Nov. 12, 2012
• Watch Bielema News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema spoke about Montee Ball’s attempt to break the NCAA touchdown record, Curt Phillip’s performance and Senior Day 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: I was really pleased with the way our guys played obviously on Saturday and then after watching the film on Sunday. A number of players played well. We gave the offensive MVP to two guys up front, Ryan Groy and Travis Frederick, our two running backs, James White and Montee Ball, and also our quarterback Curt Phillips. Those guys all played very, very well.
A lot of guys playing well around them. Wide receivers didn't get many statistic chances with throwing the football. Tight ends played very well. Good to see Sam Arneson get his first catch. He's really making some ground as well.
Defensively, again, a number of guys played really well. Gave it to a guy up front, Beau Allen, a guy in the middle in Ethan Armstrong, and a guy in the back in Devin Smith. Special teams, we gave it to Kyle French who hit the ball extremely well, with not only with field goals but kickoffs, placement, everything. He had some kickoffs that he drove the ball into the wind and had a 4.2 plus hang time.
And Kenzel Doe, here's a kid that came in as a wide receiver and didn't catch all the balls statistically we thought he might be catching, but downed the ball on the 1-yard line. He's a terror in kickoff coverage. He might be the littlest guy out there and doing a lot of really big things. Fun to watch that grow.
Also had offensive scout MVPs, Alex Walker on offense, and defense is Jake Rademacher. Those two kids did a really good job during the week.
Came out of it fairly healthy. Didn't practice at all Sunday. Thought it would be best to kind of let our guys at this point of the season, a lot of times we lay off a Sunday practice and let them rest and recover Sunday, Monday, and expect to hit the ground running tomorrow.
As far as Ohio State goes, you can see they're a tremendous football team, obviously to be undefeated at this point in the season. Offensively led by the quarterback Braxton Miller, but a lot of really good players up front and around him. Defensively, kind of different games have given different results, but they've been able to pull out all the games that they've been involved in, and special teams kind of the same deal. Some things we definitely feel we have to take advantage of.
To honor a group of seniors, the nine guys on Saturday that we're going to honor, couple other guys graduating earlier as well as a couple guys, Zach Davidson and Jordan Kohout, who were good players, leaving the program a little bit early because of medical reasons.
A lot to be excited about. I will say I'm excited to see Camp Randall at 2:30 with an undefeated Ohio State team coming to town. I think it will be a great environment. Hope everyone shows up. Be loud and be proud.
Question: You mentioned (Braxton) Miller. Obviously, the offense has changed with (Urban) Meyer taking over. I think you could see the talent in Braxton last year, but it appears his numbers are better this year and he's gotten better. How much better is he in that offense and just overall as a player?
Bielema: I go back to high school, Jeff. You knew there was a tremendous athlete and a tremendous kid. We tried to recruit him as well, just a really, really gifted human being. Live arm last year, didn't know how accurate it was, but this year that's probably the thing, his accuracy. Probably a little bit of a combination of, A, one more year experience, but also the scheme they put in around him.
And then just good players around him to make him look good as well.
Question: You talked about how impressed NFL scouts have been just coming through here when they see Montee (Ball). As far as his draft stock goes, what have you heard about has he improved it compared to last year when they said, oh, he's a third round pick?
Bielema: Last year when he was a junior people don't say things, they get in trouble for that. But in the early draft application, that's what it came back. I think there were varying opinions.
I've had several guys comment to me this year they thought he's the first back to go in this year's draft. Many make the statement without a doubt.
I thought Saturday I saw some of those runs, but I didn't get as good a view as I did on film. He even had to club a ref on one occasion on Saturday to get where he needed to be. He pulled that foot out from a tackle. He was just running angry. He was out of his mind. It was unbelievable. He and James (White) just complement each other so well.
Again, a lot of good players around him, but I think Montee is going to be very, very happy on draft day.
Question: Bret, back to (Kenzel) Doe for a second. Did you guys approach him for special teams, or did he volunteer, or how did that work out?
Bielema: I think a little of both. I love his energy. He's always got a smile. He's an easy guy to have fun with. You always say to your players, worry when your coaches aren't picking on you or aren't having a little fun with you.
Kenzel is just so talented. I think he broke... not broke, but he blocked six punts in high school, and that was something that jumped out to me right away. He volunteered to get involved as much as he can. We thought with his good hands and his feel on the pooch situations, that's what got him involved first.
We were just talking around about some guys that throw into the middle of kickoff coverage that are very fast and elusive, and his name came up. He's been there two games and hasn't disappointed in the least.
Question: Bret, you made the comment over the summer that if you guys had Devin Smith last year that you might have played for a national championship. I know you didn't do it intentionally, but (Marcus) Cromartie said he kind of heard that and used that as bulletin bold material a little bit. Can you talk about what you meant by that comment, more so toward Smith, and can you talk about how Cromartie has played this year more so with the hourglass ticking down on him.
Bielema: I think the context that was taken, I can't remember the exact question, but last year we lost two critical guys in Devin Smith and David Gilbert. Felt that, either one of those kids was with us, we might have more of a chance to have more success in the two games during the regular season that we lost.
It wasn't a detriment to Cro (Marcus Cromartie). It was his first year starting. Devin was a multiple year starter and a guy we felt was playing very, very well. It took a while for him to go into it.
If Cro has used it as bulletin board material, then I'll give him more. He needs it. He's playing really well here the last four or five games but a guy that has to constantly be challenged. I think the thing that's probably grown the most out of this year is Devin, Shelton (Johnson), and Marcus are all the same NFL scouts that ask about Montee (Ball) are asking about those three guys, playing really, really well.
I thought Cro -- during the middle of the season, we challenged him and tried to get a little bit more out of him, and he's definitely responded.
Question: With your trip to the Big Ten Championship game already sealed, do you start thinking about limiting certain players for health reasons over the next two games?
Bielema: This game, no. We're in a race that we're trying to win the Leaders Division crown. Ohio State is at the top of the list. We've made several references this year, had some guys I watched Moneyball and made references during the course of the year. Some guys put some things in my box.
I thought it was interesting the only time they were ever in first place was the last game of the year and made that comment to our guys several times during the course of the season.
We're in a race to finish at the top of our division, and this opportunity this week is a chance to play the team that's at that Number one spot. So I think I might have a mutiny on my hands if I tried to pull anybody out of this game this Saturday.
Question: Bret, Ohio State obviously had a little bit of a down year last year and this year being ineligible for the postseason. Moving forward, they're clearly a team on the rise. Just wondering, how does the way they're playing affect Wisconsin in the Leaders Division moving forward? Does it make the path more difficult to the Big Ten Championship after this year?
Bielema: When I took over the job here, going back two years ago when we beat Ohio State here, we knew that for us to win a Big Ten title, the format was a little different back then, but you had to beat Ohio State.
When the divisions came out and Ohio State was in our division, I thought that was a great thing for us just because we knew we were going to get to play them every year. We traditionally did a lot of recruiting in Ohio and a little bit more East than we did West, and that's a real critical part of where we're at.
Football each year is a different year, and this year they've obviously done a very, very nice job to get to where they are today, and you would expect more of the same.
Yeah, they're a great team that's in our division and one that, I think I saw in the press release, that the last 11 games against them we’re 5 6. I've been here for the last six. It's something that we definitely want to keep going in the right direction.
Question: Bret, I'm not sure when you found out about Bart Miller and the offensive line putting up that goal of 400 rushing yards against Indiana. I'm just curious if you like that sort of goal setting. And second part of the question, how much more challenging do you think it's going to be this week facing Ohio State's front seven?
Bielema: Bart, he's an outside the box guy. Bart just constantly puts things in my box to motivate young men, and they respond very, very well. When I saw the 400 yards with two exclamation points, I didn't make a comment. I tend to let young coaches grow and see how they have success. It was a pretty lofty goal, and we achieved it by over 100 plus.
Ohio State, I think the part that Bart realizes, you're tempered in everything that you do. One thing I did make a strong emphasis on Sunday, that goal was a by product of Monday and Tuesday's meetings was for us to have success at Indiana, we were going to have to run the football. We're going to have to monopolize the clock. We were going to have to play Wisconsin football, moving the chains and getting touchdowns in the red zone and not field goals, and our defense was going to have to do their part.
I think he just took that and ran with it, and to each his own.
Question: Big challenge facing the front seven?
Bielema: I think, first and foremost, Ohio State has always got really good players. They probably traditionally, since I've been here, have always had the best players in the league, the top 0-to-85 roster spots. They're always going to have highly recruited kids that they come in with a lot of accolades and a lot of natural talent. You know there are good players over there.
They were a little bit banged up in the middle of the year, moving guys around, especially at the linebacker. I'm sure they're going to have a few guys back after the bye week that will get back out there. Defensive tackle, there's a lot of really good D tackles in the league this year. We might be facing the best one this week.
And I think that the part that I'm excited to see is we play a certain style of offense, and when Tress (Jim Tressel) was there, they ran a little bit more kind of like what we run, and now they're really totally away from that. So it's going to be interesting because we play a certain style of offense, they play a certain style, and to compete against that defensively throughout the year is something that you always look at from a program perspective.
Question: Obviously, the players have to go out there and execute, but how do you feel about the coaching matchup between you and coach Meyer?
Bielema: Great question, but it really gets about 11 guys on the field. The plan is important. I think offensively and defensively and special teams wise, I have my hand in there a little bit, but I let my coaches coach.
The influences that I have on the program are more exactly that, program oriented, what type of offense we run, what type of defense we run, what type of things we do during the course of the week with practice, and I never really have at any other point in my career ever viewed it as a head coaching matchup. I get it. I understand why it's a story, but it's really minimized on game day.
Question: Bret, what has the introduction of Urban Meyer to this rivalry done to a pretty good rivalry?
Bielema: Don't know. We haven't played one yet. Obviously, there's a lot written in the off season. The unfortunate part of that is it was really a lot of to do about nothing. I only met Urban a couple of times before, obviously, his induction into the league. One was a real enjoyable experience when he came here as an analyst. Really enjoyed sitting down with him, and hopefully he did as well. So that part is unfortunate.
I think the part that's grown out of this is we do a lot of recruiting in Ohio. So the kids know each other. That builds up a little bit of animosity and some feelings out there more than anything. I've learned early on in my coaching career you lose more friends in recruiting in the coaching world than you do on game days.
I think Saturdays, you just kind of play, shake hands afterwards, and move on. Recruiting, you wear that on your sleeve. That's something that's the lifeline of your program, and a lot of times that's where feelings get very emotional.
Question: Have you ever felt a need this season to force feed the ball to Montee (Ball) in the red zone to help him get the touchdown record, or is he just so good in the red zone it's hard not to give him the ball?
Bielema: I think our team would look at me crossways if I ever acted that way, Tom. I've never done that. I've never I remember a couple of years ago I've taken that question very much to heart and understand it and why people ask it.
Two years ago, we, I think, were like five or six yards away from having two guys rush for 2,000 yards and had never been done in the world of college football. If I was a coach looking for those statistics, I probably wouldn't have been in that position anyways, but that hopefully symbolizes, I wasn't going to try to play with the game to get a guy six yards to break an NCAA record. It's not how I'm wired.
I will say that we made a decision to pull Montee out of the game. I was very conscientious about the score and everything else. I realized it was getting out of hand, and I realized that we were pretty much scoring at will, and I didn't want to we didn't want to throw the football as much as I kind of wanted to because you wanted to get Curt (Phillips) reps. It's probably good now in retrospect.
We won't do it any different. If Montee is the guy who's in there, he's going to get in there. If he gives us the best chance to have success, he'll be in there. If we feel its James (White) in the rotation, that's where we'll be. If it's Melvin (Gordon), that's where we'll be.
Question: Is Braxton Miller the most mobile quarterback you guys will have seen all season?
Bielema: This season? I would say, yeah, absolutely. I would say he's probably one of the most mobile quarterbacks I've seen in my coaching career, in the combination of what he can also do throwing the football. We've maybe seen some guys that can maybe run better, but nobody that has the dual threat ability that Braxton has.
Question: Bret, Montee (Ball) has talked openly about where his mind was two years ago when he didn't play in that Ohio State game and where he was thinking where my future's going to go. I'm just curious if you can remember back then if you thought which path he might head down given his position on the team at the time.
Bielema: Yeah, I think I go back to Sunday morning you know, to be honest -- when we won and the people stormed the field, I was trying to be aware of my surroundings and be safe and worried about everything else going on. I really didn't reflect back on the fact until I saw John Settle in the locker room, and he said, you know, Montee didn't get in the game today, and I realized that happened.
Just because I'm such a tremendous fan of Montee and his family, I thought a little bit about it that night and sat down and watched the film Sunday morning and kind of got overly concerned. I remember specifically in the staff meeting making reference to John and all the offensive coaches to grab Montee today, say something to him, love him up. Hey, we're going to need him down the stretch, just because you never know where a young man's mind is.
Running backs I was never a skilled athlete, I was never in that role. So I really asked for guys to help him through that situation. What I didn't realize, which I should have, was the only person he was talking to was his parents, and that was all that that kid needed to persevere and move forward.
I always give him a little bit of heat, if you would have come in and told me he wanted to switch to linebacker, I probably wouldn't have let him as bad as he might have pleaded because I think we always knew all along he was going to be pretty special.
Question: Bret, should it come to pass that Ohio State is the only unbeaten left in college football this year, would you have a problem with people referring to them as the national champions?
Bielema: You know what, Andy, I haven't given that any thought. You know, as coaches, we all vote in the USA Today coaches poll. That's the only poll I'm involved in, and that obviously prohibits us from ranking teams that are not eligible for bowl competition. So I really haven't given it much thought.
Question: Bret, Joe Rudolph did such a great job recruiting Ohio for you. Can you talk about maybe how Zach Azzanni has done and how important Ohio still is to you in recruiting.
Bielema: I can't really comment on Zach because his products are kind of in waiting, but I will say this. Joe was an outstanding recruiter, just as several other of my coaches were that have gone on.
I've probably been very impressed with my coaches on the football field, but the things I've been excited about most, from the time I hired them to where I am today, has been some of our guys in recruiting. Zach in Ohio, Eddie's (Faulkner) got his foothold in Ohio just a little bit and more in Michigan, and I think that stuff's going to be coming.
I know Zach is a tireless recruiter. I'm always getting things in my box about write this guy, call this guy, special note here, write this kid's uncle, write this kid's dad, write this kid's aunt. It's very easy to see good recruiters once you've been around them for a very short time just because of the details that they have.
It was very important for me to hire someone in that area, and Zach had kind of been one of those guys. I first met him recruiting at Ft. Lauderdale High, he was on my heels at two or three different high schools. Didn't know where he was going, looked confused. That was before the age of Garmins, and I gave him some maps to make copies of, and that's how we started our relationship. I gave him maps and he made copies at Kinko's and gave them back to me. Some guys just leave you hanging and don't give them back. That's when I knew I had a good guy.
Just grew out of that, and he's going to be very, very good. Zach Azzanni is going to be a great football coach, not just because of his recruiting, but because of Xs and Os too.
Question: Can you compare and contrast Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller?
Bielema: I guess obviously the two starting quarterbacks last to play at Ohio State, but no comparison. I've been a huge fan of Braxton's. I saw him as a junior in high school. We recruited Josh Harrison from his high school. So had a chance to be around him and his high school coaches, see what kind of person he is. He just exudes everything you would like in the world of college football. I think he's just a tremendous talent too.
I mean, it's kind of I'm not saying he's Russell Wilson, but he carries a lot of those same things. I think that's why Russell, last year after the game and everything that happened there, Russell sought him out. He'd kind of been hearing about him and who he is and what he is. I just wish we didn't have to play him every year because he truly is special.
As far as the other guy, I really don't worry about players that are behind us.
Question: Bret, James White I don't know if their past had been similar with Montee (Ball), but James was freshman of the year two years ago. Last year was kind of the forgotten guy. He appears to be running as well, if not better, than he did as a freshman. What factors have led him to be able to move past last year and kind of have this resurgence?
Bielema: It sounds silly, Jeff, but some of the same kind of ingredients. He's a tremendous kid. I think you've met Tyrone (White). Both Montee and James both have the great fortune of coming from an incredible family structure.
Montee, Sr., gave Montee great advice, and Tyrone has given James great advice. I think there was a time where James was thinking, hey, do I need to move on? What do I need to do? And had some conversation with Tyrone when I was down in South Florida recruiting. His mom, a strong lady too. I always get a kick, James' grandmother always has a prediction for us. Three years ago she predicted us in the Big Ten Championship, and I've liked her ever since.
Just that kind of, when kids have a bump in the road or when they experience something that life doesn't really see, if they don't have a good source to go to away from here because that's when they're kind of like, are these coaches looking out for me or not? If they can go to their parents and say, what should I do, and they continue to enforce, believe in the coaches, that's probably what helps us out more than anything.
Question: A lot of the run plays in the second half were a result of the score and the circumstances against Indiana, but moving forward, would you like to see Curt (Phillips) throw a little bit more or have some success?
Bielema: For Curt too because it helps us out. We were just kind of taking what we had. Coach there was a little dialogue on the field Saturday, if you guys remember back when Jon Budmayr hit a long throw against Indiana three years ago. Matt Canada was on the other sideline in the coaches’ box, and we were in the third quarter, and I go back and forth from offense to defense. And someone named a play that was a deep throw, and I was not privy to the whole conversation, so I got pissed I'm sorry. I got upset and said, no! We're not doing that.
And everybody starts laughing, and it was Curt Phillips making reference to coach Canada, who made reference to what he thought was a very bogus call at the time. I quickly switched back to defense. They're a lot more normal over there. It was kind of one of those moments where you realize it.
And Curt, I took you know, I came out of my press conference Saturday after the game and quickly saw we didn't throw the ball as many times as people would have liked, and if I did, then they would have been mad. I kind of really paid attention on Sunday. We put Curt in 11 throwing calls. The first one on third down is third and eight. It's a planned naked bootleg throw. He sees an opening and scrambles for a first down. Couldn't ask for a better play.
His very first pass was a very tough look bubble. Wasn't there. Turned around. Got rid of the football. I've seen other quarterbacks take a sack there, which put us in a no win situation and get a first down. He gets down on the goal line, and his first throw on the goal line is a third and three. He's got to throw a play action pass off a hard run action to a wide open guy between two defenders, converts it, gets his tail knocked off on a third down pressure that really wasn't no fault of his own, held onto the football. Then he throws a fourth down strike to Derek Watt on fourth down and two with a guy right in his face, couldn't have asked for any better.
His last throw of the day was a touchdown that gets called back because his right guard had a holding call. If those plays that showed up, it's just people that read the stats and draw bad decisions or make bad conclusions don't understand he really played a pretty good game running and throwing, and my guess is Saturday is going to be even better.
Got any questions, Tom?
Question: Yeah, you haven't played many mobile quarterbacks, running quarterbacks, at least since Nebraska. How has your defense done against those? You know I don't know much, but that's a question.
Bielema: I'm sure you've already got the article written. The part that I think our guys have been able to do throughout the course of the year is keep the ball in front, whether it's the quarterback or running back.
Taylor (Martinez) plays in a system that really isn't like Ohio State's. To go to where we are today, (Nathan) Scheelhaase was a little bit banged up. Purdue played three different quarterbacks. Michigan State plays a drop back style. So it was hard to get a read there. Obviously, this Saturday, got two quarterbacks that did a little bit of both.
Question: I'm just curious, with Montee (Ball) approaching the all-time touchdown record
Bielema: How do we handle it?
Question: How do you handle it, and where do you place that record in the realm of college football?
Bielema: You know, it's kind of mind boggling, obviously, as many great players have played in the history of college football. One thing that jumps out to me and I know a couple of you have written about it Montee's done this really it's in a four year career like everybody else has, but he hasn't been the guy for four years. He's really been the guy for 2 1/2, which makes it even more remarkable.
I think that part really hasn't set in, I think, with our players, and definitely Montee knows it's a big deal because everyone's been telling him about it.
We talked about it on Sunday. We kind of kept him in clue of how many he needs, and obviously one more to tie it and two to get it. It will be a special memory for everybody involved. Going back to the beginning of the season, we've made reference to Montee's going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. He's a guy that's going to get these awards. But you can be a center that's blocking for him. You can be a tackle that's blocking for him. I think our wide receivers are blocking at a level right now, and that gets Montee fired up.
I can tell you this, to hear reaction from our guys when James White is running in the end zone and Curt Phillips is the lead blocker, now you've got a quarterback that's blocking for you, those are good things.
Question: Coach, you've been asked a lot about Montee (Ball), but looking at the senior class, and you just glance at the names in the paper, a lot of guys that have been through a lot of adversity, injuries, whatever the case may be. What jumps out to you when you look at the names of this senior class?
Bielema: I would say every story is a little bit different. You've got Montee and all his trials and tribulations, but think about Mike Taylor. Mike has gone through a significant amount of injuries to get to where he is, and the way he plays and competes is really, really special.
Shelton Johnson, I'm going to always remember here's a guy who broke his arm and played eight plays without saying anything to anybody in the Oregon State game because he wanted to stay in the game and didn't want to let his teammates down.
Devin Smith has gone through a significant foot injury, but he and I have had several things away from the game that have drawn us closer away from the game. His family, his mom is battling some illness throughout his entire career that is just so strong and perseverance.
We get Marcus Cromartie, Cro, a New Orleans guy displaced by Hurricane Katrina and lands up in Madison, Wis. Who would have thought?
On the offensive side of the ball, Robbie (Robert) Burge, a guy that I had to talk into coming back out for football after he quit and wins a scholarship, and he started for us at guard this year.
Obviously, Curt Phillips and Brendan Kelly, those are two seniors I hope to have another Senior Day with. Those guys are going to go through all the motions, but hopefully they'll be back with us in the fall again.
All of them great stories. All of them great perseverance. To be a senior in Division I football and to make it this far, you're going to have to go through some things, and thankfully we've got really good kids that are provided with really good support.
Question: I know you called it a no issue before, but was it fair how your comments on (Urban) Meyer's recruiting blew up on a national stage like it did?
Bielema: It doesn't matter if it's fair or not. It's just I think I don't want to speak on Urban's behalf, but I know from my point of view it was really blown I was blown away when I found out what it was because it kind of got grouped into something I had no part of, and it's just something that takes a life of its own.
One thing I've realized in this world, you kind of roll the way things go. I don't have any control over the outside world or the media, but it's something I definitely all of us can learn from. So that part's good. But not surprising.