Notes from Big Ten teleconference

The Big Ten teleconference wrapped up a short time ago, and we have some quotes posted now from both Coach Tressel and Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez.

Coach Tressel's intro:

"As you mentioned, we're coming off of an open week, and I thought our guys did a good job of trying to use that time to get better and to get moving academically. We're only two weeks into our academic quarter so it came at a good time for us. They trained hard and had a little bit of time off, which is unusual for them, and now they realize the difficulty of the challenges as they travel to Camp Randall and play the Badgers."

Q: "With the way things have gone this year, does it bring feelings of last year when you winning games close or does it feel different?"

"As we analyze our film each week, I find that the weeks are similar whether it's last year or this year or whenever it happens to be because we're constantly looking at where we have got to get better, where we've made some progress and we need to build upon and I wouldn't say specifically that it has any feeling of last year, but simply the feeling of every year that you know you're not as good as you want to be and if you want to compete with the schedule that lies ahead, you've got to get a lot better."

Q: Injury situation -- How much of a factor have the injuries played in some of the offensive problems?

"We've been a little bit thin in some areas at some times. I think that the maybe less obvious thing that happen to you is when you lose guys for practice time. For instance, Ben Hartsock missed most of the preseason with a broken hand. Our running backs Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall missed virtually all of preseason with some nagging injuries. We lost Alex Stepanovich for a few weeks and should have him back. We lost Craig Krenzel, not just from the games, but from practice, which is critical, so we have had some missing practice time from some guys, and I think that does affect us.

"Over on the defensive side, we'll be missing E.J. Underwood as one of our backup corners We hope to get Darrion Scott back, right now I'd say we don't know for sure the answer to that, but I think for sure we will have Craig Krenzel and Alex Stepanovich back."

Q: Barry Alvarez has said in a couple of occasions he would not have been willing to move this to a night game had he been in your shoes… did you have any reservations about it, and how hard as a head coach would it have been to say no to playing at night?

"Well, we really didn't have a whole bunch of discussions about it to be honest with you. It was brought forward to us that we had the opportunity to be the only game on the TV at that time and go to an exciting atmosphere like Camp Randall. Our guys like to have exciting experiences, and I know that they've enjoyed when we've played in the evening both at home and away, and so quite frankly I didn't give it much thought."

Q: Has any team you faced so far been really committed to try to run the ball against your defense, and will this be your defense's biggest test in that regard?

"There's no question it will be our biggest test in that regard. The teams we've faced have not been run first, pass second teams; they've been pass first and run maybe. We know Wisconsin is run first and strike for the big play in the pass as well, so I think that's the most difficult challenge to face."

Q: Special teams theory – do you like using a lot of starters on those units? What's your approach on that?

"We use probably a mixture of starters and backup players. We try to have 18 or 19 guys playing all the time on defense and 15 or 16 guys playing all the time on offense, and a good number of those guys are a part of those special teams as well, but we don't ever say so-and-so is not going to play special teams because he's a starter on offense or defense. The special teams really has the first choice unless we're very thin at a position and maybe we have to hold a guy off offensively or defensively from some of the special teams, but we understand that the special teams are perhaps the biggest part of the game."

Q from Seattle Times on whether or not OSU has improved since the opener:

"I think we've had some improvement since then. We thought we played a solid game in the opener, but just like all openers, you went back and you watched the film, and it might not have been as picture perfect maybe as it appeared to be from the outside. I think in some areas we have improved, and that's going to be put to the test now that we get into the thick of conference play. Conference play is really what it's all about, and we're going to find out about ourselves."

Q: I think you've always stated that polls don't really matter until October. Can you talk about the sense of the team and this month and how important it is to you guys?

"Polls don't really mean much until November. Obviously you can't come out of nowhere if you're not at least doing a good enough job to be noticed in October… October is typically the heart of your conference schedule, so that's going to define who you are anyway. Really where polls become significant is when the games are done being played in November, then that determines your fate if you're fortunate enough to have postseason opportunities."

Q: How do you plan to use Chris Gamble this week and in the Saturdays following this week?

"We always have the option of having him at the receiver position. In this early going, we've had so many teams throw so many balls, spreading it all over in the field that we just have not felt that it was the best thing for him physically to play both sides. I think as the conference unfolds and people will be pounding it at us a little bit more and perhaps not getting 50-60 throws against us, there may be a chance that he has to come over to the offensive side. We've said from day one that his primary place of employment if you will is defensively and special teams, and the offense gets what, if any, is left over.

That will probably be the way we go about, but the nice thing is as you get into the season, you can put some special things together with him in the ball game and maybe highlight him on a selected basis."

Barry Alvarez:

"We're certainly pleased with our win at Penn State. It's always a very difficult place to play, so when you walk out of there with a win, you're very happy. Jimmy Leonhard certainly deserved Big Ten honor for Special Teams Player of the Week; he's a young man who just continues to make plays for us.

"This week, we play a great football team in Ohio State, defending national champs, and as you study, they're really a team that doesn't have any weaknesses and really impressive to watch. They're just so sound and well coached in all their areas. The team plays the game the way I think it should be played. We play at 8 o'clock at night and it really should be quite an environment."

Game-related questions:

Q: When you look at Lee Evans now, how does he compare to two years ago both from a physical standpoint and a personal standpoint from what he's gone through?

"I think number one, if you haven't seen him for two years, I think the first thing you may notice is physically he's a little thicker, maybe a little more powerful right now than he was a couple years ago. I think personally he's always been a very strong young man, a strong-willed young man, very positive and upbeat. I think the situation he went through with the injury and having to redo the surgery and made a tough decision to stay in school has made him even stronger and more positive. Quite frankly, he's been a very positive influence for our entire football team and how he dealt with that adversity."

Q:You had one of the league's defenses back in '98 and '99. Since then, statistically at least, the performance has fallen back probably to the middle of the pack in the league. Is there a common denominator for that in your eyes? It is talent? Have you seen anything out of your defense this year that makes you think it could be different?

"We did have talent, and I think that is always the number one most important common denominator. The thing that particularly good about our defenses was the corners were outstanding. Our secondary was outstanding. All four of the guys were NFL players and Jamar Fletcher winning the Thorpe Award, and when you have corners and you have a secondary that play you a lot of press man and do it effectively, you can do a lot of things with your up-front people. We just haven't had that quality of secondary probably since 2000."

Q on the RB situation:

"We've had the luxury of three backs playing better than you'd ever anticipate a third running back, or I would. We feel blessed to have that type of depth there because two of the last three games, our number one and number two back were out with ankle injuries, and Booker stepped in in the North Carolina game and the Penn State game. Last week, he rushed for 119 yards in the second half alone and had 119 yards against North Carolina also and really kind of took over the game. It's really gratifying to have a young player step up when called upon and you're put in that situation and have them respond like that."

Q: What was your feeling about the 8 o'clock start on Saturday? I know you're going to be probably the only game in town. Was that kind of what you were thinking?

"I like to play night games at home. We haven't played many here. When you have an opportunity to sell your program, I think for recruiting-sake to get the exposure nationally like that, and like you said, if not the only game, one of the few games that will be televised and will be televised nationally. I think that's exposure for your program, and in our situation, our stadium and what's going on here, that's exposure you really can't pass up."

Q: What about the atmosphere there? I would think that people would have a long time to get fired up.

"That concerns me a little. I don't know if anyone will be awake by halftime or sober by halftime. The atmosphere at eleven in the morning's pretty good, let alone eight at night. I think it will be just a wonderful atmosphere for a game."

Q on where Lee Evans stands historically in Wisconsin history for WRs:

"I think he has every receiving record there is. I think he broke the career receiving record of Al Toon's two games ago. He has the Big Ten record for reception yardage in a year; he broke that two years ago. I thought Chris Chambers was probably the best receiver we had come through here, at least while I was coaching here, and I think he's every bit as good as Chris, if not better in some areas."

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