 on Saturday. You want younger players to get a lot of exposure and a lot of work, yet you have to balance that. It's counterproductive to play the game during the week.
I've been amazed a little bit. Our defense has done a pretty good job because we really don't have scout receivers to run down there. To try to simulate Dorien Bryant, anybody that can run at all is at our end offensively. You can imagine what that looks like down at the other end. It kind of trickles down. It affects everything.
Q: When you're trying to teach game plan with younger offensive players, I imagine some of those guys would be more rooted in fundamentals now, learning how to play the game you want them to. Is some of that getting lost in translation?
FERENTZ: That's part of the challenge. I think the other challenge is, no matter how experienced your team is, you try to keep them focused on getting better fundamentally. Our 2002 group, for instance, going back to them, that's the most veteran offensive group we've had by the end of the year. You're still focusing on both areas. But, yeah, they can just they have a few less things to think about.
I quit golf 15 years ago. But when you try to hit a golf ball, it's counterproductive if you're thinking about 15 things. You really have to focus on a couple things. It's a little bit like that in football, too. So that's where experience helps you.
Q: Any ideas on any tweaks you might want to try to come up with to get the offensive rolling a little more?
FERENTZ: I don't know if there's any magic formula. You know, we'll try to find a combination. Common sense tells you you want to get your best guys involved, your most experienced guys involved. If we can get Albert up and running a little bit better, either running or throwing, that's to our advantage. Same thing with Damian. Then after that, you know, we do better when we spread the ball around. But we have to get those guys involved, gives us a better chance.
But again, the defense that we're playing knows that, too. People aren't dumb. They know our personnel and they're going to set a plan to try to counter that a little bit. You know, all defenses try to make you play left handed. Just got to work around that.
Q: Are you seeing a correlation between success for you guys and touches for Albert and Damian?
FERENTZ: I mean, yes and no. But it's like somebody was mentioning yesterday, not that I really paid attention, but I don't know, I think there were three or four teams or five, I don't know, that had outstanding passing days on Sunday. And I think if you take Brady and the Patriots out of the mix, they all lost. That's an old axiom there.
Any time you fall behind, that's one of the disadvantages of not being able to score points. When you fall behind, at some point you have to get away from maybe what you really like to do. So that's part of the reality of things.
That really is what happened in the second half, Indiana. That's a good illustration. You know, we ran the ball I think pretty successfully in that game. But at some point you got to try to catch up, too. You know, it's a Catch 22 syndrome.
Q: When you were 7-5 two years ago, they averaged 24 touches a game, now averaging 13, 14.
Q: Is that a product of falling behind early in games?
FERENTZ: Yeah, you could argue we were a better team at least at this point in 2005. I mean, in my mind, we were a couple plays away from being Big 10 contenders that year. Nobody would dare say that right now. I'm not going to utter that. We were clipping along pretty good. We were doing some good things. That's more how we'd like to play if we could.
Q: Albert Young, what's his status?
FERENTZ: We expect him to be out there full speed today. He's doing fine. It was a contusion, not a sprain.
Q: What about Kenny Iwebema?
FERENTZ: Kenny got dinged, as you know, and did not pass a test today. We're keeping our fingers crossed that tomorrow morning he'll be able to do the bike test and lift. If he can do that, then he'll practice without contact on Wednesday. That's the best case scenario. We're hoping to get him back. But we thought we'd get Klink back, too, about three weeks ago, too, and it didn't work out. Typically you do get them back, but we'll keep you tuned on that one.
Q: Chad Geary?
FERENTZ: Chad is the next guy up. The good news there, Chad stepped in and I thought did a real nice job. Christian Ballard got some extensive playing time, doing well. Clayborn is playing well, Adrian. Some of those young guys are jumping in there. They've gotten more and more work this past four weeks. That's been a positive for us.
Q: Jordan Bernstine, talk about Jordan's play.
FERENTZ: He's doing real well. He's playing on our sub defensive packages. Been very, very pleased. He's really done a nice job. He was really more of an offensive player, if you will, in high school. Quality young man. He's worked extremely hard. He's a good learner. He's done a good job on special teams, although he's had some highs and lows there. He's looked young at times. But, yeah, the return he made on the kickoff, the short kickoff last week, was very impressive. He looked very aggressive out there. That's actually when he kind of tweaked his ankle. But he seems to be fine and we're really pleased with his progress.
Q: You have Julian and Dan still rotating.
Q: What are you looking for?
FERENTZ: Basically it means what it says it means. It means they're pretty even right now. You know, when Dan got his opportunity a week ago, he jumped in there, did a nice job. And Julian, I just talked about Jordan, Julian is young at times. He looks young at times. He's playing at a pretty young age for an offensive lineman. There are certain things that young guys do occasionally that he's working through. He knows what they are and he's working hard at them. He's doing a good job in a lot of areas. So to me it's kind of an even race. It's probably a win win situation. We'll just let them continue to play.
Q: Do you think Bruggeman will play Saturday?
FERENTZ: We'll see. He looked decent last week. We thought about putting him in there at the end. Why run the risk if some freak thing happening. It's three, four more days towards good health. He's practiced pretty well. If nothing else, it just gives us a guy who's a pretty good guy in the bullpen at center.
Our plan in the spring and summer was to get him involved in the mix, see if he could compete for one of the guard center positions. Right now we could use a little depth. That would help us.
Q: How about Allen Reisner?
FERENTZ: Yeah, you know, by Tony's mishap, Tony's bad fortunate, we made the decision four weeks ago I guess it was to put him in there and go with him. He's done a good job. He still looks like he's third team to me at times. He just looks really young in the face, maybe at least 15. But, you know, he does a lot of good things. He's got good ball skills. He's working extremely hard. And I think we've seen dramatic improvement. He's hardly a Big 10, ready made Big 10 guy yet. But after four weeks we've seen him improve. He's getting more confidence. He's competing well out there. Had a couple opportunities to catch the ball and done a nice job with that. We're very pleased with the way he's going.
Q: Your team is so young. I assume being Bowl eligible could go a long way for the future of this program. Do you find yourself worrying about that with only four games to play?
FERENTZ: Not really. I haven't thought that far ahead. You know, it always goes without saying that's a benefit of Bowl games, it's the equivalent of another spring practice, if you will. But most importantly it's just a nice reward for the players. That's paramount. Especially this team, because I've talked again time and time about the attitude of the team. It would be nice to see something good happen for them, see them get rewarded in any way, to play in the post season. That would be a wonderful thing. But we know we have to earn it. We all realize that. They don't just throw those offers out to teams that have good attitudes. We have to earn it on the field.
We got four weeks to work on it. So this is a big week. Worry about that and we'll go from there.
Q: Is Cedric Everson in good standing?
FERENTZ: Well, that's pretty much about where he was Saturday, I guess. That's probably the best answer I could give you. He wasn't with us Saturday. Things haven't changed an awful lot.
Q: Is he practicing?
FERENTZ: No, huh uh. Didn't last week. I guess Thursday would have been his last day. He's not in good standing.
Q: Is he off the team?
FERENTZ: He's not in good standing.
Q: Going back to falling behind. How much pressure does that put on the offensive line?
FERENTZ: You know, it just depends what the score is, what point of the game. If you can stay with the plan, I don't think it changes dramatically. Being behind is part of the game. But when you get into the second half, you start looking up at the clock, seeing, boy, for us to get there, we're going to have to... You know, that's a different deal. You go with it.
Penn State is a good illustration. That wasn't much fun. Unfortunately as a coach, I've been in a lot of those. It's not just much fun when you're on the road, playing against a team that's pretty good, and they know what you're going to do. That's not much fun if you're a lineman.
Q: Looking at this week in particular, how important do you see time of possession being, given the type of offense they have where they like to run the ball?
FERENTZ: Really I'm more focused on points right now. That's first and foremost. Outside of winning and losing, points are the most important thing. Yeah, time of possession, just for us to be that was a great thing about the Illinois game. It allowed our defense to play at full speed. Even though we couldn't get the points there, we were keeping our defense fresh and they really played at a high level.
So it does help. It's an important statistic. But we're at the point right now where we just need to score some points. That would help a great deal.
Q: There was so much talk after the Alamo Bowl about the renewed focus, change in attitude with this team. Are you surprised or disappointed it hasn't paid off when it comes to wins and losses this year?
FERENTZ: Yeah, you know, what I'll answer that question nobody wants to hear. None of us are having fun right now. You know, losing ballgames is never fun. If it becomes acceptable, it's time to get out, whether you're coaching or playing. But from where I sit, really my focus always has been more on the intangibles, what a team is doing in terms of their attitude, what kind of leadership we're getting, those kinds of things. And, you know, I think this team's been outstanding that way.
For me, and we'll talk about it after the season, but I've got a clear vision of where I hope we bottomed out, and we did bottom out, there's no doubt about that. I hope I can keep that date etched in my mind at the end of the season. I'm hoping we won't have to change. I'm optimistic we won't. To me as long as we're working the right way and the attitude is good, we're going to weather the bad times, and we're going through one right now, nobody's denying that.
But, no, to answer the question, I think these guys are doing everything we want them to do, and that's a real positive. To me the only thing that's dampened this season in my mind is our off the field conduct. We've gone through a phase like that before. Didn't enjoy that. I'm not enjoying this. We'll work on that in the out of season, too.
But the only thing I would say there is if you look at our team in its entirety, you know, we got a lot of outstanding people here. I think we've had a lot of kid mistakes take place. I think we've been pretty proactive with our education. I think we've been very reactive with anything that's taken place. So sometimes you got to live with those things. You know, it's not much fun, but we're going to get them corrected.
Last time we went through one of these, the team responded I think in a very admirable way. I'm very confident the same thing is going to happen again because we've got a lot of great people on this team.
Q: Is that the kind of attitude that will translate to wins?
FERENTZ: No question about it. I've always believed that. That's kind of how I've coached as a position coach and I've coached that way as a head coach. That's just how I believe things happen. I'm not naive. You've got to have talent, too. I know that. You've got to have experience. That helps. But, yeah, I believe that strongly. That's how I've always operated. I'm hardly Pop Warner, but I've been around long enough to realize that that's where it all starts.
If you look at the two best teams in pro football, I'd venture to say, with all due respect to the other 30 teams, I doubt there are two teams that have a better attitude than the two teams that are at the top of the league right now in my mind at least. Had a chance last night, walked in and they were interviewing Bob Sanders on SportsCenter, I don't know if you guys caught that one. Stuart Scott interviewed him. How can't you be proud of a guy lake that? I mean, wow. He looked good, first of all. Dresses a little better now than when he was at Iowa. He can afford it, that's good. But he looked great. To me, just the way he conducted himself. First of all, he hasn't changed. He's a humble guy. But, you know, boy, I thought he was right on with his answers.
You know, you wonder why the Colts are winning. You get guys like that, Dallas Clark, those are two guys, I'm a little biased, but they've got a team full of guys like that. The middle linebacker story is one of the great stories. I think it's the guy from Rutgers. Good teams have that. Over the weekend I saw Bruschi, Seau and Vrable, Chris Berman interviewed. He's trying to get them to talk about going undefeated. All three of them just gave him the stone face look, and said, What, are you kidding me? We're worried about what's going to happen in 20 minutes. Getting ready to go to a meeting or practice. Teams like that, if you've got an attitude, you've got a shot.
Q: You said a few minutes ago you have a clear picture of where this team bottomed out. Where is that?
FERENTZ: We'll talk about that out of season. Hopefully it's the same date in mind then. We could bottom out here in the next four weeks. I know that's a possibility. But I'm not too worried about it right now. I think we're well beyond that. I think we're on the right road. Nobody wants to hear that, but I understand that. I'm not asking anybody to buy it either.
Q: Michigan State is a team that gets after the quarterback.
FERENTZ: You noticed that, huh? What, they've got 31 sacks and they haven't played us yet, have they? That's probably what they're thinking right now. We better strap it up and be ready to go. I mean, there's no magic answers there either. We have to be ready to compete. These guys are aggressive. They're athletic. They're aggressive with their schemes. So we need to have a good plan. We're going to have to be decisive in everything we do. We better be sharp and execute or it could be a tough one.
Then if you fall behind, it magnifies things because, again, any defensive player would tell you, if they know what you're going to do, it's a lot more fun.
Q: Have you been able to put your finger on why this off the field stuff is happening, having gone through it before already?
FERENTZ: No. You know, I haven't. Again, all I can say is I think we've been more proactive than we've ever been in terms of educational opportunities, talking about things. I took four or five minutes out of the team meeting last Tuesday to just, you know, reminders. That evening we had a mishap, if you want to call it that.
Sometimes people don't learn the way they need to learn. That's frustrating. Things happen in college athletics. They happen with the student body. It's part of life. It's like a turnover. You don't want to accept it. You want to try to coach against it. That's what we're going to continue to do.
And the only conclusion I have is, you know, we'll have to ramp up our efforts even more. That's my only answer. It's kind of like everybody is asking what we're going to do with the offense. We're going to work harder. We're going to work smarter, work harder. We'll do the same thing. But, again, when you worry about things like that, which you do, that's part of my job, but then I look at all the outstanding people on our team, you know, I mean, we're talking about a very small number. Again, a lot of them are kid mistakes. And those I can live with. I don't like them, but I can live with them. It's part of the deal.
The ones that aren't, those are more concerning. Those are more concerning.
Q: Do the kid mistakes make you wonder if you need to change the profile of the kids you recruit or the things you look for or is that just kids being kids?
FERENTZ: No, I think -- I'll share this with you the Phil Savage was here for the Michigan State game in 2002. Said good bye to me right before pregame. He was out there, was going to leave during the game. His comment was, he says, How you can give a scholarship out I'll never know. The statement was obvious what he meant.
You know, I've said this before, in the NFL they spend millions of dollars researching players that they're going to potentially recruit. They still make mistakes. But his point was, you know, it's really a crapshoot in recruiting, judging talent or all the other things.
So, you know, it's going to happen. The idea, again, is to maximize your percentages, however you want to look at it. There's a lot of projection on all fronts. But most importantly you're never sure how people are going to react on their own. A big part about going to college is making decisions on your own. It's a heck of a growth process, a heck of a transition. Some deal with it well. Some don't.
You know, from our end, again, we have to be proactive. Educationally we try to do our best there. We try to I think have the right responses when things happen so others can learn. I think we've done a pretty decent job there.
I'll throw our record up against anybody on that one. We've played against -- I don't want to go down that road, but this season alone, you know, there's -- I don't want to go down that road. I'll skip that one. Retract that statement, Your Honor.
Anyway, you know, we're doing all we can. It's part of life. I don't know if it runs in cycles or not. I haven't studied it. But I know this: when you go through one, it's not fun. It's not something we want to be dealing with.