Oct. 8, 2012
• Watch Bielema News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema spoke about the win over Illinois and the upcoming trip to West Lafayette in this week’s Monday press conference.
Archived video of the media session is available through the link above, and a complete transcript of Bielema's remarks can be found below.
Bielema: After the film on Sunday, I gave some guys the MVPs I thought played pretty good football games offensively. I gave the offensive MVP to James White. Obviously, the screen play was a big hit, but also has done a lot of good things in other phases as well, including playing some special teams and being involved in certain situations. I thought that was his best game of the fall by far.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive MVP, we gave it to Mike Taylor, but I did note, I coached linebackers my entire coaching career, have been a head coach and a coordinator, and I didn't know of any other time during my career when all three linebackers had charted over ten tackles each. And I actually had Brian (Lucas) reach out to try to find out if it's been done in Big Ten play recently. I can't remember watching a game or seeing anything like that. Hats off to those three guys and what they did.
And our special teams MVP went to Kyle French. I thought that play where he hit the 46 yard field goal on the right hash at that point in the game was a critical, critical play, and he did an exceptional job there and has been hitting the ball really well during practice the last couple of weeks, especially from that same distance, that same spot. Excited for those guys. I thought there was a tremendous amount of improvement overall. At the end of the game, felt really, really good the way the guys closed it out in the fourth quarter.
Obviously, went through some speed bumps in the first half and a little bit in the third quarter, but when you sit back and look at it, I do think our team, for however many weeks in a row, has taken a step forward again to get to 4 2.
Really excited about the opportunity to get a couple of guys back. We were a little bit healthier on Saturday than we've been over the last three to four weeks. I think that made a huge difference, especially on the defensive side of the ball, getting Brendan Kelly and Pat Muldoon back on defense was huge, especially in the fourth quarter when we needed pressure on the quarterback.
And then Shelton Johnson back in the back end, as well as Peniel Jean will be back full go with us for the first time of all fall. Getting guys back and making plays.
The other guy I wanted to point out offensively, Jared Abbrederis. I know you saw the stats they put in the press release, but for what he's doing offensively, he did a nice job coming in as a punt returner and making a big play happen there as well. Just very, very impressive.
Obviously, the touchdowns and the long strikes are huge. What he does, he was a key factor and a key block on the James White touchdown, a key block on several running plays for James. That kid is an incredible football player and deserves all the recognition he's getting.
Question: Bret, given Jared's (Abbrederis) value to your team, it might be a risk to put him back on punt return, but what he can give you on punt return given that your offense isn't humming, do you give him that shot again this week?
Bielema: First, I like to give guys roles. But Kenzel (Doe) had a big return too, called back by an obvious penalty from Nick Hill. You go back, and one of the things you do is you go back and watch those earlier games. I remember watching the Penn State Northwestern game get greatly affected by a kid that mishandled the punt. So when I saw the wind whipping the way it did, that's when I made the decision to defer the coin toss in addition to really paying attention to how we were going to handle punt returns, just catching it.
When he put the first one on the ground, get with it. When that second one hit the ground, I knew where we needed to go. We'll play this week and see what happens, see where we end up on Saturday.
Question: You mentioned the return of Shelton Johnson and (Peniel) Jean. Will Shelton help you more with his head or what he can do physically? And how do you get Jean involved? Is it special teams at least to start out?
Bielema: Shelton, first off, is a guy for two years has commanded back there. I will give credit to Des (Dezmem Southward). I thought he made a huge jump during his absence. Des probably got better in the last three games than any of the previous three game stretch he's been involved with. That was a great experience. When you say using his head, mentally, exactly.
(Shelton) Does a good job for us. Has good gamesmanship to him. Really didn't practice at all last week until a little bit on Thursday, and that's why we didn't start him. He obviously saw a need to jump in there.
And P.J. (Peniel Jean), probably before the season started, would have been our starting nickel. Darius Hillary has great reps there. Darius hasn't done anything to be replaced, but he gives us added depth. So we're dancing at the corner if anything were to happen to Devin (Smith) and Marcus (Cromartie) through a couple games there.
Question: Jared (Abbrederis) didn't come in as one of those guys that was highly touted. When did you think there was something special, not just a guy that can contribute, but really be there?
Bielema: I remember coach bringing his tape in and telling me the story with the numbers in high school and the numbers in state track meet. He was a guy we were really excited about. We recruited him on a walk on. He got into the camp based solely on he was going to be our spread quarterback.
When he did that, he was making play after play after play. Tough, probably weighed about 150 pounds soaking wet. I don't know what he weighed. Just real scrappy, real aggressive. Great kid, great demeanor.
And then when we started bowl prep that year, I suggested that he do one of two things, either move to DB or move to wide receiver at the position that both of those spots I think he could play at. Obviously, moved to wideout and instantly took a big jump just in a short number of practices. And then in that fall really did some special things to make people see him.
If I'm not mistaken, really his first critical plays were in the return game, when we started putting him back there as a punt return, kick return guy.
Question: Obviously, all the Big Ten games count the same, but given the way the leaders division is shaping up with Penn State and Ohio State. Any added significance to this Purdue game? Those are the two teams perceived to be fighting it out to play in Indianapolis.
Bielema: It's our second obviously, our third Big Ten game. We’re 1 1. All the games matter. It doesn't matter if they're in the Leaders or in the Legends. Your overall record is of the utmost importance. Purdue has only played one game. I get it. Everybody knows it.
But really it's a one game approach. As coaches, as football players, you can't take any other perspective other than that.
Question: Bret, they said yesterday you guys are going to continue to look at Curt (Phillips) in that package at the line, and he hadn't played since the end of 2009. What do you hope, as he gets a little more of the rust off, that he can give you in that play?
Bielema: Two things. Curt has a lot of respect, not only with the players, but with the coaches. I think he's a guy that battled through a lot of just for him to get on the field after three years says a lot about who he is and what he is.
I realize the outside world, when he popped in there, that people thought it was a reaction to everything. It was just finally a chance to get him out there. There was probably nobody more excited than Curt himself, but the players around him, Joel (Stave) included, it was something we probably repped at least five weeks in a row and looked really good. Probably looked his best on Wednesday when we were going good against good, our good offense versus our good defense.
Curt hit a couple of really big plays. Definitely a package we feel strongly about. Obviously, didn't work out well in those plays on Saturday, but it was the first time Curt had seen live action in three years. At that point, Illinois was pretty ramped up and going at it pretty aggressively. You saw what Michigan was able to do against Purdue in the spread look. So it's something that we definitely explore and hopefully continue to build.
Now that we know all the Big Ten games are conference games and you prepare for them the same, but in the second year of these divisions are you noticing if there are any maybe a little more intensity to these divisional games?
Bielema: No. I think every game in the Big Ten, whether it's Legends or Leaders. We went to Nebraska and competed our hearts out. I don't think we did it any less because they're in the other division.
Purdue is going to prepare and do everything they can to beat us on Saturday, and we will the same. Again, I know we have two divisions, and that's very important at the end of the year, but while you're trying to establish yourself in this league, it's important to have success in all Big Ten games.
Question: As an O linebackers coach, what's impressed you the most about your three linebackers, and how important is their speed?
Bielema: First off, you probably hit the nail on the head, Tom. I would say two things. They are very, very fast, but they are very, very intelligent. You can get those guys in a session, and Mike Taylor's had three linebackers… they've all had three linebacker coaches in three years.
The way they've adapted to that, and every one of those coaches within the first probably three or four practices of being around those kids, they talk about their football IQ. And then they're just very athletic. The guy that we gave him actually, you know what, I made a mistake. We actually gave the defensive MVP to Ethan Armstrong. We didn't give it to Mike Taylor.
And the reason we did it is he's been consistent. He probably doesn't get the headlines as much as Mike and Chris (Borland), but Army (Ethan Armstrong) was all over the place on Saturday, whether it's wide lateral plays, passing game, he just and then really they all kind of had that creative niche to make a play on the field that you never really practiced. That's just those football instincts taking over.
Question: Bret, I don't know were you surprised at all with the outcome of the Michigan Purdue game? And secondly, in your experience, after what happened to Purdue, do you expect them to even come out a little bit more fired up?
Bielema: I think Purdue, especially over there I remember our game last time there was a dogfight through three quarters. They probably got that's Danny's (hope) best team since he's been there. To watch the Michigan game, there were just some unfortunate things that went against Purdue early on. Michigan capitalized on some very, very good plays.
I think defensively Purdue might have the best front four in our league right now. They really inside especially, the two deep tackles. I think (Kawaan) Short is just he's powerful, he's quick, he's athletic, he's tall. He's got the ability to jump and explode and make big plays. I think he's got I haven't looked at the stat sheet, but I know when I was watching PAT field goal block, he's blocked or had his hands on three different PATs or field goals. So a very gifted football player.
Question: The linebackers, not to take away from their numbers, but how much does just the play of your line get on Saturday, especially with (Pat) Muldoon and (Brendan Kelly and those guys?
Bielema: Very good point. Linebacker play all starts with what's happening in front of them. Those guys occupy blockers. For the most part, our defensive line stays in appropriate gaps and plays the techniques that the linebackers are expecting them to play. So the ball gets funneled the way the linebackers can scrape and make plays.
It's just one of those things where, if everything's working right together, the linebackers should make plays. It's the way we funnel the football. It's the way we can make things happen for us defensively here for sure.
Question: The Texans are playing the Packers this week. I just wanted to ask you about J.J. Watt. Could you have envisioned he'd be this good this fast in the NFL starting on second team?
Bielema: To be honest, I haven't seen a single snap of J.J. this year. I've just read and heard people comment. As far as, would I be surprised? No. He's just got that extra heartbeat.
I did get a kick out of… somebody came in from the Houston paper two weeks ago. They were doing a big story on J.J. and came and interviewed Derek (Watt) as well and interviewed me. His family, and they brought up a point that the guy he was going against that week had made a comment that J.J. wasn't really that special. He just played harder longer than everybody else.
I'm like, yeah, exactly. Point taken. That's why he's better than most people. He waits for you to have one moment of weakness, and he'll capitalize on it.
The thing that did shock me is probably why he's making more plays, especially at that level. I was taken back when I saw him… I hadn't seen him in a good six months, and I bumped into him at a UNI game, and just how big physically he is. Kind of like Matt Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy left here as a 250 pound kid, and he addressed the team last week, and he's weighing close to 300 pounds and looks like they're supposed to look. That's probably the biggest factor why he continues to make plays.
Question: Bret, (Joel) Stave and a couple of the linemen made a big point after the game saying he had more freedom to change some plays at the line and what a big factor that was in the fourth quarter? Is that just a sign of your growing confidence in him?
Bielema: Yeah, Joel, his arrow was so far up. That's the only part that got mixed in the message when we popped Curt (Phillips) in there. It was just, it was nothing more to try and give a little spark to a guy that needed it.
Joel… I think what's been fun for me to watch is his growth within the game. I think that first game is kind of just managing what's going on. Second game, you begin to have a little bit more feedback. The third game, he definitely had a better understanding of why things were happening in a certain way as the game wore on, as Nebraska changed and adapted and shifted.
The thing that's been important… very impressive to me is just his resiliency. He's gotten hit a couple of times, and his ability to stand up and make good plays. He's really having fun with it. I think the kid's on cloud nine. He's enjoying every minute of it.
Our linemen, I constantly ask the players that are in the huddle with him, they talk about the way he just kind of sends the message in the huddle. Very confident with the way he approaches things and does a lot of really good things. He's improvised and made some plays as well that's impressive.
Question: I guess the old adage in football that you have to throw to open up the running game – excuse me. To get the run to open up the passing game. But given the way teams you mentioned before have tried to make you play and with the success you've had throwing on first down with play action. Can you throw to open up the running game with this team and the way you're set up?
Bielema: I don't know which way it works, but whichever way it has to happen, we'll make it happen. When Abby (Jared Abbrederis) wasn't in there, I think the vertical threat of our passing game was not as prevalent as we’d like, and that was what allowed those teams really to hunker down in there and not be as open in the run game as we would like.
Since the return of Abby (Jared Abbrederis), the numbers that he puts up draws a lot of attention, but it also just scoring opportunities. We've missed a couple of big hits, but on the same account, they're right there. You have to defend them. I think that's the part. You look at the offensive numbers from the first three games versus the second three, the last three games, they're night and day. Averaging over 30 points a game the last three weeks. The production of our run game and our offensive production per play and in the red zone, and some possessions, I believe I saw, where any time we're taking the ball on our side of the 50, we've had seven out of nine touchdowns. Those are things that we're used to.
Everybody just wants to go back. I think everybody likes to be a little negative Nelly. That’s why I think we just concentrate more on what's happened to us of late, we'll be a better off football team.
Question: Give us your thoughts on how Devin Smith has progressed this season coming off his injury.
Bielema: Devin's had a nice campaign. I think going back to last spring, you know, he's still kind of coming back from the foot. Didn't know how he was. Ben Herbert and I had talked a little bit in fall camp that we thought Devin was moving like he was the previous year, playing with confidence.
Really probably played his most complete game on Saturday, the only thing we got frustrated on was the touchdown, the last touchdown. He kind of lost track of his man in the back of the end zone, and he got his eyes got lost.
Proof will be in the pudding. A lot of the NFL guys come through, asking a lot of questions. Devin is very quick, he’s very athletic, he’s very intelligent. Business school guy, that going to graduate here and have a business degree from the University of Wisconsin. It doesn't just happen to everybody. He's kind of got all the intangibles that, if he can keep it together, he’s going to have an opportunity at the next level.
Question: Bart Miller said yesterday he anticipated getting (Kyle) Costigan back as a starter. If he's healthy, what can he give you that he maybe gave you in the couple of games he started?
Bielema: I think Kyle, kind of like Joel (Stave), different position, but nobody wants to write about right guard. His arrow is straight up. He's aggressive, smart, nobody cares more than him. He's a very physical football player. He really enjoys the physical aspect of playing football, whether it's push a guy down, knock him down, give him a little extra after the play's gone by. He just really enjoys it.
I think he'll be cleared for practice tomorrow. They really felt… we haven't had our staff meeting yet today. We got it at 2 p.m. The trainers thought, and I just saw him walking through the office yesterday, compared to last week, it was night and day. He should be back in there at right guard, which really then allows us to have a little more depth, will allow us to use some big packages we used in the Nebraska game as well.
Question: You talked about the improvement your team has made over the last number of weeks. I'm just curious, is the most telling or important improvement that you've seen what the offensive line did in I think you said, manhandling, I think you said, Illinois late in that game?
Bielema: Without a doubt. I think anything I've been a part of as a head coach and where I like this program to be, it all starts up front, offensively and defensively. I appreciate Jeff's comment about the linebackers. The reason the linebackers are playing well is because the D line plays well. The reason we play well at running back, wide receiver and quarterback is if the offensive line plays well.
Bart's (Miller) done a nice job. You've got to keep in perspective that the things they had been practicing, working, teaching, and becoming part of who they were dramatically changed after Oregon State. I knew at that point it wasn't going to be something to change overnight, but I knew there would be change, and it's been going in the right direction. Extremely happy with where it's at.
In the fourth quarter, to see that little bounce in their step. It's kind of neat to see those linemen there. Montee (Ball) would have a big play running down the field, there was like three linemen waiting to grab him and pick him up and pull him out of the hands of the Illinois tacklers. Send a little message that, hey we’re here to protect this guy, we’re going to let him run and that was really probably the most enjoyable part of the game for me more than anything was the way the offensive line played in the fourth quarter.
Question: You mentioned (James) White was your MVP. How much did he need that type of game considering, a strong freshman year, he’s had an up and down career as far [indiscernible] go?
Bielema: Not really. James has been a guy that we've counted on him being. He’s been the first guy last year, when Montee (Ball) was on his roll, came in and volunteered for special teams. I'm happy because he kind of had the spark there that changed the momentum in the first half. That was a huge play. Obviously, some really nice blocks by Freddy (Travis Frederick), and I believe Zach (Matthias) was out there, Abby (Jared Abbrederis) had a block down the field, but he outran the guys to the end zone.
And the neat part about that… I can't remember who was asking questions in here… but thinking that our running backs were mad or upset. They're frustrated because we're a 4-2 team. They want to be better than that. Those guys love to compete for one another. No one enjoys it better than those guys. Montee and James live together. The flip side of it, if anybody tried to take it down the road of any of our quarterbacks being upset, I think Joel Stave had it I love seeing Curt (Phillips) out there. He loves the opportunity for Curt to show himself.
That's our guys. That's what I know. That's what I see every day. It really doesn't concern me too much when we maybe don't have quite the numbers. Winning cures a lot of different things.
Question: Bret, I went back and watched the telecast of the second half of the Illinois game, and there was a comment by one of the announcers saying that James White was running like he did as a freshman. Is that a fair comment?
Bielema: Probably because he was going for a touchdown. Actually, the touchdown was the first half. He looked explosive. I do think… he had the knee surgery last year. I think there were some times where physically he wasn't where he wanted to be, but it was fun.
His mom and dad make every game. Tyrone and Lisa White. I don't care if it's Nebraska. I don't care if it's this weekend when we show up in Lafayette, they're going to be standing in the hotel lobby dressed in Badger gear from head to toe. They love that kid. The dad made a comment to me two weeks ago like it's coming. It's coming. He can see it. His grandmother, I believe in everything she says. Because anything she says to me ends up coming true. She told me two years ago we were going to win a championship after the third game, so I tend to believe her.
It's just one of those kids that can't be denied good things. Good things happen to good people.
Question: You mentioned how good Kawann Short is. What is the challenge for your guards specifically going against him?
Bielema: Center guards and you know there’ll be times, a time where the guard tackle combination. I think the one thing we have to do is stop penetration at the line of scrimmage. He's very effective when he gets penetration, either by movement or just whipping a guy at the line of scrimmage. They had to rotate a number of guys through there.
I know (Bruce) Gaston went out in the game. I don’t know where he’ll be at athletically but a kid we recruited very, very hard. A guy I really liked in the recruiting process. I have a lot of respect for those guys and the way they play. They’ve got a number of other guys as well that do good things. But I think penetration at the line of scrimmage, not allowing them to disrupt the running game is a big part.
Question: You mentioned jumbo packages with your linemen. Kind of curious, earlier in the year you were optimistic that Dallas Lewallen might play a role somewhere. Is he going to be a factor. Is he just not healthy enough yet?
Bielema: It is strictly health related. He wasn’t even cleared last week. I do think he'll be available for practice Tuesday, but it’s just, he's got… unfortunately, he's had a lot of trauma to that one knee. Nobody is trying harder than him. Nobody would like to have him out there more than us and his family and everybody else, but it's just not been there yet.