Well we tried to take advantage of our open date last week. We had a number of players injured and banged up and tried to get them healthy. It appears as though most of them will be back. We are in a lot better shape than we were a week ago.
This week as you mentioned we have an opportunity to go up and play a very impressive Minnesota team. They are playing outstanding football right now. It will be quite a challenge for us.
Barry, obviously nothing is more important to Minnesota that its running game right now. You've had some pretty good offensive lines at Wisconsin. Does anything stand out to you in particular; any particular things that impress you about Minnesota's offensive line?
Well, the one thing that really jumps out at me is there athleticism. They really run particularly well for big linemen. Many times you don't see that. It is seldom that you see a center that can get out on the edge and be effective—a lot of people pull their centers but to get on the edge and hook up a linebacker, chop a linebacker. Same thing with their guards. They seem to stretch by being that athletic and being able to run as they do they are able to really stretch the defensive front and create some seams for those backs.
They all practiced yesterday. As of right now we are planning on playing them.
What do you think about the chances of a team with two losses at the end of the day? What do you think, is that going to be a shared championship?
I think there is a possibility but I have a sense that someone—our champion—that someone will surface with one loss. That is just my feeling.
Any particular team you have in mind?
Looks like there are a lot of tough games down the stretch so it will be real interesting the next three weeks here.
In the last few years there have been quite a few teams that have had a pretty dramatic roller coaster ride from the bottom of the conference to the top or vice versa. From your experience, when you are in a conference with a couple programs like Michigan and Ohio State, with the resources and reputations that they have on a national level—is it realistic for a program that doesn't have those resources to contend every year for a Big Ten title or do you have to expect to ride a certain amount of waves?
I think it is very difficult. One of the main resources, of course, is they have a national reputation, but I think one of the main resources is recruiting area—the recruits that are available to you. Many of the teams in this conference are sitting in states that don't produce the number of Division I football players. The farther you go to recruit the more difficult it is to get the top-notch players. So, you certainly have the advantage when you are located in a populated area or an area that is populated with a great number of Division I players and outstanding Division I players in high schools where they play excellent football.
I think that is the biggest and then the fact that there is a commitment and a long-standing tradition. But as you take a look there have been some teams, national powers, teams that have traditionally over the past 25 years been a top 10 or top 15 team that have slipped. It is hard for anyone to sustain it now, with the 85 scholarship rule and that type of thing. It is hard for anyone to continually sustain. You look at Oklahoma and where they are now and you go back and Bobby Stoops got there take a look where they were and of the other programs you can go through that traditionally have been high profile programs and many of them have slipped. So it is difficult for anyone to stay at that level but particularly hard for someone who doesn't have the tradition that those schools have.
I was wondering if you could talk a little about Jim Leonhard this year as compared to last year and also how often do you see a guy come out of a town so small and make an impact in college football?
Jimmy is having another excellent year. He is very productive. His position is not quite the same as it was a year ago and he probably hasn't had as many opportunities for interceptions yet he has been very productive in that way and has done an outstanding job, I believe he is leading the league in punt returns. He is just a competitor and a young man that always seems to be around the football.
I don't think the size of the town really makes much of a difference as far as how good of a football player you are. I think if you look around you will find a great number of guys come from small communities. We had Tom Burke as a young man was an All-American for us a few years ago, came from Poplar, Wis. I think there are a number of cases like that.
Do you ever after the season take a moment to kind of look at the ancient history behind this game and playing for the Axe and all the stuff that surrounds it?
Well you know I have a historian on my staff—(offensive line coach) Jim Hueber is a historian. So he kind of gives our guys the historical background to this game, who has played in it. Huebes does a great job with it and has a little fun with it and I think our kids really enjoy it. I think that is important—this is the longest going rivalry in college football, you know, one of the trophy games. We try to make it important because I think it is. I think it's important for tradition in college football and our two universities.
Obviously they focus on the run and you guys have done that. Is it different the way they position the run as far as philosophy?
They primarily are a zone team. Their schemes are a little different then ours. Yet, there are some similarities, but there are subtle differences too, but there are some very similar things that we do.
Can you talk a little bit more about being able to have the off week to regroup after the Northwestern game?
Well, we had our starting tailback our starting quarterback and our kicker that didn't play—our tailback played a little in the game, the rest of them were injured. We needed that if nothing else just to have that week to have those starters back and in a position where they could play. Yet, we are far enough into the season where we have a number of players who have been nicked up and I don't know if this is the best time to have an open date. I'd prefer if I had my choice, I'd like to have one a little earlier but it came at a good time for us just to kind of regroup and recharge and especially to get some of our guys to get back on the field.
In terms of the expectations that you had because you had some momentum going after the Ohio State game and then the next two weeks after that how much does it help to get focused and get that confidence level up again?
Well, I think none of us felt very good about how we played at Northwestern so just to get away a little bit and get it behind you and focus on the next ballgame is important. Sometimes that is hard to do in a week. So that has allowed us to get a little time and really focus on this football game.