Sept. 20, 2010
• Watch Bielema's Press Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema spoke with the media at Monday's press conference. A transcript can be found below.
Bret Bielema: First off, just on behalf of our coaching staff, give our thoughts and concerns out to [Michigan State] Coach [Mark] Dantonio, a guy that’s very well respected in our business and obviously someone that’s going through a difficult time, so just all thinking of him.
Sunday’s film was a very enjoyable and educational film to watch. I really thought that the things that we believe in and preach here came through big time as the game wore on. I really felt, from an offensive standpoint, that [we] imposed [our] will on that defense and did some things down the stretch. It wasn’t pretty all the way through, but you can definitely notice a change in the way that their defensive players reacted to some of the things that were going on and ultimately, to be able to grind that clock out at the end was very, very nice.
Defensively, all week we didn’t want to give away freebies. To watch the way the kids rallied and played and gave up some plays, but to keep the ball out of the end zone there until the final gun on that last drive, was something that we need to make sure we get corrected. But I really, really thought it showed some things. Also in the kicking game, huge educational opportunities for a couple of our guys to get better as well as coaches to understand some things.
We recognized our offensive MVP, Lance Kendricks was off the charts. Obviously seven catches for  yards, but just the way he’s playing and competing and making that difference in our run game is really, really jumping out on film. Defensively, Louis Nzegwu had a game that we kind of thought he’d been able to do that, but he really, really jumped out, is beginning to understand the details of playing defensive end and having some success, and he’s a very athletic guy.
The guy that’s probably played also his best defensive game to this standpoint, Jay Valai. We gave him the special teams MVP and slashed him with Shelton Johnson. Both those guys made huge plays that were big differences in obviously the game; nothing too hard to point out to you there.
Our offensive scout, Dallas Lewallen, a young man from Berlin [Wis.], is going to be another strong candidate to be a great offensive lineman here down the road. He’s really impressed us in what he does every day in practice. Our defensive scout, Marcus Trotter, who emulated #7 [Vontaze Burfict] for Arizona State all week, really bought into that. His great Ray Lewis imitations all week were kind of fun to watch, and he did a great job and it hopefully made us better for Saturday.
So with that, Austin Peay is a team, obviously, that comes in and they came up with a big win last week in a rivalry game for them and are going to come into Camp Randall and see what we’ve been able to do on film and try to exploit the things that we haven’t done well. But really on our guys this week about preparing, getting in, I made a huge emphasis last week, even though we were playing Arizona State, about getting into a routine of preparation and winning.
How you handle Sunday, now we’ve got full course load. Now they’re into heavy academics. They’re trying to balance all the little things that come up in their daily lives, and hopefully they kind of got it under wraps last week and now to continue forward, because this is the way it will be for the next several weeks going forward. So excited about the week and the opportunity that we got.
QUESTION #1: Bret, do you have any update on Chris Borland on whether it’s . . . and also like some of the other guys, like [Nick] Toon, [David] Gilreath, etc.?
BIELEMA: Yeah, sorry. Chris, no, don’t have anything further. He’ll actually go through some things today. I actually just texted him about an hour ago. He’s busy with classes and everything today ‘til 5:00, so he and I are going to have a conversation later today. Don’t really have anything, just the clarification. I know a couple people have asked, basically the NCAA rule allows you to play in four games in the first half of the season, or in the first six games. Chris has only played in two games at this point. So technically, he’d be able to play in two of the next three, but we’re only going to put him out there if it’s in his best interest, and obviously the health and safety of him.
I would say Nick Toon and David Gilreath both have a chance for this weekend, but haven’t been cleared as of yet. If we had to play a game tomorrow, they wouldn’t be involved. But you know, they both got increasingly better as the week wore on last week. So David pointed out that he was excited that his name was scrolling across the bottom of the ESPN ticker because he wasn’t going to play. He wished it was because he had done something really good, but he did find entertainment in that. But I think that was about it, right?
QUESTION #2: What did you think of the Badger package without [Chris] Borland, and if he’s out for a while, what kind of things have to happen to make up for that?
BIELEMA: Well, it was a double-edged sword there, Tom. Behind Chris, his backup was David Gilbert. And David didn’t get cleared until Thursday for contact. I think you guys interviewed him on Wednesday and he still was non-contact there. So we couldn’t rep him. A.J. [Fenton] was in that role a little bit. Also because of the pace that Arizona State played, we couldn’t get the Badger package out there as much as we would normally against a team that allows us to do that.
Moving forward, I don’t foresee Chris being in this week’s game plan, so we go back to being David, as well as a couple other candidates that we’ve looked at for the position that Chris normally holds, including Mike Taylor.
QUESTION #3: Speaking of [Mike] Taylor, what improvement did you see in him, if any, from his first game to his second game, and where do you think he is in terms of his confidence with the knee and trying to get back to just playing the game?
BIELEMA: Two plays jumped out to me, which will never show up on, well, it will show up. The play that we had them backed up on the goal line and then they popped out and made a nice run, the kid kind of tripped over his feet, Mike on that play snapped and jerked the player that he was going against down in a pretty quick, powerful fashion. He really put his foot in the ground. I just saw it during the course of the game, him sticking the knee in the ground that’s been an issue for him and really, really doing some things.
So I like also then Gary [Johnson], our trainer, told us that, on Sunday Mike basically made the comment that he felt really good on Sunday and felt good during the game, so I think that was a big game for him to get through mentally.
QUESTION #4: Bret, you’ve had such a good run at tight end. Lance [Kendricks] is just obviously the latest. Is that due to the kids you’ve had or is it the way [offensive coordinator] Paul [Chryst] uses the position or what do you think’s gone into that?
BIELEMA: I believe it’s a combination of a couple things. First off, before I even came here there had been a little bit of a tradition there with the tight ends, and little bit different. I remember Mike [Roan]. I don’t know if he caught a ball deeper than five yards, but he was very effective in what they did. And I say that because I like Mike, and I got a good relationship with him, but.
It kind of started with Owen Daniels and then Travis [Beckum] right away popped into that role. Garrett [Graham] was there, and really Lance, over the last couple years, I remember, you guys probably remember the Michigan State game was when he was going to really first get a lot of reps and he broke his leg on, I want to say, the first series or second series. And we were so excited in that game, because we thought that might be a breakout one for him, because not a lot of people knew about him.
But Lance, I’ll give credit to Coach [Paul] Chryst and also to Coach [Joe] Rudolph have just done a great job of honing his skills. Lance is, if you took a vote, I bet you our kids would say he’s one of the top five workers in our program. [He] just does not do anything but just works, grinds, has become very, very smart at football. Before he had been a wide receiver and hadn’t been really involved in physical football play until probably the last three years of his career here, and now he’s really understanding aiming point, inside hand, being able to execute certain blocks. I just think he’s playing as good of football as we’ve seen at that position.
QUESTION #5: As an old defensive guy, how difficult is it when coach does all the things that [offensive coordinator] Paul [Chryst] does with tight ends?
BIELEMA: I think it’s significant, Tom. If you really looked at, which I’m sure you’ll do now, if you look at the games where our tight ends have had a lot of success, it’s a lot of times in non-conference games, because the tight end, even when we’re recruiting tight ends nationally, a lot of times it’s versus Big Ten schools, and that’s about it. Iowa uses the tight end. Michigan State uses the tight end. Occasionally now we’ll get into battles with Stanford, depending on what kind of academic background he’s from.
But in Big Ten play, people know how to defend the tight end. But you go to last year’s games, Hawaii, you go to Miami, Arizona State, it really jumps out to me over the last couple years that those bigger games, for that position in particular, came against non-conference opponents.
QUESTION #6: Bret, you mentioned at the top, the return problems . . . or excuse me, the coverage problems that came up Saturday, and you said that some coaches learned some things about kids. Can you expand on that, what you guys learned?
BIELEMA: Yeah. I think that group in general, there were some players that had done some good things in the first couple games, but if, for instance, one of the guys that made the play on the last one was really good on that last one, but the two prior needed to be better on. It’s just a learning curve with those kids that you go through. As coaches, we really got to get it across. I thought Coach [Charlie] Partridge did a nice job by letting him give a little talk yesterday about special teams.
Everybody in my room, I got 120 kids, there’s seven or eight of those kids that came to Wisconsin to be on special teams. That’s my punter, kickers, and long snappers. Everybody else came here with dreams and aspirations of being the starting tailback, tight end, safety, linebacker. They don’t come here and say I want to be the right guard on punt team. It’s just not there. But it’s up to us to breed that mentality into them and hopefully that’s something that’s going to be big down the stretch run.
QUESTION #7: Obviously, you’ve won the first three games, but is there any concern that you haven’t really put together a complete game with Big Ten play coming in two weeks?
BIELEMA: I get where you’re coming from with that, but again, every game is totally independent of each other. I learned that my first year. I remember, I believe we played Western Illinois, an FCS team. It was a fought-out game for four quarters. Then we turned around and do what we did the rest of that year. It’s just the things that you go through, and it’s the things that we do as coaches.
A little bit probably has to do with the style of play that we run. We’re not looking to set records for points and all that goes into it. [Athletic Communications Director] Brian [Lucas] pointed out to me this is the second week in a row or the second time this year where we’ve taken a knee in the red zone. I got an e-mail from a San Jose State fan that thanked us for not running up the score. Well, I wasn’t trying, I was just trying to get out of the ball game.
You know, but those things show up statistically that you don’t even think about. So now we had one more missed opportunity in the red zone. Well, it was by choice. I took a knee. So those things don’t bother me as much as the results, and the results are three wins.
QUESTION #8: Two part question. On the offensive line, you got a couple slashes at right guard and right tackle. Are those positions going to be evaluated during the week? And specifically about right guard, you said again after the game, you’re waiting for someone to take hold of that position. At some point, if someone doesn’t, don’t you guys just have to say, you know what, we’re going with this guy?
BIELEMA: Yeah, this is the week. We’ll kind of go with the same plan at right guard between Billy Nagy and [Kevin] Zeitler, give them pretty much equal reps during the course of the week. Billy will get the nod as of right now, unless something changes during the course of the week. And then at right tackle, Ricky Wagner played really, really well. He did. He played very, very well. Josh [Oglesby] is way ahead of where we thought he was going to be from a rehab standpoint. He was itching to play on Saturday. They just won’t clear him yet. My guess is he’ll probably get cleared at some point this week to put him back in there. But the way Ricky played, I don’t see that changing before Saturday.
And you know what, I think all those linemen, they take a lot of pride in the way John Clay, his numbers are. They’re well aware that he’s a guy that’s got nine 100-yard games in a row, and that’s the longest in college football. John’s up for a lot of awards, and I think they’re taking a lot of pride in establishing that mentality for him as well.
QUESTION #9: Bret, you mentioned [Michigan State] Coach [Mark] Dantonio at the start. Could you put into words how stressful it is being a Division I football coach?
BIELEMA: This is a job that I know, I think when I was a [graduate assistant] I felt pressure to get my scouting assignments done, and I honestly feel the same exact pressure. I’m sure it’s in a much larger fashion, but it doesn’t ever feel that way to me now. I can’t say maybe my first year or two that wasn’t the case. But for me, I’m very comfortable in what I do and how I go about it and what I believe in, and I don’t know if that puts me at peace.
Is it stressful? It’s stressful, but I never, I see some guys that I work with or I go against, and I’m like, whew, he’s really stressed. I think I have a unique perspective too. I come home to a house with no lights on. And I love a family. I mean, I plan on having a family at some point. I keep saying that. Don’t ask my mom. But I think the part that is different for me, I always reference for instance, Friday night, Coach [Dave] Doeren’s son, Luke, stayed in the hotel because it was a later kickoff. So sometimes the guys will bring or let their kids come. It’s a big deal.
And Luke was in my room. We [were] watching the Friday night football game. I can’t even remember what it was. And I asked him a question, and he gave me an unbelievable answer, as he should, because he’s, I think he’s eight years old or however. And I was just laughing. And Dave’s like, ‘I get that every night, buddy.’
I don’t get that venue. But on the same account, when those guys spend so much time away from their families, I think that is another added pressure that I don’t ever have to go through. And it’s by choice, but it’s another venue. I remember I called Coach [Joe] Rudolph after the San Jose State game, because I needed a cell phone number of a prospect I was trying to get, and I heard his two kids just screaming in the back. And I hung up the phone, and I started laughing, I go because I don’t know that world.
I think that’s one area where, for me, that avenue is probably a benefit because I don’t have that stress.
QUESTION #10: What’s James White doing to push for more playing time, and do you need to see something more out of Montee Ball?
BIELEMA: James’ first play there you saw him make that guy miss, and he’s got a lot of talent. James does certain things very, very well that we think he’s different than John [Clay] and Montee. So he’s going to get more attempts.
And Montee is a guy that, of the three, probably needs to get it going a little bit more, but he had a nice catch for us, did a nice job of getting a first down. [He] picked up, he had a chip block, for you guys that really watch the film, where we ask him to help a guard on his release. And he took one of their guys, I believe he’s 325 pounds, and put him flat on his back by just giving him a shoulder. So he’s doing enough things too to get us excited, and I just like the way the three of them are handling it.
QUESTION #11: I know you guys preach next man in, but if [Chris] Borland is out for an extended period of time, is there any way you can replace what he brings?
BIELEMA: Chris brings so many things that you guys see, that I see. You know, everybody says to me last week, we’re excited to see 44 back. Well, I was excited to see 44 back. But he also has some intangibles that go way beyond football. Chris’s personality, the character, the person he is, he would be a definite loss, but I also really like the resolve on Saturday that no one flinched when anybody else went in. Jared Abbrederis knew he was going to have a good game. Ricky Wagner knew he was going to have a good game. Isaac Anderson and Lance Kendricks knew they needed to step up that much more. So you know, if Chris isn’t in there, which he’s not going to be this week, I expect Blake Sorensen, I expect Culmer [St. Jean], I expect [Kevin] Claxton, whoever it is to step up, and they’ll do it. They’ll do it.
QUESTION #12: Bret, you mentioned taking a knee a couple times in the red zone. Are you ever tempted to play that . . . poll game, impress the pollsters, or don’t you care?
BIELEMA: Not at all. I don’t. I think then you’re playing outside of the game. I understand it and if that costs us. I know we got moved up to No. 10 in one poll, and we stayed 11 in the other because Arkansas, I think, went past us. I never, I’m going to take notice of it, I mean, I’m not putting my head in the sand, but I will never change what I believe is right from a football perspective for anything to do with a poll or winning pretty or anything like that.
QUESTION #13: You talked about [Louis] Nzegwu at the beginning. With his development, can you talk about the challenges of that position now with the read option and how tough it is on defensive ends and what you need physically out of those guys to do that?
BIELEMA: That’s a good question. Probably at this point in college football, more so than it’s ever been, you have defensive ends. I played defensive end [where you] just line up in a five technique and get up field and occasionally take on some different schemes. But now you got to know if you’re on the front side of a zone read scheme or on the back side, if you’re a bender or if you’re a squeeze player. I mean, there’s a lot that goes into it, and fortunately for me, one of our strongest coaches on this staff is Charlie Partridge and has done a tremendous job.
I think the days of spread offenses have really educated our defensive coaches now on how to be successful and techniques to be used, so. And that’s why I think Louis, you really saw a light bulb come on this year in his preparation and a better understanding. I think him and J.J. [Watt], they live together, I think it does a nice balance for those guys too to kind of talk shop on their own and become better when we’re not around.
QUESTION #14: I think you may have addressed this last year with O.B. [Schofield] a little bit, but why do you have the ends stand up again, is it to give them a better look?
BIELEMA: Look and also teams sometimes are moving backs. Like for instance, they moved backs out of the backfield and you have certain keys and awareness on what they’re doing. On certain techniques, we’re playing at the line of scrimmage, guys, if it’s really just based on preference, like to stand up versus be down on the ground. And you know, Louis, he thinks he should be a linebacker anyway, so that’s the former tailback in him.
QUESTION #15: I think like half a dozen FCS teams have won this year. Is there any common denominator as to what kinds of teams are winning those games or losing those games, I guess?
BIELEMA: Well, we’ve had more so this year than ever before. I just had an article last week that I printed off, knowing we were going to be this week. I sat and watched Virginia Tech and Boise State play one heck of a football game, and then heard what happened to them. Obviously, we’ve had one here in our conference. Jacksonville State, I believe, is in the same conference as Austin Peay, and they took care of Mississippi. So there are things that are very real about this.
As we’ve gotten below the 95 scholarships, down to 85, and I believe they’re allowed 65 or whatever it is, that playing field has gotten closer and closer. I think it’s a combination of, A, they’ve raised their level of ability and also just you catch teams that are in bad situations and maybe not at full strength and bad things happen.
QUESTION #16: Do you even need to say anything to your guys about the FCS, especially with the battles that you guys have had in the past, as you mentioned?
BIELEMA: Well, I do. I talk about every opponent, so it’s just bringing things up that are pertinent. On Sundays, we really like to take a bigger picture of the world of college football. That’s what we do. I brought up to the staff that Tom just mentioned, and it’s still 11 on 11 and it’s playing football. I know our guys can see on film that they play very, very hard. The game that they just won this past weekend was a four-quarter game that they won in the end, and it’s fun to watch teams compete and do that.
QUESTION #17: What did you think of J.J. Watt at defensive tackle and is that mostly going to be looked against spread teams or do you like it for others as well?
BIELEMA: That was actually more, Tom, based on getting pass rush on the field. There were definitely some things that were good about it, but also things that he doesn’t know just because he hasn’t played the position. A lot of times people will put your best pass rusher at the three technique, because that’s the guy that gets single blocked the most, and that’s what we were trying to do there. But there was some, some of those throws the quarterback was getting there was big separation between our tackles, and we just got to make sure we correct that on film.