Dec. 20, 2011
• Watch Bielema Press Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema reflected on the No. 9 Badgers' preparations for the Rose Bowl and the challenges posed by their opponent, Oregon, during his weekly press conference Monday.
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: It's a difficult week for our guys. With finals and everything going on, we actually got in five practices before finals week started up, so I was excited about that. But this week we'll take (Monday) off. We'll practice them Tuesday, Wednesday, take Thursday off, and then we'll practice them, a real intense practice on Friday, give them, actually, Christmas Eve and Christmas day off, on 24th and 25th, and then we'll come over and condition a little bit before we head to L.A. on Monday.
I'm very excited with the way they've kind of approached the Oregon prep to this point locking in. I know I read from some of your comments or things I read in the media about our guys just kind of focusing in. Last year was a nice trip, we took advantage of it, but this year they want to go out and finish things off better than they did a year ago, so excited about that.
With the second trip coming back to back, you try to change up a few things that maybe we did from a year ago, not only practice-wise but also some of the stuff we did away from the field. Bottom line, it's a great trip for the kids. We're staying at a great hotel, get a lot of neat opportunities that come about just from being able to be in L.A., so try to maximize that for the kids as well and hopefully move forward.
Injury-wise, Pete hasn't practiced with us yet to this date. Hopefully going to get him involved in our preparation out there, if not sooner. Otherwise, everybody else is back in full competition and other than the guys who we're medically moving on without the surgery guys, over the course of the season everybody should be 100 percent full-go for the game.
So with that, open it up for questions.
QUESTION #1: Bret, you guys did a nice job on third down last year with Tolzien at quarterback, but your numbers are even better this year. And I'm just curious, how much of that can be attributed to what Russell has been able to do both pre-snap and with his feet?
BIELEMA: Absolutely. I think a key element for us is our preparation first off. I was in a discussion the other day with Paul Chryst, and we were talking about how much time (Wilson) puts into making the decisions on what's going to be called, all the preparation. Any time you go into a game plan, you want to have great execution on all downs, but third down is the critical down, and being able to have a plan. So I think the preparation has been outstanding from our coaches, then to put it into the game plan with the kids. But as the case you saw several times this year, that maybe the answer wasn't there, and Russell just being able to; A, stay alive and get the ball thrown down field or, B, being able to scramble for a first down has been very, very positive for us and obviously has a huge impact on the stats.
QUESTION #2: Bret, I think you said Konz was seeking a second opinion. Did you find out anything new from that?
BIELEMA: It's actually this week. I grabbed him yesterday, congratulated him when I saw that he got another All-American honor from Pro Football Weekly. I always just kind of grab the guys, how's finals? He's got four of them, so he was pretty stressed about that stuff. I think he flies Wednesday, will be back Thursday afternoon, and it didn't interrupt his academic schedule.
QUESTION #3: Travis Frederick, obviously, a really smart guy out on the field. I'm just wondering on the field, do you think that stuff translates at all with a guy who can switch positions in the middle of a game . . .
BIELEMA: Yeah, it does carry over. I think obviously, Travis, computer science, computer engineering is a pretty good double major, and I think it does carry over to the field. He's really got a grasp of what's going on around him all the time, and to be able to make the calls at the line of scrimmage, and then just being smart in the way he plays. He's pretty conscientious and not penalized; he may have had one or two calls this year against him, but pretty clean player.
QUESTION #4: Bret, the guy he plays next to, Ricky Wagner, a little different personality than Travis obviously. We're asking Paul about those two, and he said, look, we didn't go into the season looking to replace Gabe (Carimi) and Moff (John Moffitt), but I'm just curious what those two guys have given you, especially Ricky, the toughness he showed down in Illinois missing, I think, two series.
BIELEMA: I think the transition for Ricky was probably the most difficult of all the guys. I really do think moving to that left side through him off a little bit, just because Ricky's kind of a perfectionist. I brought Ricky in last week and sat him down, just to make sure the NFL wasn't something that he (was interested in), sending in the paperwork and whatnot, and just had a real good conversation with Ricky, because he was starting to get beat up by agents and stuff.
So we kind of put the game plan together to have an outstanding senior year, and I really think you'll see a big jump in his play from a year ago going into next fall because he is a meticulous, detail guy. He's kind of a quiet kid, doesn't say a lot, and he played through an extreme amount of pain on several occasions this year and battled through it, was pretty impressive.
QUESTION #5: Do you think time of possession is a key stat in this game, or because they're so productive without having the ball much, does that almost make it meaningless?
BIELEMA: I talked to Chip (Kelly), I think it was three years ago, he had a position on staff that was open for a (graduate assistant) and one of my former players was trying to get the position. Just kind of general conversation with Chip, and he was talking about how he'd be the worst defensive coordinator to work for because they go for it on fourth down so much and obviously all the success they've had in such a short amount of time. So for us, it's a factor. So in answer to your question, Tom, we always want to win the time of possession game. It's kind of our signature deal. We've been up there one or two usually in the Big Ten ever since I've been here, so it's a big part of it. For us to win this game, we've got to play Wisconsin football, and that's a key element.
QUESTION #6: Kind of back to Ricky for a second, you said he was getting beat up by agents. I assume you meant contacted and tried to . . .
BIELEMA: Yeah, sorry. Not physically beat up.
QUESTION #6: Was his mindset, “I'm not ready” or how did that conversation go with him?
BIELEMA: I learned this one through Moff a couple years ago, because I asked Moff and Gabe if you wanted to fill out the paperwork, both of them said no, and then basically an agent intervened with his father and really got John confused. I remember I got a call the day after the Rose Bowl, or the day after a game, and Moffit was going to come out. So I've really tried, with any of my juniors that even have had a limited amount of success, I'll just kind of be up front and honest, ‘Hey, is this something that you're actually thinking about,’ because this little birdies have been in my ear that he had possibly been contacted by people and kind of weighing his options.
And we just kind of sat down, and he kind of came pretty straightforward with me. He's like, ‘Coach I just want to make sure I wasn't breaking any rules if these people have contacted me.’ It's usually the bad agents, the guys that are street urchins, the guys that that are just trying to get in the business, trying to get a break, and trying to get a big-name kid from a good program to come out and go with him to try and collect money on the front end.
I think Ricky is just a real quiet kid. He's got a plan in mind. I remember sitting in my office two years ago when I gave him a scholarship and he broke down. I mean, he's come a long way from where he is today.
QUESTION #7: I know this is before you were here, but I'm wondering maybe if in your conversations with Coach Alvarez you ever talked about that '93 Rose Bowl team. Because it seems like since that point, I mean, that really kind of put Wisconsin football up here, and it's been pretty consistent ever since. Do you get a sense at all that maybe that season was kind of a turning point just for Wisconsin football . . .
BIELEMA: Well, I was at another school at the time, and I remember watching the Rose Bowl in the hotel room of my head coach I was working for, Hayden Fry, at the time. We were at another bowl game. I read through Brian's press release and the numbers are ridiculous. I mean, other than USC, we're the most-represented team in the country to the Rose Bowl since the BCS (began). I think USC has got five, this is our fourth.
For us personally, I can't tell you just in traveling over the last month with recruiting, since, really since the championship game, how many people come up -- and I think we’ve got a lot of fans across the country -- and say, hey, they love the way we play, the way our kids represent, the way that we come across on a national exposure. In my time being here, it's at an all-time high, and I think Coach (Alvarez) would probably agree with you, since that point it's at an all new high right now.
QUESTION #8: Montee had mentioned treating this more like a business trip because last year he said they were kind of starstruck and maybe weren't as focused on the game. Obviously, you want them to have fun, go the Beef Bowl, go to Disneyland. What do you tell them to kind of have them enjoy this experience, but stay focused and keep it like a business trip?
BIELEMA: Pretty much be up front. I think that's the part that I've enjoyed as a head coach is my kids are pretty mature. They handle everything for what it is. So I just kind of explain to them, hey, we're going to do some things out there that are meant to be rewards for you. I'm taking them to a Lakers-Knicks game. I thought I was going to get a standing ovation for that one, but it's only a certain amount of guys get to go. They'll be little things that we get to do that are rewards for them. I'm going to modify and adjust our uniforms a little bit, and I think that will be something that they get excited about, that we'll reveal to them.
So those are the neat things, those are rewards, but when it comes time to work, I need you to work. We’ll let them do certain things, but when we show up, I think Montee is taking the lead on that overall, I think the whole season, and this will be no change.
QUESTION #9: Bret, you mentioned I think last Wednesday when you met with us that you thought, you'd be surprised if Nick (Toon) didn't have one of his best games. I'm curious why you would think that and also, because his dad played here, even though it was a long time ago, you think in the eyes of some he's measured to . . . held to a different standard because of the success his dad had?
BIELEMA: Yeah, I would think so. And Nick, like I've said all along, he wanted to come to Wisconsin. Obviously he knew his dad's heritage and history here, but he wanted to make a name for himself, and I think he has done that and played in a certain way that he plays well. I've always thought, going back to Nick's sophomore year, I remember that touchdown grab he had over the Michigan defender. It was kind of a circus catch, and I always thought Nick, the first player that I really always thought that about Travis Beckum. Travis always played big in big games. We'd preach about it all the time, but it's another thing to go out and do it. We have a couple of guys doing that now, I think, and Nick's one of those guys.
QUESTION #10: Can't let the uniform issue go by without follow up. Are you trying to match up with Oregon's uniforms?
BIELEMA: No, no I’m not, but I am not oblivious. You know, I was a marketing major for those of you that don't know it, and I do realize that Oregon's a premier school for Nike and they do a lot of specific things, obviously, with Phil Knight and all that goes into being out there. But it's a BCS, Rose Bowl matchup between an adidas school and a Nike school. And I appreciate everything adidas has done for us here, and it's kind of unique situation because you’ve got Wisconsin, who is red and white on road uniforms and to incorporate a rose theme in that type of environment, I think, is going to be pretty cool. Not everything has been finalized yet. I’ve got to still give the final approval, and then, of course, the AD has to approve it, and we know he doesn't like change. I can guarantee you we won't be wearing red pants, I know that. But anything else is kind of up for grabs.
QUESTION #11: Coach, when we talked to Thomas Hammock, he used the word dedication to describe Bradie (Ewing). Is that a good word to use in just everything that he's put forth to this program?
BIELEMA: You know what, it is. That's probably a great way to describe Bradie. He is very dedicated in everything he does. His preparation, the way he prepares his body. He's dedicated to his faith. I know that's a very big thing. Dedicated to his fiancé. You know, he's just a great example of what a kid can do when he commits to something, about how much he can have success if he really fully commits it, and that's what he's done. And he'll get rewarded.
You know, the Packers were in here, and they kind of were taking a specific look at him. I got a lot of questions. I told Coach Hammock, ‘I don't know if I can tell Bradie Ewing that the Packers were asking about him because he might faint.’ I announced to the team yesterday that the Packers had lost, and three quarters of my guys it devastated them; the other quarter, the out-of-state guys, were beating them up about it left and right. So can't believe there are that many Chiefs fans on our team, but it was kind of funny.
QUESTION #12: Bret, what do you think's the reason for the increase in turnover productivity by your defense as the Big Ten play went along? And on the flip side of that, how important has it been for the offense not to let those turnovers be wasted?
BIELEMA: Huge point. I think, Jeff, that might have been one of our biggest keys to success in some of those games. The Illinois game was critical to get the turnovers, then to turn it into scores. But I think it is emphasized in practice. I know we do a turnover circuit every day. It's one thing to kind of say or do it, but it's constantly talked about. During a normal game, we talk about takeaway Tuesdays, where you're trying to put an emphasis on the whole day about creating turnovers.
I thought our guys did a great job this year. If an opportunity was there, they maximized it. When they didn't, there weren't a lot of picks that I remember that we got our hands on and were dropped. We caught the ball. The one that sticks out in my mind, I think it was Illinois, that I think Antonio (Fenelus) hit it, one of their players might have hit it, it bounced off somebody else's head, and Aaron Henry came away with it. So, bottom line, the ball has got to bounce a little bit your way, but there was a huge point of emphasis with those guys and doing it.
QUESTION #13: What have NFL teams told you about Bradie that they like so much that can get him to the next level?
BIELEMA: Bradie's been a shocker the whole way through. He came in, we were going to play him at running back, and really did that for the first two years. And he got on the field faster than I'd ever expected. I remember him smiling on that first touchdown. He came over to the sidelines and just grabbed me. Then we decided to move him to fullback. At first, I think there was a little bit of, ‘I don't know if I can do this’ type of deal, and then all the sudden… I call him Private Pyle, he came back hard and, like the Full Metal Jacket guy, he just turned into a little freak that will get after anybody on any given play, no matter what type of block.
I think the part that the NFL likes about him is Bradie can stay on his feet and stay after people. He maybe isn't the most violent. The NFL is going to want to put 10 pounds on him. That's what they're going to do. He's at 235. They're going to want him at 245, which I think he can do. But the part about him that they really enjoy or appreciate is his ability to stay on his feet and stay active on a block, and then also just the way he catches the ball. He's exceptionally gifted with his hands. And then Bradie is one of the few players on our team that starts in all four phases of the kicking game and is a vital player on those units. So I think that combination of things makes it very exciting about the NFL.
QUESTION #14: Bret, I think a lot of fans feel that this is a daunting task for your club against Oregon. You've watched them on film. How daunting of a task do you think this is?
BIELEMA: Well, it's a task. I don't get into degrees of difficulty, but you have a unique preparation. One point of emphasis I've made to the kids is we’ve got extended prep for this game, which is critical. And you look at some of the games that they've played with extended prep, three years ago the Rose Bowl, this year beginning of the year with LSU. Last year at the end of the year and their bowl game.
So there are several things that you can kind of draw from that. These guys will be very hard to play within a week. If you got done with a game on Saturday and you had to get ready for (them), I think it would be a very difficult challenge. But the extended prep and the opportunity to kind of slow things down a little bit mentally is going to be great. I appreciate and like the fact that a lot of people don't have a lot of confidence in what we're able to do.
QUESTION #15: Could you give us some perspective on their speed? I mean, it seems like you faced a fast time in the bowl every year. You know, are they significantly different, and where does it show up the most?
BIELEMA: I think in offensive skill they're exceptional. Everybody wants to talk about LaMichael James, but any running back, No. 6 for them is incredibly gifted. I think their skill overall on offense and defense is pretty good. Their corners are young, but they're very, very athletic. Their safeties are aggressive in the way they fill. I think their two edge players on defense are exceptional players. They play a lot of guys on defense, and then probably the area where it comes out the most is special teams. For instance, they don't punt the ball very often, but when they do punt, they've been very effective. And the punter's a good punter, but they have great coverage guys.
QUESTION #16: Bret, you mentioned doing some things differently, as far as bowl prep when you compare this year's Rose Bowl to last year's Rose Bowl, and I know you mentioned once they're out there doing some different things. Is there anything else that you can share as far as what you're doing differently?
BIELEMA: One of the things is that I've kind of taken the approach this year, normally we might get into like a 22- or 24-period practice. All practices this year will be 18 periods or less. I want shorter, crisper, faster practices, and then we'll do one of the things I've never done in my six years as a head coach, we've never done post-practice conditioning. And obviously we've had a lot of success, so I think the plan works, but for this game, with maybe these shorter practices, we will emphasize conditioning at the end of practice on, I believe, six of our 14 practices to kind of simulate the speed of the game and have them be in condition for that type of offense.
QUESTION #17: Bret, in your opinion, if Pete (Peter Konz) can't play in the bowl game, will that affect either his decision to return or to turn pro early or how he will be perceived by the NFL people?
BIELEMA: It will definitely have a factor in it. And what we're trying to do for Pete and for Montee, all the guys in these types of situations, is gather as much information as we can, give them accurate information. The part that gets difficult during these times is bad information. One thing about the agents, kids get enamored and wowed when these agents start throwing out these dollar figures. And you’ve got to understand and realize, the one thing that an agent does, once you hire them, is he starts taking your money. And they don't ever see it as that angle. It kind of takes a couple years for that to settle in.
So what we have to do is give them credible information from the people that are making the calls. I’ve reached out to several GMs that I rely on heavily to get real information. I believe this follow-up appointment or the second opinion obviously, if there's some extended medical things, that's going to definitely affect his status. And then, a little bit when you start talking about first and second rounds, and even a little bit in the third, if you're a player in that draft status, for like Pete, he's not only competing against other centers, he's competing against like a Russell Wilson. You know, next-best-player-on-the-board type of situation for teams.
For a guy like Montee, you’ve got to look at teams that drafted players, running backs in the top two rounds last year, they're probably not going to do that, and almost half the teams, I think, drafted players in the last two years in that status. So it really, it's not a defined science, but it's kind of fun to work through.
QUESTION #18: Bret, I don't know if you've gone back and looked at this particular history, but this is the second time you've faced a Nick Aliotti defense in a Rose Bowl. Have you gone back to when the first time that Wisconsin played his defense? He was at UCLA, but I'm wondering if his approach has changed at all significantly?
BIELEMA: They're very much more pressure-oriented than they were probably, I went to the Oregon game two years ago, I guess it was. I've talked to actually three Pac-12 head coaches about it, because when you play a team in your league every year, you get to know things better than a team that's going to watch them one time. But I think the thing about their defense, it kind of stays with their offensive philosophy, they're very aggressive. They're very, very speed oriented. They're moving a lot, whether it be pressures or just simple line movements, as well as linebackers.
So, no, I haven't done a comparative study on their defense. We're kind of taking this year's plan and moving forward.
QUESTION #19: Bret, you said this defensive staff makes the best adjustments of any defensive staff you've had. Could you expand on that, and can you think of any examples where that's happened this year?
BIELEMA: Well, for instance, I would say with every one of our first four opponents, the things we prepared for weren’t anything like what we came to see reality in front of us. And then, during the course of the year, for instance the Purdue game, they came out with a totally different plan than they've really shown on film against us; Illinois as well. I thought the guys really did a nice job in game. I get a kick when I watch the sidelines. I see Hux (assistant coach Dave Huxtable) sitting on that chair. He looks like a little professor in front of a small group of linebackers. That teaching image comes through on game day, but it's really good what I see during the course of the week to carry forward.
QUESTION #20: Does that give you confidence in a bowl game too, because you're always going to see something in a bowl game that you're not ready for, right?
BIELEMA: Absolutely, especially Oregon's deal. During the course of the year, I always watch (games) in order. I like to go back to the first game and move forward. Some coaches try to watch cut-ups, I like to watch entire games. And you see that they come out with maybe two, maybe three, new formations every week, and then have certain group of plays within that formation grouping that they feature every week, and every week it's different.
QUESTION #21: Bret, I think throughout the course of the year, it looks like Chris (Ash) and Charlie (Partridge), they like they stay with the base when they can. And against Oregon that's a different animal that you're facing. Has there been a philosophical discussion going on about how much we can get away with our base or do we use our nickel unit, if you can sub or can't sub, that whole idea?
BIELEMA: Absolutely, especially now we're getting into the meat of the prep. These next four practices are real game-plan situations. So, a little bit of trial and error, we'll see what looks good out of practice. I think personnel is a critical part. One of the things that you have to keep in mind when Kevin Claxton is out there instead of nickel, it's a different person out there in space so you got to keep that tempered and in mind. And the other thing is, Oregon, once you're within a series, you kind of have to stay with what you've got. There isn't much of a chance to sub and get guys in there in the game.
And you’ve got an ACC crew, which, to me, might be one of the biggest storylines of the whole game. You're not a Big Ten officiating crew. You're not a Pac-12 officiating crew. It's an ACC crew. And, obviously, they're not well-versed in officiating Oregon themselves. So it's going to be a very neat challenge for them as well.
QUESTION #22: Along those lines, I assume, how early before the game do you talk about if Oregon subs last, don't forget we have a chance to sub.
BIELEMA: There's several occasions on film, and all I can do is going through Bill Carollo, our Big Ten (officiating director), and then he makes communications with (the crew), and he's done an outstanding job of that already. He really was positive about the crew that we were going to be getting. He knew that, the white hat, he knew him personally and says he's an excellent official. What I have done is I've proactively sent clips that I've seen on film, ‘Hey, this concerns me. How is this going to be explained and interpreted?’
You'll see clips where basically the umpire stands over the ball, and he waits for the official to give him a signal that we're ready for play. And then he has to turn and sprint out of there, and the Oregon center will snap the ball immediately. There are so many plays where the umpire has his back to the ball, and the ball is snapped. So he's looking at the safeties. He's not even looking where he's supposed to be, I mean, that's his area. So you could have the possibility of false starts by us or them that will never be seen, holding that will never be seen. Again, penalties by us that will never be seen because they aren't physically in a position to see the game.
QUESTION #23: Bret, how impressive is their trigger man, their quarterback?
BIELEMA: Very impressive. I've not been surprised, but he's very accurate, very quick in his decision making. I'm not even going to try to interpret how they read those signs over there and what they’ve get going, but their system and what he goes to, he runs it very, very well and has a lot of confidence in it. You can see when a play doesn't work, he almost can tell by his reaction he knows why it didn't work and can try to make those adjustments on the field.
QUESTION #24: Just to clarify, Bret, where do you send those clips to, the Big Ten office?
QUESTION #24: What influence do they have or what do you hope to gain from that?
BIELEMA: Well, every game you play in, you do this. It's a standard operating procedure for me. If we have a question about a formation or something that happens during the course of the game, when our games get done, a lot of times I'll send in a half a dozen plays, ‘Was this a foul? If it was a foul, it was called and I disagree with it.’ I'll do the same thing. So when you're dealing with bowl games, I believe we have maybe two, maybe three crews that go out and work other bowl games, Big Ten officials. And obviously, I don't have any connection to the ACC. I wanted to find out, first off, who was officiating our game. It's the ACC. I believe last year it was SEC, if I'm not mistaken. And I have conversations with Bill Carollo, who will then pass on his thoughts or his concerns to the ACC officials.