Oct. 11, 2010
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MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema met with the media on Monday afternoon at his weekly news conference. He talked about the Minnesota game and also looked ahead to this week's matchup with Ohio State. A full transcript can be found below.
Bret Bielema: Sunday, we recognized some guys. First off, Offensive MVP, I know John Clay got it from the Big Ten, but for us internally, we gave it to all the offensive line. We gave it to our five guys up front as well as Billy Nagy who, I kind of pointed out to the team here. Billy is a fifth year senior who has went through a lot of trials and tribulations, early didn’t get to play last year because of his injury, and him and Kevin [Zeitler] were in a good battle. And when we went with Kevin, we gave that option to try to get our personnel out there, get our best people out there. And he’s really done well with that.
So I give credit to those five guys and Billy for a lot of what James [White] and John [Clay] are going through, the success they’re having, and really even us throwing the ball. It all starts with those guys up front.
Defensively, Mike Taylor was our MVP. Mike had a great game, really became a lot more sudden over the last couple of weeks and it played off into some nice plays behind the line of scrimmage.
And then our Special Teams MVP, the guy you don’t write about or read about thankfully, because he’s been very good over the last two years, Kyle Wojta, has continued to do a nice job for us snapping the ball.
And then offensive scout was actually Zach Brown, another kid, another example of a senior who is being red-shirted and has done a tremendous job giving us a look on the defensive.
And then defensively, Andrew Lukasko against our offense.
So our kids did a good job of regrouping last week and putting themselves in a position to have success on Saturday. I really liked how they handled the week, and now as we move forward to go against Ohio State, those same principles have got to carry forward, and hopefully, have the same type of results. I know our guys are very excited, and we’ll start off with questions.
QUESTION #1: Bret, I know you, I’m sure as a coach, you guys expect players to just accept whatever responsibility is given to them, but do you think it’s still difficult for a guy like Bill Nagy, fifth year senior, starts the first four games, to say, ‘Okay we need you to do something different now,’ to handle that?
BIELEMA: Well, yes and no. I think Billy, if he had his druthers, would love to be the starting right guard. I’m not oblivious to that. But I also felt because of what I’ve learned about Billy and what he’s brought to the table, we gave him that role and that personnel grouping, and he’s really just ran with [it]. It’s been very productive. Even in the Michigan State game, it was probably our most productive personnel grouping. So I think it’s just another good example of a selfless act on this football team by a senior that wants to do everything he can to help us win.
QUESTION #2: Bret, what kind of feedback have you gotten from your colleagues, from people around regarding your going for two points against Minnesota? It’s created a lot of discussion around the country, and I’m curious if it’s something that, looking back on it, perhaps it’s been blown out of proportion, maybe you regret it. I don’t know.
BIELEMA: I’m not changing what I said because I spoke the truth on Saturday. I flashed back during the course of the week last week several times [to] experiences we’ve had in the past in the fourth quarter. I remember specifically last year up there [in Minneapolis]. We were up by 10, we were going in for a drive, we were really moving the ball pretty well. Zach [Brown] puts the ball on the ground, they scoop, score, go the other way. All of a sudden, it’s a 3-point game, and everybody’s on the edge of their seat for the fourth quarter.
And I’ve seen those leads swing so quickly. I saw their offense score very, very fast on two different occasions in that game. And that’s all that was driving my mind. I went to the card, and I would go with it a million times over.
I’ve heard a variety of different responses. Probably the most shocking is just that it got any play to the level that it did. I don’t know if it was a short media day or what, but I answered on Saturday, the same way I answer today, the same way I’ll answer it a year from now. I just really stress that if it was on the other, the flip side of it, I would expect it to [happen to] me. If I was in the exact same situation on the other side of the field, down in the same situation, knowing the history of this game, I wouldn’t expect anything different.
QUESTION #3: Your guys, after the game, talked about looking forward to this game this week. I’m just curious, how do you think, what do you think you’ll be able to measure against this team versus Ohio State, and also the programs where they are right now. I know you talked last year, after that loss, about just wanting to beat those guys so badly because of your respect for them.
BIELEMA: The first part of your comment, our guys looked forward to this game after they beat Minnesota. I don’t think there was any looking ahead. I appreciate that a lot of people can sit back and say that, but when you’re involved at the level we are, we can’t do that. And I don’t think they do. And that’s why we had success on Saturday.
Now to go against the competition or to go against an opponent at the level Ohio State’s been able to uphold for so long is going to be a nice measuring stick. And I think our guys will have that in the back of their minds and move forward, and hopefully, everybody will be in a position to be at their best on Saturday.
We just have to go out and do what we do on a daily basis to get to Saturday. We can’t jump to Saturday today or we can’t jump to Thursday today. We have to jump to where we are on Monday, progress to Tuesday, and move ourselves through the week.
QUESTION #4: But Bret, what do you think the reason or reasons are that you haven’t been able to get over the hump against these guys?
BIELEMA: Each game has been a little bit different, but the common denominator in all of them was we weren’t able to hold together what we need to for 60 minutes. In our three games since I’ve been the head coach involved with them, in particular, the game here [in 2008], a tight ballgame all the way through. We had to come up with a defensive stop at the end. Last year, some of the points were scored when the defense wasn’t even on the field. So it was totally two different games there.
The game is a 60-minute game. I said this a couple weeks ago. It’s 60 minutes of reactions to what happened. And we have to handle it better, longer, and for four quarters, than we have in the past.
QUESTION #5: Bret, obviously, you guys were pleased with what you got out of John [Clay] and James [White] at tailback last week. And I’m just curious as a long-time defensive coach, if you were to scheme against a team that had guys like that, those two guys in particular, what are some of the things you would think about when you watch them on film on how to stop them?
BIELEMA: I don’t think it is rocket science. We have certain statistical numbers that back it up. When we’re able to run the football, we’ve been able to have success winning ballgames. So however your team does that [stops that], I’m sure that’s what we get a lot of. It’s just whether or not we have the answers to go to it.
I think a nice thing for us that kind of came out of the game on Saturday was the effect that [Scott] Tolzien going to [Lance] Kendricks, [Nick] Toon, [David] Gilreath, now [Jared] Abbrederis is a very reliable resource. The more answers we can have that aren’t pertaining to necessarily running the football, the better off we are.
QUESTION #6: It was reported this morning up in a Minneapolis radio station that when you made the call to go for 2 that, this is according to people connected with some people, and it’s not your program, that maybe there was some concern, surprise, shock about the call for going for 2. And you mentioned just a minute ago, surprise about the headlines, and the way, all the attention it’s garnered. Knowing that, if you had known that then, all the attention it would get instead of the focus on the game and the win as much, would you still do it again, do you think?
BIELEMA: Well, I don’t think I can think that way. I answered exactly on Saturday as I answer it today. I would do it the exact same way based on the situation I had. That’s where I would go with it. And again, I’d expect the exact same thing in return.
QUESTION #7: Bret, back to the running backs a minute. Did you, have you kind of figured out maybe the optimum way to use those two guys? They each had a similar number of carries and seemed to be able to play off of each other real well.
BIELEMA: Yeah. I think each one of them has a number in their mind, but also I think a lot of it depends on, you can never determine… James [White] went in for one play, and he had that nice play down the sideline, he broke a few tackles. He ran just as many yards sideways as he did forward in a game, 34 yards. He’s absolutely gassed. But when he pops out, John [Clay] rolls back in.
We got down near the goal line there towards the end of the game, and I could see in John’s demeanor where he was going. I just said, ‘Stick with it.’ And he made that last touchdown where he made a nice statement, lowered his shoulder, and their guy tried to tackle him, and a helmet came off, and [it] just kind of was a nice way for that drive to end.
You can’t predict those things. You can’t sit there on Thursday in a staff meeting and say, ‘I’m going to have John get 12 carries in the first half and James 8.’ It’s got to be the flow of the game, and our coaches got to do a great job of managing it.
QUESTION #8: What did you see in [John Clay’s] demeanor that led you to say, ‘Let’s stick with it’? And have there been times when you looked at him and said, ‘Okay, that’s not the look I want. Let’s go with James [White],’?
BIELEMA: I think so. We see certain things on the sidelines. I’ve said this before, when John Clay gets popping, and his shoulder pads, you can actually hear them, obviously, in the game you can’t hear it because of the crowd noise. But during practice, you can see his body language, you can see him begin to feel it. Also the offensive line.
John got the Big Ten MVP of the week with [Ohio State’s Terrelle] Pryor. People on the outside world don’t realize how important those five guys in front of [Clay] are. I mean they do, they write about it, but I read the body demeanor of our linemen just as much as anything, about whether we’re going to have success, what the defense is giving us.
If you remember on Saturday, there was a play, John got up in there and it looked like he was going to take it out to the outside down on the far end zone over there on the left side, got tripped up. James scored on the very next play. And I think that was not just coincident that that happened.
QUESTION #9: The game plan against Terrelle Pryor used to seem like it was make it be true with his arm. Had he progressed enough as a passer that that’s changed, and does the leg injury factor in at all?
BIELEMA: If you watched Saturday’s game, it definitely changes your opinion, although this year, he’s been noticeably different in the throwing game. I’ve said this for a long time, Ohio State’s got tremendous coaches. They knew for his game to go to the next level, he was going to have to expand that element, and he’s done that. And Saturday was a great example. I mean, against Indiana, he was just sitting back there putting the ball wherever he seemed to want to go with it. And they were making the plays with it as receivers as well, and he was getting the protection.
QUESTION #10: Your kickoff coverage units had some issues this year. Obviously, last year, there was a big play in that game after you guys kicked the field goal. And it appears they’ve got a couple guys who can maybe do some things on a return. Do you anticipate that’s going to be a key factor?
BIELEMA: It’s a big one for us, not only on kick return, but the punt return game as well, just to make sure that we got the principles in place. We can’t give away free yardage. The kicking game is all about hidden yardage, and where our drive starts.
One of the things that I liked out of Saturday, I think our drives started average after a kickoff return was the 28 [yard-line], which was a nice thing to get rolling with. So hopefully, that would be a phase of the game that we can count on.
QUESTION #11: Does [Ohio State] move [Cameron] Heyward around to maximize match-ups and could you just talk about their defensive line and the challenges?
BIELEMA: They’re a really difficult defensive unit to break down, a 3-4 team that is very multiple in what they do. He goes in a variety of different spots. I thought a year ago Heyward was probably one of the more dominant players in our league. And he’s even better this year.
They do some things I think personnel-wise, but also I believe Ohio State really lines up and says, ‘We are going to do what we do defensively, and kind of react to everything else.’ They’ve got great personnel. They got a couple linebackers who are great erasers. Their back end is solid in what they’re doing. They’ve lost a couple people defensively, but they’ve been able to replace them right away.
QUESTION #12: Coach, [you were asked] specifically about Ohio State, but have you found any common thread that you think has held the team back maybe in the big games the last couple years in the Big Ten, not getting over the hump in some of those?
BIELEMA: Well, it probably has a lot to do with the guys across from us. If there’s one common denominator, I think is we’ve done things well, but we haven’t done things well enough. I’m assuming you’re talking about ranked performance and stuff like that. When you’re playing against high competition, you got to continue to do the things that give you success against the teams that maybe aren’t ranked or in the same position, but also understand it’s a different game because maybe you, A, can’t take as many risks, or risk and reward kind of change in games like this.
QUESTION #13: Because you’ve had so many good games with them in the past, and they are ranked Number One, and I think it’s a night game, national TV, is one of the biggest jobs this week in keeping the guys from getting too hyped or too ready to go even by Tuesday or Wednesday?
BIELEMA: Well, not so much too-hyped, I mean, that’s going to happen on its own. What we do ask is, I asked them on Sunday, we’ll go over it again tomorrow when we meet, is focus. You’re going to have a million different people that are going to try and pull you away from the focus of what we need for Tuesday’s practice, Wednesday’s practice, Thursday, Friday night in the hotel to get their minds sharp for Saturday. Saturday because it is a night game, maintain their focus all day.
I know every kid’s going to get an extra set of relatives that want to come in for the game, they’re going to want a hotel room, and there aren’t any hotel rooms. And whoever is occupying their time socially is going to want more and more time, and maybe they want them to meet their parents. There’s a million things that go on out there.
But I think we had a couple lessons early in fall camp and throughout the non-conference schedule, and then going into Michigan State, that a team that’s focused well usually handles their business well on Saturday. And hopefully, that’s going to be the case.
QUESTION #14: Just a couple minor things. I know you guys got Conor O’Neill as an extra linebacker last week. Is he, is that his position now? And it looks like you’re trying to get [Tyler] Dippel more involved with some things. Can you address those?
BIELEMA: Conor, as you know, we started [him] off as a linebacker [when he] came in. He actually got a little illness where he went from like 208 down to 184, lost a bunch of weight. He’s very smart, very intelligent, had played a little safety in high school. So we moved him back there just because we were real lean. But I wasn’t liking what I was seeing in fall camp as far as his movement. He was trying.
So just with the issues we’ve had at linebacker, I made the suggestion to [defensive coordinator] Dave [Doeren], and he was all over it. We moved [O’Neill] up, especially with the spread teams coming down the road, getting an athlete on the field that can play in space, because he’s very good at that.
Tyler Dippel was a guy we were starting to make a move with. If you remember, a couple weeks ago he lost his grandmother, and that was out in California, so we literally lost him for about 10 days there. And he was starting to come back into things pretty good, got a little bit of a mix of it on Saturday. He plays with a high motor and [is] someone that we think could probably give us something on certain packages.
QUESTION #15: . . . about before, you mentioned not taking as many risks. Do you coach any differently in a game like this?
BIELEMA: No. I think you misinterpreted what I said. What I said was, you’re in a game like this, the risk and reward may be a perspective that you got to take changes. But I think as head coach, to go into a game and know that you have maybe a dominant personnel or you have a certain side of the ball that you feel you can do certain things at will, or a little, or you can guarantee the success maybe a little bit more than others affects how you can call a game. Whether you’re kicking a field goal or if you’re going to pooch, whether you’re going to go for a third and one, or fourth and one, versus punt the ball. Those are all things that kind of weigh into it.
QUESTION #16: Bret, you’ve been in the Big Ten, or around the Big Ten, for a long time. Have you ever seen anyone that has it going on quite like Ohio State does these days, a program?
BIELEMA: Not really. I know when I was a player, Ohio State and Michigan, Penn State wasn’t even in the league, I thought Penn State, when they first came in, those first couple years were, they just timed it up right and had some pretty good success. Obviously, success [Ohio State] had two years back-to-back was pretty special. But they’ve been a part of it for so long I think in recruiting, it’s just always interesting, because they are getting the guys that they want. They pretty much, at least in the Midwest, they get their people.
And I always find interesting, one of the things we’ll do as coaches is either on game day or Thursday or Friday when we’re trying to kill some time, we’ll see all these guys listed in their two-deep, they’re not even playing, and they were guys who were high on our recruiting list. And it really seems a lot of times to be especially on the defense side of the ball.
QUESTION #17: What about Mike Taylor? It looks like he’s back to being the Mike Taylor of old. But that’s just natural, I guess, human nature to be a little bit resistant after an injury that he suffered.
BIELEMA: That, and also he had that fall camp issue. He went and had another surgery. So I think he was really, there was a day, I don’t know if it was two or three days before that injury where he was looking pretty special. And then had that little flare-up, had to have a little procedure done, and it took him awhile to get his confidence back to that. But Mike doesn’t say much. He just kind of goes about his business. And it was fun to see him have that success.
QUESTION #18: Despite losing to Ohio State last year, did your guys take away some positives based on how you moved the ball offensively and then played defensively?
BIELEMA: I think the last couple years [Wisconsin] realized that they’ve been in the position to win the game against a very good football team, a team that’s been at the highest level of success in our league. And it’s not like they don’t understand they can’t have success. I think they’ve probably learned what they can’t do better than ever. And part of that is mainly taking care of the football and taking advantage of every opportunity that we get defensively to gain an extra possession, and getting off the field on third down.
QUESTION #19: Many analysts said that for [Terrelle] Pryor last year, I think it was the Rose Bowl against Oregon, that since then that was kind of a coming out party, that they see a different level of play by him. On tape, from what you see, has he grown since that game to this year?
BIELEMA: Yeah, I thought last year when we played him earlier in the season, and then really I don’t, during the course of the year if you catch something on highlights, but then when Coach Alvarez was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame last year, I flew out to see that induction. As a by-product of that, I got to stay and watch the Rose Bowl. And when I was watching him perform out there on the field, I saw a lot of growth just from whatever that was, a seven-week, eight-week window from when we last played him.
He’s so gifted. I remember watching him on high school film. I remember going to his high school and watching basketball practice. I just remember how exceptionally talented he is. And now under [Ohio State head coach Jim] Tressel’s tutelage to know the things that are important, the ball security, maintaining possession of the football, not making unnecessary risks, and don’t put your defense in a bad position. Now he’s grown into the ideal player for them.
QUESTION #20: Bret, kind of back to Conor O’Neill for a second. You said with the issues that there are at linebacker. Is that just inconsistent play, lack of big plays, is in particular with the absence of [Chirs] Borland?
BIELEMA: No, I’m sorry, Jeff. I didn’t mean anything negative against the way we were playing. Chris is a good player, but we move on, we move on. But what that took away from us was depth in rotation. For instance, last year, Blake [Sorensen] and Culmer [St. Jean] kind of split their time. And now they’re both on the field all the time.
We’ve got Kevin [Rouse] involved a little bit more. But some of those guys in those games, after you get to a certain point, there might be diminishing returns [given] how much they’re on the field. So that’s what I meant by that.
And no one... there’s a tremendous difference between our Michigan State and Minnesota preparation, now going into Ohio State. But it really changes dramatically in the Purdue, Northwestern, those teams that are spreading you out all over the place.
QUESTION #21: What did Scott [Tolzien] take away from those two-pick sixes last year other than obviously he can’t do that. I mean, is there any other lesson you think he gets out of that?
BIELEMA: I think so, Tom. I think he probably learned how to handle that situation. It’s one thing if the first one happened, but don’t let it affect you in a way where you got to learn to make sure the second one doesn’t happen, and vice versa. During the course of the game, it’s not what happens, it’s how you react to what happens. And he learned himself how to kind of turn those situations from negatives to positives.
QUESTION #22: Just want to make sure, do you expect Jay Valai [to play on Saturday]?
BIELEMA: I’m sorry. Yeah, Jeff. I would say he didn’t practice at all Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, he did, and he said he felt pretty good. We just felt with the reps Shelton [Johnson] got and where he was at, and what we thought Minnesota would do, we could probably play Shelton. [Valai] did come up to me before the game, and came up to [defensive backs coach] Chris [Ash], and said he could go, or felt he could go, but he didn’t exactly give you that. It was like, “Hey, I’m there, hey.” But he didn’t want to get in. I could just read it. So that’s why we went with Shelton, but yeah, Jay practiced Sunday and should be full go.