Sept. 27, 2010
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MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema met with the media at his weekly news conference on Monday. He looked back at the win over Austin Peay and previewed the team's Big Ten opener at Michigan State. A full transcript can be found below.
Bret Bielema: Very excited to get into Big Ten play. We did recognize offensively, well, Bradie Ewing, you can’t get an MVP with two touchdowns, you got to have four, so we gave it to James White [who] was also recognized as the Big Ten Freshman Player of the Week. And fun to see him grow and get those touchdowns. That was really neat for his confidence.
Also on defense, gave it to Aaron Henry, who has probably played his most two complete games back to back. Special teams-wise, we gave it to Kyle Zuleger. Offensive scout was Joey Brennan, who really had a nice week for us, really the last couple weeks, really grown into his own. And then defensive scout, Frank Tamakloe. Frank is a player from out in the D.C. area who is really exciting. He’s a guy that I think, down the road, could be a pretty good safety for us.
As far as where we’re at right now, from a health standpoint, I am very excited because, probably since fall camp started, this is the healthiest we’ve been, excluding, of course, Chris Borland. All the other guys should be back in full action. We’re able to rest a few guys in the second half Saturday, which was critical, because there are a number of guys that we didn’t know if they were going to be able to actually play in a game. And for us to be able to get those things done on Saturday, without them being out there, was very, very big in our preparation for this week.
Michigan State, we’ve had very close games with them during my tenure here and, [we] know that going up there is a tremendous challenge. I think they’re rolling pretty good as a 4-0 football [team], as well. They’ve done a lot of good things offensively, defensively. Their quarterback is playing very, very well. And as always, Michigan State has a lot of great skill players on both sides of the football, and to me, they might feature the best defensive player from last year’s film, and he’s playing at a high level this year, Greg Jones. [He] is a guy that is just really, really something special to watch and to see how he goes about his business.
So I’m excited about the opportunity, and I’ll open it up for questions.
QUESTION #1: Bret, Michigan State has an efficient quarterback, three good runningbacks, a good freshman, big receivers, good run defense. Does that sound familiar at all to you?
BIELEMA: You know, they do. I met [Michigan State head coach] Mark [Dantonio], I think I met him at an [American Football Coaches Association] convention with Bobby Stoops. He was hanging out with Bobby and began to talk a little bit. As his profession grew, I went and cliniced with him when he was at Ohio State, and I could tell right away he’s a guy that thinks along the same lines, background that I came from. Especially now more than ever, their offense and our offenses are very, very similar. They’re lining up with two backs in the backfield. They’ll spread you out and do different things, but similar to what we’ll do.
Defensively, a lot of the same coverages, same type of fronts, they like to bring pressure. It all starts up front with both teams, so it is comparable. I used to just think in this league it was probably just us and Iowa that were so similar, but now I definitely throw [Michigan State in too], just because of the change that they’ve had offensively. I think those three teams are very similar in the way they approach things.
QUESTION #2: Bret, along those lines, a year ago, they were much more pass heavy, and I don’t know if it was just personnel or not, but when you look at those two runningbacks on tape that they’re relying on, what do you see?
BIELEMA: The first game I watched from a perspective of looking at a defense against them was the Notre Dame [game]. You saw 24 [Le’Veon Bell] rolling in there, 22 [Larry Caper], and then 4 [Edwin Baker] was the back. I can’t even remember, but 4 was the one that broke it out with the huge run. He, in appearance, would be the guy that you’d think would be the bruiser, but he really did a nice job. He actually did the same thing in the Western Michigan game. So they’ve got three guys rolling through there. My guess is it’s good coaching, they’re taking advantage of their personnel.
I remember back last year, the quarterback situation wasn’t really settled, if I remember correctly. Now they definitely appear [set]. Actually number 7 [Keith Nichol] is playing wide receiver for them. So they’ve settled into what they do now better.
QUESTION #3: If I remember correctly, [Bradie] Ewing got a lot more work, at least this past game, than [Ryan] Groy at fullback. I didn’t see Groy in as much. Is that going to be a trend? Was that an experiment with Groy? Do you like Ewing better now?
BIELEMA: First off, Bradie’s playing exceptional. I really think now in his second year as a fullback, he understands what we’re asking to do, how to do it. He’s playing with a little bit of an anger to him, which is good. You guys saw the carries that he got, reminded you a little bit of probably the days back to Billy Rentmeester back there. As far as last week, Ryan, because of some issues at the offensive line, we wanted him to rep the whole week and practice the whole week at offensive line. This week going forward, we’ll do a little bit again with him now back at the fullback, get back to what we were doing before.
QUESTION #4: With [Bradie] Ewing’s success on Saturday, how are you going to split the carries between all four of those runningbacks?
BIELEMA: Bradie truly is, I mean he can play a little bit of running back for us, but the catch that he made and the runs that he had were at fullback. So that’s the part that, when that element is there for us. I believe the first two fullback belly plays, nobody hit him for the first seven or eight yards because they’re watching the tailbacks and everybody’s so focused on what they’re doing.
QUESTION #5: I know it’s early in the season, and you’re going to face better teams, but to this point, you guys are not being penalized much, if at all. What do you think the factors behind that have been so far?
BIELEMA: Going back to last January, we always kind of harped that it’s hard enough to win a football game. You can’t lose it to start with. And by that I mean, you can’t do things that take away your performance before you even get a chance to play, pre-snap penalties. To me, there’s a huge difference. We always call them unforced penalties, which means, I understand if you’re struggling, you’re straining, you’re trying to get to a ball carrier, and you catch a face mask once in a while. Or you’re straining and competing; Jake [Byrne] got called for a clip on Saturday. Well, now they’ve kind of told us it wasn’t. He started high and worked down.
I really like the clean play that [we] have, and it’s guys taking care of business. It means that they’re concentrating on the details, and I believe that we’re up there very high, not in the Big Ten, but also in the country. I always mark on Sundays when we take penalties by choice, and I believe we’re at four now. So it would be even lower if we didn’t have those babies in there.
QUESTION #6: Coach, you mentioned having all the guys back. Do you anticipate working Curt Phillips into the game plan this week?
BIELEMA: That’s a good point. Curt, to this point, is not cleared, and don’t know if he will be by Saturday, but we’re literally probably talking a week to two weeks for Curt to be involved. He practiced, actually, last night. We did a normal practice, and then at the end we did pretty much a live situation with our developmental, some of our twos were in there as well, and he took off on two different occasions running and looked really like Curt of old, so that was encouraging.
QUESTION #7: How do you go about keeping an eye and keeping a handle on a guy like Greg Jones?
BIELEMA: Greg is, the thing about him is he’s extremely powerful. I think they list him at 6’1, but I swear he’s taller than that. He’s got great power, but he’s also very elusive. He’s a guy, if you’ve got him covered up, he can make a wiggle and get unblocked in a hurry. For us and what we do, sometimes you have linemen pulling up on him, sometimes it’s tight ends, sometimes it’s a guard. Whoever is on him has got to cover him up and make sure he stays covered, because he has the ability, and you’ll see it already this year on film, he’ll be covered up for a minute, and all the sudden he’ll be in on the tackle just because he can engage and disengage a block so quickly.
QUESTION #8: You’ve talking about [David] Gilreath, that he practiced last week in a green jersey. What, has he been cleared for everything now or?
BIELEMA: Actually, tomorrow, Tuesday, is when he’ll officially get a ruling from the doctor in the morning if he’s cleared for contact. He’ll be in green, he may be in green the rest of his life here at Wisconsin. [There’s] no reason for him to absorb any hits or anything like that. Obviously Saturday [Michigan State] is going to be in green jerseys, so we’re not going to be allowed to wear one, but I don’t think they would pay attention to it if we did. And I think that’s the element that we all have to be aware of as far as when David comes back, got to assess exactly where he could fit in the return game because he’s been such a big part of that.
QUESTION #9: What did you learn personally from your last trip to East Lansing, now that you’ve had two years to reflect on it?
BIELEMA: I did more of that immediately after the season was done. I think we’re a totally different football team, and me as a head coach, I’m not totally different, but I’m quite a bit changed in the way that I handle the way I approach the game, the way I react to the game, hopefully. The part that I’ve mentioned to our players right after the game, and then we talked about it on Sunday, and we’ll hit on it tomorrow when we meet with them, last year I know there was a certain element of we just need to go out and perform what we do.
And it was kind of interesting, I know John Moffitt came up to me today, and he’s like, ‘Coach, I can play so much better than I did a year ago.’ It’s fun because now you got a lot of the same players that played in that game a year ago, and, yes, we won the game, but they realized that if they would have just played that much better, how much difference it could have been in the game. That’s the part that will really help propel us as we just keep moving forward. I don’t care what just happened this past weekend. The fact is we went out and executed in all three phases, and if we can keep that mantra going, which is what we preach, good things can happen.
QUESTION #10: Bret, at what point do you become concerned about your lack of turnovers? After four games, do you look at it and say that it seems . . .
BIELEMA: You mean from our defense . . .
QUESTION #10: Yeah, generating turnovers.
BIELEMA: I know it’s a thing that everybody focuses on, but if I saw that our guys weren’t making efforts to strip the ball, if I saw that there was a difference in how we were trying to create takeaways, but a lot of times takeaways are given to you. Guys drop a ball, guys do something. I think Arizona State, they didn’t have any against us, correct, then they had seven on Saturday. I witnessed the one where there was a ball, basically a backwards pass that wasn’t recovered. I think we ran into the same thing three or four years ago, and then all the sudden we had a game with three or four in a row that we had a bunch. So the good news is we’re not giving it away.
Defensively, I remember when I was a [defensive] coordinator, we used to always talk about having two [turnovers] per game, and you locked into that number, and if you were above it, you were happy, if you were below it, you would stress it. The part that I’ve learned, sitting in my seat, it’s the ratio that matters. It’s the turnover ratio. And because we haven’t been giving it away either, it’s probably not as glaring a statistic.
QUESTION #11: If you choose not to use David [Gilreath] on punt returns this weekend, and it comes down to a choice between [Jared] Abbrederis and [Aaron] Henry, do you factor in ‘Aaron’s my starting free safety, do I want to risk that?’ Or do you just say, ‘We’re going with the best guy?’
BIELEMA: No. It’s a legit question, one that we’ve already had discussions on. Another guy that can handle that, that we haven’t put on his plate, is James White. James has looked more than adequate. I was very happy with [Abbrederis]. He scared me with those two that he bobbled. And for those of you that know Camp Randall, that position on the field, with an 11:00 game, is a very tough fielding assignment for a high punt, and that’s what that guy was executing. As far as who’s going to do that on Saturday, it’s really kind of a progress in the making right now, and we’ll make a decision literally maybe up until Saturday game time.
QUESTION #12: I don’t know if any coach ever feels his team is totally prepared and ready for where they’re at now, going into the Big Ten Conference. But on a scale, I guess, where do you think your team is in terms of readiness to begin this next phase?
BIELEMA: I’m happy with where they’re at. We’re not anywhere close to being where I think we can be. But again, just because of the way we played each week I made a statement to our guys during Sunday’s meeting that what we’ve done every week is we’ve won the football game. We’ve put ourselves in a position to be where we are today. Each week they’ve gotten better, and for us to get to Saturday, they need to keep improving.
If we can keep that mentality there, but you never know. It’s going to be the first time on the road in a very hostile environment. Michigan State’s crowd will be all lathered up at a 2:30 game, and obviously because of Coach [Mark] Dantonio and the things they’re going through, there will be extra motivation there. But all we can do is worry about taking care of our business, and I think our guys are tuned into that.
I really do believe this group, especially the 70 guys that will hop on the plane with us, they really do believe in what we do. There are no wandering eyes. There’s no, ‘Oh, here we go again’ or anything. It’s just, ‘Okay, let’s just do what we do.’
QUESTION #13: Have you heard anything through the coaching grapevine about [Michigan State head coach Mark] Dantonio’s status this week or anything?
BIELEMA: I haven’t, Tom. But you know what, I think coaches in particular, when they know there’s connections or when you’re playing them, everybody just kind of stays away from one another and no conversation. So I haven’t heard. I was hoping you guys would give me information.
QUESTION #14: Most importantly today, given your upbringing and background, who will you be rooting for tonight, and do you have a prediction in the Packers/Bears game?
BIELEMA: No, but I do know it was prevalent on Sunday. Nate Tice’s father, obviously Mike, is the offensive line coach for the Bears, and I do know there are plenty of Packer fans on my team, so I was pimping Tice if he had any side wagers with any of the guys. It was just kind of fun because Jay Valai is an obnoxiously outspoken Cowboy fan, and when we let the seniors introduce to the freshmen there the first week, Jay got up and said something right away about the Cowboys and he got booed. And then Lance Kendricks got up and threw the Packers right back at him, so I’m sure that there’s some little jousting going on on that one.
QUESTION #15: Back to penalties for a second. Do you think that game at Michigan State two years ago was a turning point? And is it more than just harping on it, do you have to change the culture a little bit to, you know, reduce penalties like that?
BIELEMA: I don’t know if it’s a change in culture. It was never anything that had kind of popped up, but that year there was sloppiness and there was some unforced penalties, with mine included. So yeah there’s an emphasis on it. The other thing that we do, we probably after that season, we have our officials engaged in our practices in the fall and in the spring, more so than they ever have. Just the presence and the awareness of our guys, that they do make a difference, is very, very important for us to have success.
I point out all the time too, going into that Arizona State game, I made reference to their history. And so when it began to happen in that play at the end of the game, I made a huge deal of that on Sunday. I think Michigan State had 11 penalties last week as well, so it’s something that we’ve made our guys aware of, and they can’t partake in that on their reactions as well.
QUESTION #16: I assume it also helps, along those lines, you’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps for you in that way?
BIELEMA: Yeah. The frustrating part was there was two penalties back to back, and I think one was on Manasseh [Garner], and he was lined up a little bit wrong, and the next one they called on Jake [Byrne]. And I saw the play as it happened, and that’s why we sent him back in, because we didn’t think it was a penalty, and it ended up not being one. But you’re right, Jeff. I think guys, as they do things over and over, they know what they can and cannot do. It will be fun to see those guys continue to grow. And I know it’s important to them, which is huge.
QUESTION #17: When you look back at the first four games, are you happy with the amount of reps and carries John Clay had, and is he at the peak freshness level that you guys wanted and hoped for going into the Big Ten play?
BIELEMA: A couple of things will jump out to you. John is going to get yards, he’s going to get stats. [Athletic Communications Director] Brian [Lucas] just shared with me about the streak, the 10 games that he’s at and also scoring touchdowns. But really, that’s a byproduct of what we do. John benefits by being a tailback in our program, just like James [White] benefited and Montee [Ball] benefited. That’s the part that we can kind of recruit to here. You can come here and be that guy. If you don’t want to be him, then we’ll get somebody else and just do what we do.
Now John is very good at it. The thing I liked about Saturday is he wanted to be in there, and he realized that it was important for him to get his rhythm down and to start the second half and move forward. You see John going over, he’s as happy when Montee and James score as anybody. I don’t worry about his numbers or anything like that. I worry about his performance. That’s what we’re going off of.
If you guys remember back, if you do do your research, and Tom alluded to a couple things, the last time we went up there, we actually played pretty well, did enough stupid things to take away from getting us the victory, but John Clay had a very, very big game. I think that was one of his first ones where he kind of was the guy that stepped forward. So he’s been there, done that, and now has gotten even better at it. As long as we continue to win and put numbers on the board, he’s going to have those same type of numbers come through.
QUESTION #18: A lot of expectations on your offensive line, Bret. Have you been pleased with how it’s played and do you think they will respond to a challenge this week in a good run defense?
BIELEMA: I do. You have good competition going there with [Kevin] Zeitler and [Bill] Nagy. Because of the right tackle, we’ve had three starters in there, and every one of them wants to be that guy. So you got even probably more depth than I thought we would at this point. The point that I made to them is one thing that we maybe weren’t able to do last year was to sustain the rushing yards against the quality opponents and quality defenses, and obviously one comes on the table this week. I’d like to see what they’re going to do or how they’re going to handle it.
QUESTION #19: In the past few years, you guys have had two receiving threats at tight end, whether it’s Travis [Beckum] and Garrett [Graham], Garrett and Lance [Kendricks], and going into Big Ten play, you alluded to this last week, that teams can take away tight ends. Do you think [Jacob] Pedersen might be ready to give you that second threat, if needed, if teams really start to focus on Lance?
BIELEMA: I feel a lot better after Saturday, Jeff. I really do. Jacob, we wanted to get him a lot of reps. That’s why I took Lance out at half. I didn’t want him to be involved in that second half because I wanted to force it on Jake [Pedersen], it’s Jake and Jake, Jacob Pedersen and Jake Byrne. But that catch that Jacob [Pedersen] made in the end zone, that doesn’t just happen. He’s a guy that the reason we took him on high school film, there was one game where he like caught a touchdown, he ran a touchdown, he threw a touchdown, he saved a touchdown. Jacob is a very all-around good athlete, and now he’s probably 25 pounds heavier than when he came here, really understands the game now, and to see that smile on his face, that little play right there at the back of the end zone may have done more for him than anything I could say or do.
QUESTION #20: A follow-up on [John] Clay. Do you plan on using him more in Big Ten play?
BIELEMA: He had 100 yards. The week before, I believe it was 22 [carries]. We’re going to do what we have success [with]. I understand it’s a story, but what we’re doing is, I had this guy come up to me last Wednesday, we had a Mendota meeting. It was a younger guy who thought he knew a lot, and he came up and said, basically, ‘Are we going to get him involved more? He seemed to be really good at the beginning of the game, he seemed to be really good at the end of the game.’ I said, ‘Exactly. You answered your own question.’
What we want to do is have John for four quarters in as many games as we can hopefully have. We’re guaranteed 12 [games]. So if that’s the case, then we’re doing all right.
QUESTION #21: As I’m sure you’ve seen, Stanford has a player that is performing incredibly well on both sides of the ball. Is there one person on this team that you would, you haven’t seen play both sides, that you are convinced would really be a good two-way player?
BIELEMA: Unfortunately, you know, he’s out. Chris Borland I know could do it. And really, we had plans on doing that. It’s just unfortunate for him. So we got Manasseh [Garner] involved in it now. Manasseh has some traits as a player that are very, very natural to him on the defensive side of the ball, so that’s something we’re going to continue to explore. Bradie Ewing could probably be a two-way guy. As far as someone that just jumps out and says, ‘Hey, this guy can do both,’ it may sound silly, but Ryan Groy probably could be a very, very good defensive tackle. It’s just that he’s too valuable for us offensively. But to get a big guy that can run and has instincts like him are very unique.
QUESTION #22: Just out of curiosity, what were the plans for [Chris] Borland if he would have been able to play?
BIELEMA: We were going to use him, we used J.J. [Watt] at tight end, and we were using Chris, or going to use Chris as the fullback. He actually had that shoulder issue kind of pop up during fall camp. We had already sat down and had the meetings. Our tight end coach thought he could play tight end. Our running back coach thought he could play running back. And he probably could play quarterback. The neat thing for Chris is I think he’s gathering some information. He went and saw some people last week. He’s visiting another doctor today. And all the information he’s getting is very, very positive that the repair he’ll have we’ll be able to bring him back and get us playing back in the fall.