Monday press conference: Barry Alvarez

Alvarez talks about questionable calls, Wisconsin's defense and preparations for Illinois

Has, I'm not going to use the word surprised, but the continued success of Erasmus James and the level that he's played at, is it even impressive to you as a head coach and a coaching staff to see what he's been able to do?

"You know, after watching him in two-a-days I certainly felt that he was capable of that type of play because we had a hard time blocking him and the additional weight and strength that he's put on in the past year has really made him special. But you still have to see it carried over to a game, so I can't say that I'm surprised. I'm certainly pleased. But he jumps out at you. And to win that, I guess that's the third time he's been the Defensive Player of the Week in the league. That in itself is pretty impressive. And it's very deserving. I mean, he really chases it down. He plays hard and makes plays. He's made plays every week."

Barry, a couple questions about two other guys on defense. (Mark) Zalewski appears to have a good feel for blitzing, and some guys have that and some guys don't. What goes into that, knowing when to time that? And about Brett Bell, he appears to be playing just very solid yet you don't hear much about him. Is he playing like the guy who was in high school when you recruited him out of Illinois?

"Blitzing, many times there is not a clear-cut path to the quarterback or a blitz. You can draw it up on paper, but as you start your approach, and timing is important too. If you can hit it when the ball is snapped and hit it full speed, it's very difficult for an offensive lineman to come out of his stance, and sometimes you can get on an edge and get by him. But if things are congested or there's a body there, you know, just having to feel like a running back.

"I talked to my linebackers, you know, when I coached linebackers, you have to read a line like a linebacker would read it. If it fills, the back isn't going there so you adjust and go to the soft spot and go to the open area. And I think Mark's done that. And I think every week Mark has gotten better. He's playing with more and more confidence. We knew he had . . . ability-wise, there was no question about his ability and his speed. And I think his speed really has helped him in the blitz game. And we haven't blitzed him that much, but when we have he's been effective.

"Brett Bell has been very solid, and you don't hear much about him and that's good for a defensive back. But, you know, he's got good size, he's got excellent speed. It's important that when you play at corner that you play with confidence, and I think that's what he's doing. He's playing with confidence."

Barry, there appeared to be at least one play from the Penn State game that seemed to warrant a review, the fumble, what appeared to be a fumble by (Michael) Robinson. First of all, your thought on that, if that should have been, and what feedback have you gotten from around the league with regards to reviews here in the last couple of weeks?

"I really haven't heard anything about other reviews. I thought it should have been reviewed. I thought the ball was clearly out. David Parry told me that, in fact, the referee blew and pointed, which, and indicated forward progress. Now I don't know how you get forward progress when you're stationary throwing a ball and they're hit. I don't know how you call forward progress on that. But when he was adamant about forward progress, that takes the question out of whether the ball's out or not. I guess they gave him progress.

"But that's something that I asked David to take a look at today because I'd like to know the ruling on that. All you have to do is take a look at, the TV copy was better than my copy, but there was clearly a shot when he was hit the ball was out. Now we were all worried about after the fact, we were worried and concerned about his health, but the ball was out."

A couple weeks ago you said it was too early to call your defense a dominant defense. Two more games have passed since then. They've only allowed one touchdown during that time. Is it fair now to say that this is a dominant defense?

"No, not yet. I don't think, I really don't think we played against, we'll see some very good offenses down the road, starting this week. I think we'll be, our defense will be tested this week. This will be the best offensive line we've faced, the best passing attack, and probably the best, as good a running attack as we've faced. So this will be a stern test and we're going to have one, we'll have several of them during the year. But I'm not ready to put that stamp on them yet.

"They're playing solid. They're playing fast. They played very physical Saturday. I thought it was a very physical game that they played. And they're doing what we've asked them to do and they're playing with a lot of pride, don't want to let anyone in the end zone. But I still believe it's still too early with that standpoint."

Barry, after watching it on tape, did you think Erasmus' hit on Robinson was questionable at all?

"No. Whether it was a legitimate hit or . . . no, it was not helmet-to-helmet. I think his face was right here, he might have got a little bit of his facemask on him, but that was a clean hit. And David Parry, David said he had a call from the commissioner asking him that specific question and absolutely, absolutely was not, it was definitely a clean hit."

Barry, do you consider yourself a strict disciplinarian? And the second part to that question, what are the five most important rules your players have to know not on the field, but as being a part of your program?

"Oh, Andy, I really don't want to get into all that. That's way too deep. And I don't go over my rules with anyone else. I think our departmental disciplinary rules cover a lot of those things. But we have team rules that the captains that we've had for a few years, and our captains reinforce them and our guys all know them, and we expect them to abide by them. But I really don't want to get into that today."

Coach, what do you have to see or hear about Anthony (Davis) for him to play Saturday?

"He has an appointment at 3:30 this afternoon, and, you know, I'm hoping to hear one way or the other whether he's been, will be permitted to, released and be permitted to play this week. If so, I will have it released all of you. If I find something definite one way or the other I will release it so none of you have to worry about somebody sneaking in the stadium, see if he's practicing in a green shirt or not. I will release it to you."

You mentioned that your defense will see a tougher test this week with Illinois. What did you see from them? They certainly seemed to hang in with Purdue. What do you expect from them?

"Well, they did more than hang in. I mean, they played them even-up. They did pretty much what they wanted to do. They ran the ball very effectively, established the run. They threw when they wanted. They'll throw the ball down the field, as well as high-percentage passes. (Jon) Beutjer, I think, has been given the leeway since he knows the offense so well. He'll make a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage to give them the best possible play whether it be run or pass, so you see a lot of checking at the line of scrimmage. And they have playmakers. And John Palermo, first thing John Palermo said last night as we were going through the films, this will be the best offensive line we've faced."

Barry, it doesn't seem to me as instant replay has really matched its intent. (Dontez) Sanders, that was, that could have been a touchdown. (Andy) Crooks, could have been replayed had they had instant replay, what happened in the Robinson fumble. Does that discourage you at all? I mean, you don't need another headache, I suppose, but this seems to be like one.

"Well, I would have liked to have had it in Crooks' situation, although I guess if they called it forward progress, but I don't think anybody called anything there, that crew. But, you know, maybe we need to take a look at when and if, you know, if there's a mistake or if we can step in, I don't know. Let's give it a year and then evaluate it then. You know, Sanders, they ruled that his knee was down, they had good looks at it, you've got to live with it."

Barry, two big hits obviously that Erasmus had the other day, that's kind of what people focused on. But it looked like there was a lot of hitting out of the backend too, maybe more so than in recent years. I don't know if you attribute that to anything in particular, A. And then secondly, what impact does that have when other teams see, you know, you hitting like that?

"It's interesting that you asked that question because just before I came down Bret (Bielema) came into my office and said, what he does every week, I'll meet with the players later, I'll review the film with them, the offense and defense get together, then they go back and watch the film with their individual coaches. But when he meets with them he'll put together all the big hits in the game. And, you know, we only had, they played 55 snaps and there were 11 big hits in the play, or in the game, and that was pretty impressive.

"So he and I sat down and went through it, and they're from a lot of different people. You know, there were some in the secondary. There were some by the linebackers. Jonathan Welsh had just an unbelievable play where he hurdled a blocker and hit the quarterback just as he released the ball. There was Erasmus. But 11 out of 55, that's a pretty high percentage. The effect that it has on a team watching film, they anticipate it being a physical game. And, you know, I don't know what other effect it has, but, you know, I think they come in ready for a physical game."

Is Beutjer's experience a big concern when you're facing a quarterback who's seen just about everything in this conference?

"Yeah, six-year veteran. You know, six years, if I'm not mistaken he played as a true freshman at Iowa. And he's been around. You're not going to show him anything that he hasn't seen. You know, he can get in and out of things. He's tall so he has a good vision of the field. He sees things pretty well. So, you know, I guess this would be the first veteran quarterback, I mean really true veteran that we've seen thus far. And he has some good weapons with him, Halsey and their fullback are really good runners. They present a lot of problems."

If Anthony's able to return, how much will that cure whatever you think might, ails the offense?

"Well, I think Anthony certainly would bring a little to the offense. I think just the fact that when you saw someone running, you saw Bernie (Matt Bernstein) running with authority and no hesitation and how effective he was running the ball, you know, we all know Bernie's not a 10-flat 100-meter guy. But whatever he did, he did it, there was no hesitation. He did it hard. He did it as fast as he could, and he was effective. "And I'm not trying to take anything away from Book (Booker Stanley). Book was not playing at 100 percent. But, you know, when you can't make cuts, you can't do anything slow in this league or you're not going to get anything. Our linemen had been covering people up. We have had soft spots. There were seams in there. When there are not always gaping holes you have to go in there and find some things. I think that's what Bernie did and that's what Anthony does.

"So I think Anthony, he gives you some continuity and he'll hit a home run. He can move the sticks more consistently. We're a tailback-oriented offense, and when you're down, your top four tailbacks are down that's pretty tough."

Barry, I think Illinois moved some guys from offense to defense in the off-season. They've got a new coordinator in. What differences have you seen on their defense both schematically and, this season?

"Well, I think the first thing you notice is their secondary, they have better athletes and they're more physical. I think, if I remember listening to (head coach) Ron (Turner) talk, he allowed the defense to take whoever they wanted exclusive of (E.B.) Halsey, and so they went after their leading receiver, who's a good athlete and tough guy. And I'm not exactly sure what the other, I think he might have been a running back. But both of them really have brought athleticism and physical play to the secondary.

"The coordinator brought a little, you know, you could see they're more, there's more of an emphasis on fundamentals, guys being disciplined in where they're supposed to be. It's just not a blitz-at-all-costs, you know, feast-or-famine type defense. I mean, they're playing, they're sound. They've mixed things up a lot. You see a lot of different things. Rarely do you see the same thing twice, disguise a lot. I mean, he's doing a nice job."

You talked after big wins in past seasons about the team gets like 24 hours to celebrate and enjoy it, and then they've got to focus on the next game. How do you approach it on a week like this, making sure that guys don't look ahead to a possible game like Ohio State, in what usually is a big rivalry and traditional game?

"Our motto and our theme is 1 and 0. Every week we want to be 1 and 0, and it's not about anything other than this week. Our goal is to be 1 and 0 this week. And I think as soon as our guys, I talk to them immediately after the game, I watched a lot of that Illinois-Purdue game and they're a good football team. I don't care what their record was a year ago or, you know, what the perception of them is, they're a good football team. And I think our guys will see that once they watch film. So, you know, just concentrate and stay focused on what our emphasis always is."

You made a point this summer that your best defenses were when your offense had great time of possession. So even though the offense isn't scoring a lot of points now, how pivotal or key is the time of possession then?

"Well, it's twofold. Obviously if the defense isn't on the field, they're pretty good. They're not giving up any yardage, no big plays, all those things. But in the same respect, our defense has been getting off the field. We've had a lot of three and outs, where, you know, in the last few years we've gone on the field and we've stayed in there. People have moved the ball. But we've had a tremendous percentage of threes and outs, and that's huge. That allows us, I mean, we've given our offense great field position."

Just out of curiosity, what do you think your best defense was since you've been here? Can you pick one out of the group?

"Probably Tom Bourke's senior year. Was that '99?"


"'98. I would say that was probably our best. There was no weakness on that defense. The secondary made it in the NFL. Burke was a high pick. The two linebackers were very smart, (Chris) Ghidorzi and Donnell (Thompson) were, they really studied the game, and we had a good rotation of players in there. But you had, you know, probably, I think that was Wendell's (Bryant), probably his freshman year. You probably had nine of those guys ended up making it in the NFL. Many of them were high picks. That was just a good defense, very athletic, very physical."

Barry, one of John's strengths, Stocco's strengths in the first three games was not forcing throws when there wasn't something there. But I think the last interception he had where he rolled out a little bit and threw it to Lowry, was that a sign either of frustration that the offense hasn't been able to score, or was that just a bad play, that he made a bad decision?

"Bad decision. Yeah, it was a bad decision. I think you can probably see that from about most quarterbacks every once in awhile. And, you know, you're having a frustrating day and why you do it, I don't know. But John, he's had very few of those. He's taken care of the football. He's respected the ball. That was disappointing because we were deep. We were in field-goal range. We were going to kick a field goal. But hopefully he'll learn from it and move forward."

Coach, as kind of a follow-up, you mentioned last week that you thought John played better in every game. Did that hold true as well on Saturday? And if so, what do you look at specifically that would lead you to believe he did improve in that game?

"No, he did not improve this Saturday. He improved the first three weeks. I thought every week he got better, but he did not get better this Saturday. I didn't think he was very sharp, and I think John would be the first one to tell you."

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