Oct. 22, 2012
Watch Bielema News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema spoke about the win over Minnesota and the rivalry between Michigan State 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: Got excited on Sunday, had a chance to watch the film, and really thought that -- really in all three phases did a lot of really good things. We gave our MVPs on offense to three different guys. Jacob Pedersen probably played his best game, maybe not statistically with catches. But had one critical catch for 12. Really played a nice game in the blocking game. And shared it with our two running backs, James (White) and Montee (Ball). Two guys, I believe in all of college football, the only two that have gone for 150 each in the same game. Nice stat for them but again comes from a lot of good things happening with tight ends, wide receivers, fullbacks and offensive line.
Defensively, Devin Smith had another really, really good game. Gave him an MVP. Had another pick. Really read the route, broke on it, reacted, and did a tremendous job all week.
Also gave it to Mike Taylor, who had another ten-plus tackle game, had 12 tackles. If anybody wants to put the word out there, I just got word today that Mike wasn't included in the Butkus semifinal list out of 12 candidates. Four guys from the Big Ten, I believe, and those four guys, not taking anything away from them, but Mike Taylor is the reigning Big Ten tackle leader, finishing number one over his teammate Chris Borland last year. He's number two in the league right now. Number one in tackles for a loss. Statistically, a really, really good defense. For him to be left off that, I'm going to try to make an inquiry whatever I can do.
Our guys aren't into awards and all that jazz, but that's pretty significant. I can't believe that that would happen. But it is, what it is, and then also special team MVP Kyle French really hit a nice groove, had a nice field goal converted. And then drove the ball fairly well on kickoffs. Really think his confidence took an uptick, especially after coming off that Purdue game. He's been great all week. Really looking for him to move forward.
Michigan State, finally glad to be back in Madison for this one. Last two in East Lansing, and of course the one in Indianapolis would be the first time. The last three opportunities to get them back here. Always good to be in Camp Randall with a 2:30 kickoff. Should be a great environment and one that all of our players will be jacked up for. Hopefully, our fans will make Camp Randall as uncomfortable as possible for Michigan State. Very good football team, that's 4-4. But has been involved in really, really close games down the stretch here and lost to good football teams.
Excited for the next week. We should be getting closer back to health. Don't know if we'll have Ricky (Rick Wagner) with us, but everyone else moving forward should be good to go. Tyler Dippel kinda re-aggravated his shoulder, but I think he'll practice with us tomorrow and be a lot better than he was last week.
With that, open it up for questions.
Question: This rivalry with Michigan State, last six meetings, I think the margin of victory is five, split the six. It's been kinda crazy, hasn't it?
Bielema: It has. Not good on the heart, but great environments. I don't know how many times I heard last year, if you didn't care who won those games, they were really fun games to watch. From that standpoint, they're fun. It really gets down to always you got a couple of key plays offensively that go for scores, and a huge factor, special teams has been a factor, really positively or negatively for us in every game. Playing Michigan State, you've got to be on the unexpected, whether it be fake opportunities in the special teams arena or blocks on their punts. So really got to be on top of our toes in every aspect.
Question: After the game, Montee (Ball) confirmed that he and his dad and the coaching staff had gone back to Montee instead of Montay. Almost sounded like a mental thing to clear the slate and turn the page. What did you think of that? And given his production the last couple weeks, do you have any other players that you're talking about changing their names?
Bielema: No, I didn't want to go public with that one, but I was riding back on the plane from Purdue and a couple of my coaches told me that everybody on the sideline was saying, hey, Montay's gone, but Montee's back. I think Montee has done some things differently. He'd be the first to tell you he's done some things away from the field. He's come in and worked with our developmental group at 6 a.m. a couple times during the course of the week just to get back to the basics. He's probably lifting at 7:30, so that's a whole hour and a half difference.
But just the mental side of it. You really see him starting to get some of those signature broken tackles that you see him do, where he side steps a guy or runs through a guy. He popped a guy pretty good on Saturday where he lowered his shoulder, and you could see some of that nastiness come back.
I'll tell you the other guy, James White, Montee wants to remain the number one running back, and James is doing some nice things. Doesn't need to look over his shoulder that much. I'm just saying, there's a competitive nature in those two that really bring out the best in one another, and it's really fun to watch that stuff happen.
Question: Bret, you're familiar obviously with Pat Narduzzi Michigan State's defensive coordinator. How much he likes to blitz. He blitzed you guys a lot last year with a senior quarterback. You've got red-shirt freshman quarterback this year. Do you expect the same or maybe he's gonna come after you guys even more?
Bielema: Pat's always been aggressive in nature. No doubt in my mind that they'll bring pressure. Depending on the situation depending on our personnel groupings. The good news is Joel (Stave) is a guy that's been through some situations. Everybody has been bringing pressure on us. Got to have a great plan for him, not just prior to the snap but also during the snap itself. We saw last week where he needs to get rid of the football in certain situations.
It will be fun. I know our guys will take a lot of -- the guys around him will try to do their best to try to protect him as well.
Question: You mentioned Jacob Pedersen a little bit earlier. Statistically speaking his numbers are about the same from last year. What's impressed you most about what he's doing this year?
Bielema: First I think he went through a challenge there during fall camp just to get back in rhythm, catching the football the way that he has. I think the Purdue game was signature one there with damp conditions and he caught the ball really, really well. He's bigger, he's faster, he's more physical than he was a year ago. It's really showing up in some of the people he's got to block this week, being a critical game because they've got big boys up front, Michigan State. We ask those guys sometimes to handle guys that may be 30, 40 pounds heavier than him, and he's been able to hold his own and look really good doing it.
Question: Bret, you seem to be a guy who appreciates rivalries, and this one has developed into a good one. Will you be sad to see it go on hiatus due to the way the Big Ten scheduling is?
Bielema: Yeah. Obviously, we built up a nice little tradition. We even played them twice in one year, which had never been done in Big Ten play. At least to my knowledge. Yea, respect Michigan State. Respect Mark Dantonio and his staff a great amount. There's certain things that, when we split the divisions, that were going to go away, and unfortunately, this is a by-product of that. But on the flip side of it, you've got really neat things popping within.
That's the way I spin it. I look at it as every year we get a chance to play Penn State and Ohio State, and for us recruiting-wise, that's very, very important. We do our fair share of recruiting in Michigan, but really probably traditionally do more recruiting against Ohio State and Penn State nationally than Michigan State itself.
Question: Bret, for a number of reasons, William Gholston at defensive end gets a lot of attention. I don't hear people talk about Marcus Rush as much. And you've talked about how difficult it is when you guys have two really good defensive ends. Can you talk about how difficult it is to block both those guys?
Bielema: I go back to recruiting, and Gholston, obviously, because of -- I guess it would be his cousin, I guess, that played at Ohio State. I remember when he came over on an official visit -- not official, unofficial -- as a sophomore, and you could see him big pretty --and does all the right things, and on film just kept getting better and better. I remember when I first watched Rush on film as a high school player, his heartbeat, his intensity, had a lot of football ability as well, but just how hard he plays. And with that being said, to me, he's a guy that's under the radar big time about just what he -- a lot of times when there's a big play defensively, he's directly involved with it.
Gholston stands out just because of the physical presence, but you've got two really, really good players there. I think the part that's (Max) Bullough on the inside too has taken a step forward too as a player that really covers up well behind everybody else.
Question: Bret, do you think that barge formation could become a bigger part of the offense, or by the nature of it, is it best used as a change of pace, do you think?
Bielema: I leave that in coach (Matt) Canada's hands. I know you guys got onto it, it originally started with Montee (Ball) and James (White) going around. I remember Montee running that in high school, and we went watched him play -- not Montee, James. It kinda took a flip there. And then it's just been kind of a work in progress because we've been losing some offensive linemen, and we didn't want to rep it on Saturday for the first time with that guy in the spot. We worked it during the course of the week.
Can it grow? Yes. Obviously, we've only run a certain number of plays off of it. There's some things with it with Montee, and also James -- I know he's 0-for-1 on the incompletes in the Nebraska game, but he's a guy that definitely can throw the football and bring that element as well.
Question: I saw that Devin Gaulden is not listed on the depth chart. Just wondering what his status is.
Bielema: Devin -- two weeks ago, might have been three weeks ago, suffered a knee injury. At first they did some initial tests on it. Didn't think it was a torn ACL, but when they went back in and further looked, and it wasn't healing up the way it was, he's definitely got a partial at least torn. So I believe he goes into surgery on Friday. The good news is we'll be able to redshirt him out of this and be able to have him for three years in the future on top of that.
Sorry about that. Wasn't trying to keep that away. Just hadn't been on the priority.
Question: One more thing about that barge, Bret. Is a nice benefit getting a guy like Tyler Marz on the field who could be a pretty important guy next year?
Bielema: I've been very happy with the progress that Bart Miller's made, but we should have had Tyler in there on the last series. A kid from Minnesota, has done everything we've asked him to do physically, has come a million miles -- we always knew he was a good athlete, but he's coming in and continues to work. I know he was probably a little bit, just the way that you're wired. When Ricky (Rick Wagner) went down, that we went with Ryan (Groy), but he handled it in full stride. It was a good way to get him on the field, get his feet wet, and we'll continue to move forward with him.
Tyler Marz has got a very nice football career in front of him yet with three years after this year.
Question: Can you talk about the development of your O-line. Earlier in the season, you were having trouble blocking with Ricky (Rick Wagner), and then you lose Ricky, and you just continue right on the path you've been on the last 2 1/2 games.
Bielema: I think that's coaching. I think it's players that believe in what they're asked to do. They've gotten better. Everyone has gotten better around them. I thought that overall you could see it happening during the course of the practices that I'm privy to, that I get a chance to watch. Really, when I made a change, you get two heavy workdays a week, you get Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday is kinda shine and polish, Friday is a dress rehearsal, and Saturday you're playing the game.
If you take after the second game to get to where we are now as a 6-2 football team, we've had six weeks of good, hard practices, which are 12 practices, which still isn't even a spring ball yet. That's the way I equate it. I'm very excited. I think they're moving in the right direction, especially with all the injuries. We started four different guys, I believe, at guard. We started three different players now at tackle.
And the switch within the series like we made note of. So everybody is getting better. I think they get a little bit more confidence in their quarterback and their running backs, and hopefully everything moves forward.
Question: Bret, how rare is it to have a guy like James White who rushes for 1000 yards as a freshman. He's got the best average per carry of any back in school history. Yet, whatever you ask him to do, line up in the slot, play quarterback he seems willing to do it.
Bielema: I think it's a product of great parents. Tyrone and Lisa White, from the first time I met them to where they are today, they're the most humble, appreciative people that just love that their son's getting an opportunity to play at this level. So it all started before I even got my hands on him.
And then the system that he grew up at St. Thomas Aquinas is really like a small college campus when you go there. They've got more coaches than I do. They've had experience and reputation there that is second to none and in an academic environment to do it.
James, you know he don't say a lot. You guys probably know that when you're talking to him. He just goes about his business. I've said this to my staff at different times. I really thought, when James came on and did what he did during his freshman year, I thought during my coaching tenure, my first Heisman trophy candidate, and then Montee (Ball) made the run that he did last year.
The great news is James has this year but he also has next year. He's just a big play guy. When he gets a little mojo going, he's special. And he's really, because of what was going on with Montee's situation, we didn't want to use James too much as a return guy because you're afraid that, if you lost Montee and then you lost James, you'd really be in a difficult situation.
So James can be a punt returner. He's really, really good at that. He's a good kick returner. We had him at the off returner. So James has got a lot of talents that we try to use as most we can. I think Saturday at the quarterback position was just another great example.
Question: Bret, Michigan State's offense, Le'Veon Bell, has almost 1,000 yards, but they're scoring less than 20 points per game. Just from what you've seen, a lot of people are pointing at the quarterback, first year starter, but is it more than that?
Bielema: First off, he's a phenomenal running back. He's powerful. He's athletic. He's fast. He's got the ability to break tackles. He's got the ability to make people miss. They've gone through some transition offensive line-wise. One of the first things I do on Sundays and Mondays is look at film. You see a lot of different numbers at their offensive line position, so you know they're going through some transition there.
I understand that people want to come down on quarterbacks just like they want to try to come down on mine. I think for the outside world that aren't educated, that's very common. But their quarterback's getting better.
It's something that I think our defensive coaches really, really can get a grasp on is that Bell is doing as much as he can, but in those games when they weren't really catching the ball well at wide receiver, people were able to focus and take away Bell. But now those receivers are coming along. Statistically, it may not show up as good, but they've gotten better, and they've lost some very tough games.
I draw similarities to our offense all the time. Here's a guy that has a running back that come back. We had Montee (Ball), we run similar type of offenses. Lost a great quarterback in (Kirk) Cousins. We lost a great quarterback in Russell (Wilson). Lost a couple of great receivers at Michigan State. We lost a great receiver in Nick Toon but got Abby (Jared Abbrederis) back. And you've got first year quarterbacks. Not both freshmen, but Joel Stave had three touchdown passes go off a guy's hands on Saturday. If they just catch two of those three, everybody is going to be writing great things.
Joel (Stave), he really don't care. He just moves forward, and he's going to make himself better. And that's the same thing, I'm sure, Michigan State's feeling.
Question: Back to James (White) and Montee (Ball) for a second. Does their productivity and their relationship work if either one of those guys is a little bit envious or selfish? You look at what they've both been through, they've both been the guy for a little bit, James as a freshman and Montee obviously last year, but they've also both had to take a backseat.
Bielema: Jeff, I don't mean to steer your question other than what you mentioned. They're both really unselfish kids. They were that way before they got here. If there was any type of animosity or ill will, it would lead to something coming to a head I would think. They share an apartment together. Any time you're sharing living quarters or living arrangements, it's usually a pretty positive thing. Again, we recruited them for those reasons.
I've had running backs sitting in my office that I couldn't stand, and we don't offer them. They're great players on film. If they don't fit what we want here on the field as well as off the field, we're not going to go in that direction. Montee and James, both two-parent homes, great kids. Get them in here and see what they can do. The results have been what you see out there today.
Question: Bret, it seemed like even a month ago, people wanted to write off Montee (Ball) and his season. The way he's going right now, do you think it's realistic or possible that he could make a case for being a Heisman trophy finalist again? What would it mean just for the program to have him there?
Bielema: Absolutely. Yesterday was kind of neat. I got a chance to give him the football that he set the Big Ten scoring record with. We saved it back, and Mark (Taurisani) had given it to me. I didn't get it in my hands until last Thursday, and at that point, I was, hey, let's stay on our preparation with Minnesota.
I asked Montee to come up to my office after he got done with chow, with dinner, he came up and I gave him the ball. It's kinda weathered from the rain and stuff. He just looked at it, and I think we kind of caught him off guard. I said, well buddy, there's better things in front of you. You play a game like you've been playing against Michigan State's defense, I think a lot of people in the Big Ten know about you and know what you're doing.
Just I remember last year, I got two letters from the Heisman Trophy Association on a certain day, and just kind of showed up out of nowhere, and one was for Russell (Wilson), and then there's one for Montee. And no one was really talking about Montee at that time. It was all Russell, Russell, Russell. When I said in front of the team, I've got something here I've never had before, two letters to go out to two guys that are on the watch list for the Heisman trophy. I said, let's give one to Russell Wilson. And everybody is like -- and then when I said let's give one to Montee Ball, the place went nuts.
I think that's when our team first realized, hey, Montee's in the hunt for this thing, and then the numbers he kept having and the production. He's ahead of that right now. You know, some certain areas. Obviously, he's got a few more carries, not that midseason rankings matter, but I think Brian (Lucas) pointed out to me last week, I think it was Sports Illustrated or somebody had him at number seven, and last year he wasn't even that high up on the list at the exact same time.
I know he's having a Heisman performance because of what I've seen and the way I've been around him every day, but sometimes for the outside world to realize the reality of what's really going on, it's hard for certain people to see it, but it's definitely there.
Question: You mentioned about the entertainment value of the two games against Michigan State last year for fans. Wondering in this past off-season how many times, whether it was studying tape, whether it was catching it dozens of times on the Big Ten network, or just thinking about one or both of those games that flash through your mind.
Bielema: Well, I know which one I enjoyed more. It did seem like during the summer the Big Ten championship game was on all the time on the Big Ten Network. I know my wife enjoys watching it. Usually whatever's on that she wants to watch, we end up watching. I've learned that too. It's an easy thing to do.
I do think you take more from losses than you do more from wins as far as education. Just also in film prep, because of Mark (Dantonio) and Pat (Narduzzi) being there as long as they have, we've gone back -- not just last year's film. Usually you go back a year, maybe two. You can go back all the way since coach Dantonio has been there about how Michigan State is going to play us really in all phases of the kicking game.
But I would guess the total number of watching that on both sides is probably over 15. I don't know where it's at in between, but numerous cut-ups. And then I also just like watching their defense and offensive -- you know, for ideas because as coaches we all steal. No one claims to have their -- well, some guys claim to, but most everybody steals. So it's a little bit of football.
Question: Bret, you had a guy play at left guard Saturday in (Robert) Burge, who's been through some difficult times here, but it appeared, if you look on tape, that he played pretty well. Can you talk about where he's come from, from last year to what he was able to do Saturday?
Bielema: Robbie is a walk-on that was an Eagle Scout in high school. I went and spoke to his hometown and learned he was an Eagle Scout. By far has to be the largest Eagle Scout in the history of eagle scouts. I can't just picture him in a little pair of brown shirts and brown shirt and a little Hanky scarf. He is fun. He's enjoyable. He was going to not come out for his senior year, and myself, actually Bart Miller, coach Markson, because he was the O-line coach at the time, sat him down and explained what I thought was out there, what opportunities would be in front of him, and just worked his tail off all summer and trained his body.
Probably lost, I would say, anywhere from 5 to 10 percent body fat, and our kids really enjoyed being around him. Doesn't say much. Then to award him with a scholarship in the fall, I think, really surprised him but also gave him a little bit of a desire. Okay, well, now I'm a scholarship player. What am I going to do to prove it? To get that first start, I had a feeling he was going to play pretty well on Saturday, and he did.
Question: Last year against Michigan State, you guys had the halfback pass from Montee (Ball) to Russell Wilson. This year you've kind of put James White in the backfield as the quarterback just a little bit. How much emphasis do you guys put in getting all of your best play makers on the field at the same time and using them at the same time?
Bielema: Two different scenarios there. One of the philosophies we have at Wisconsin without a doubt, not just offense but all phases of the game, we want to get our best players out there. It's not good coaching to have some of your best players sitting next to you on the sideline. You want them on the field.
I think coach (Matt) Canada has done a good job of that. Obviously, the barge is a little bit of a unique scenario used in unique situations just because of the way people can defend it or get lined up to it. And as far as passes a year ago, that was something that Paul (Chryst) put in. Obviously, this year Matt's in charge of the offense and has put us into some pretty unique scenarios, and some guys now have opportunity to make plays.
Question: Is Curt Phillips the backup based on the last game?
Bielema: I wouldn't read too much into it. Really just to get down at the end of the game there, we'd given Danny (O'Brien) the reps at Purdue. Talking with Matt (Canada), we made the decision there at the end of the game we were going to let Curt go play some football at home.
Really a lot gets down to what the situation is going to be, what we think could happen. If anything ever happened to Joel (Stave) during the course of a game. Not any more than just that.
Question: Having walk-ons contribute, obviously nothing new to this program, but can you remember a time, at least under your coaching experience, whereas many have contributed during one season, I guess?
Bielema: Yeah, it's always been when I go back -- my first year, Joel Stellmacher was probably the glue that held our defense together on a 12-1 football team. He was a critical, critical part of our success. Playing next to him -- I can't even think of his name, from Lancaster. Zach Hampton. Thank you. Man, am I getting old. And Ben Strickland. We were trying to play Auburn, and it was like a third and 12, and we had five DBs on the field, and three of them were Hampton, Stelly, and Strick, and we had a successful play.
Brady Ewing last year, Ethan Hemer. There's a lot of them out there. It's kind of been a standard in our program. It's fun to watch it. It's fun to see it. It's fun to watch them develop during the course of time to get to where they are now. There's a couple of walk-ons right now. Joel Schobert is a kid two years down the road we're going to be bragging about. It's fun for me but it's really fun to see our players respond to in the way that they do.
Ethan Armstrong is playing lights out football. I mean, he is -- I was complaining about Mike (Taylor) not being on the Butkus. Ethan and Chris (Borland) have another year. Those two guys are phenomenal. Ethan Armstrong made a play on Saturday on the halfback, when they were trying to throw the reverse pass back, and Army was on it like glue. That don't just happen, man. Andy (Buh) is doing a great job of coaching them. They're very instinctive. There are always going to be great walk-ons. I'm not giving you a great answer, I realize, but to see any of our guys have success, especially the walk-ons, is always fun.