Monday Press Conference: Barry Alvarez

Wisconsin football coach discussed the upcoming game against Purdue

You guys came back against both Arizona and Ohio State on the road. What does that tell you about the team's character and how do you think that's going to help you guys in a tough road on Saturday?

"Well, it shows that we're a veteran team and a mature team. And a number of these guys have a lot of experience of playing on the road and playing Big Ten games on the road and big games on the road. You know, I think I said last week or sometime last week that I really felt that the experience of the Arizona game will pay huge dividends. Just having to go through something that there's no you could prepare for, and as a coach, you always try to prepare your players for everything that possibly or you can imagine, and there's no way any of us could have imagined going through the delay and no half-time and all those things, yet still finding a way to come from behind and winning in the fourth quarter. I think that that shows that our guys will compete, that they've got character, and they understand that the game is a four-quarter game. So, again, I really thought they showed resolve in the Ohio State game. That was a very tough environment, very loud place to play, and a good football team. They were doing some things initially, with some of their stunts, it took us awhile to adjust to. And so, and we started out slowly, but you saw the guys hold their composure, and make adjustments, and move forward."

Barry, in looking at the way teams have tried to defend Purdue this year, have they tried a variety of different ways to attach that offense and can you also talk about (Kyle) Orton's ability to combat that because of his experience?

"Well, they give you a number of formations. They may line up in two tight ends, two wide's, and a single back, and if you look at their statistics, they're fairly balanced. They have a lot of rushing yardage. When they spread you out, you can get two by two or you can get three by one. And you see a lot of people, everyone tries something difference. They may try to blitz. When they blitz, he sees it, he's been able to recognize blitz, call somebody in at times for max protection. If you don't have anybody behind and you're playing press man, the ball's going to go down the field.

"But that's the thing that's so impressive to me is his awareness. He knows where he's going with the ball. As you watch film after awhile, you know where he's going to go with the ball. But you see about everything tried against him. And quite frankly, you're not going to trick him into anything. There are only so many different schemes you can use. It's a matter of, you know, you have to go out and, you know, he's, who executes the best is what it boils down to."

Coach, you talked about last week how tough a road game is, but is there anything inherently more tough about the second game of back-to-back road games?

"I don't think so. Road games are difficult. And this one, we're going to take a five-hour bus trip to get there, although we'll be able to rest because it's a later game. I think our guys, with the schedule we use, our guys kind of like that. They're off their feet. They get to sleep a little later and relax a little bit. And the grind of a week, and particularly at this time of the year, can really take its toll on the body and gives you tired legs, and I think this allows them to recuperate a little bit."

Barry, when you talked about the notion of a lot of teams trying to do different things with Purdue, the last time that that was really a prominent aspect was with Drew Brees. And is it fair to compare Orton to Brees at this point in time? Has he surpassed him in what he's able to do on the field?

"I think they're very similar. They're obviously both, they were both very effective. I think they're, the thing I was so impressed with Brees was how accurate he was and Orton is certainly the same way. And both of them, Brees was surprisingly mobile. Even when you did get somebody to him, we couldn't get him down. We couldn't catch him. And if you go back and watch last year's film with Orton, we had times when we just weren't, whoever it was who was chasing him, wasn't athletic enough to catch him and he'd get a first down by a yard. So I think there are a lot similarities between the two."

Barry, if you look at the numbers, he spreads the ball around a lot to a lot of different receivers, but it seems like he does, when he needs to look for someone in a big situation, go to (Taylor) Stubblefield. A lot of times, guys are referred to as a product of that system, receivers, but what makes Stubblefield flourish in that system?

"No. 1, he's got, I don't know what his speed is, but he has tremendous quickness. I think he runs tremendous routes. Obviously, he has good hands and a good chemistry with the quarterback. I think they know one another. They recognize, that he recognizes the defenses and the coverages, as well as the quarterback does and runs an according route."

Barry, would you, I would think you'd prefer to charter your team to West Lafayette and back. Could you explain how it's come to be, I think it was just recently that the Big Ten, you have certain places that you bus to and other places that you can fly to.

"Yeah, it's a cost-containment measure, a rule set by the Big Ten. We did this probably in the mid to early ‘90s. And I can remember when Minnesota was supposed to bus down here, but they got a good price on a plane, so they chartered. And then someone else did, and then it went up for grabs, and the rule went out the window. But the directors voted on it. You know, I think we were not crazy about it. We have a tremendous contract with Midwest Express and I think they … our savings is not substantial, but, and we talked to the League about that because we had another year on our contract, and yet, they felt like it was important enough for everyone to bus and wouldn't give us any leeway on it."

Barry, is your defense this year better equipped to handle this kind of a wide-open spread attack than some of your recent defenses?

"If we continue as we have, the one thing we've really been able to do is pressure quarterbacks without blitzing. Now he gets rid of it so soon, so quickly, I hope that that's the case. But just because of that factor, it allows you to do some more things, so I would say yes. Because of our defensive line, you would think because of the secondary in a passing game, but that's because of how our defensive front has played thus far."

Usually when you play Purdue, you talk about limiting yards after the catch too, keeping the ball in front of you. Do you think your defensive backs, they seem like good tacklers, have they done a good job with that this year?

"They've done a pretty good job, and I think when you play them, that's the first thing. You know, you go back to our basic philosophy when we came here, don't let them throw it over your head. And when they, they're going to throw and catch some. When they do catch it, tackle them. Don't give them yards after the catch."

You mentioned earlier that if you do play press, Orton will go deep.

"If you don't have zone behind it."

Oh, okay. They're going to, DB's always get beat at some point in a game. The last couple times, there have been a couple times where quarterbacks have had guys open, haven't been able to hit them. From what you've seen on film, have those instances been about normal, the number of times that DB lets a guy get behind him in a game or has it been a little bit higher than you would like, the last couple games?

"You talking about us?"

Yes.

"I think you look at anybody, if anybody read streak routes, the guy's a little behind. I don't think, I mean, you don't ever run stride for stride. I don't see many running stride for stride. You might be able to cut him off and get in front of him, but if somebody runs a post route, they've got leverage on you. I think that's a little deceiving. I think our guys have done a very good job of it."

It seems that each of the past couple weeks, you said this particular game would be the toughest test that your team has had in, for various reasons. Is it fair to say yet that this team is a legitimate Big Ten Title Contender? Is there still that measuring stick out there waiting before that can be said?

"Well, we're only six games into the season and we're playing the number five ranked team in the country that's undefeated. I would say that's, this is the best team we've played thus far, maybe on both sides of the ball. You know, I think it's way too early to be even talking about a measuring stick or what, I mean, just things are going to start, within the next few weeks, things are going to play out for themselves. So there's no reason even to talk about anything and, or regarding measuring sticks or where anybody stands until teams start playing each other and see who surfaces. But this is the best team by far that we've planed. And you got the leading contender for the Heisman Trophy running their offense, and a very effective offense, and a defense that that's probably the biggest surprise with their team. And I think anybody would probably tell you that. With as many guys as they lost to the draft a year ago, and as good as their defense was, that this outfit has come in and put up pretty impressive numbers."

Regarding that defense, what does (Purdue defensive coordinator) Brock Spack do every year? I mean, it seems like no one talks about their defense because of the skill of their offense. But what has he done to make that defense so good?

"I think Brock is, Brock is, you know, there aren't any magical schemes and it's not a scheme a week, he teaches his guys. They're fundamentally sound. They fit. They always fit. And by that I mean, according to whatever you do, whatever his blitz is, whatever they're playing, he's got all the responsibilities take care of. And if you do that, if people don't beat themselves, and you always see it offenses, but a lot of times when there's a big hit on defense, it's because the defensive player, somebody's voided a gap, somebody's run the wrong way, two guys in one gap, you know, you don't see that with them. They're where they're supposed to be and you have to beat them."

Barry, for the sake of conversation, you mentioned the Heisman Trophy a minute ago. Anthony missed three-and-a-half games, but in three games that he's played, he's got 460 yards and five touchdowns. Should he still be considered a candidate for the Heisman?

"I think he should. You know, we have a lot of season left, and if he continues to play as he has played and put up the numbers, consistent numbers, with the type of schedule that we have left, then I think he should be mentioned right with the same group. You go back to Jamar Fletcher won, what was his award … the Thorpe Award, and missed three games, missed the first three games, or, no, the first three, but missed three games. So with the competition we play, if he shows consistency with the numbers he's putting up right now, I think he should be in the mix."

Over the long haul, Barry, when great offense meets great defense, who do you go with? Does one or the other have an advantage, do you think?

"Yeah, the better one. You know, it's who executes best. It's who can execute their phase of the game better."

Barry, kind of lost in that Ohio State game was that you went for in fourth down really earned the game. Can you talk about that decision and just what you were thinking at that point?

"Well, I just wanted to send a message to our players that we went to Ohio State to win. It was fourth and a yard, and then you also … there are two different trains of thought. You can play the field-position game and say it's a defensive battle and try to knock it down inside the 20 and get the ball back in good field position or you can think, I've got a good defense myself, and if we don't make it, which I think if I didn't think we could make it, I wouldn't have gone for it, but our defense will get the ball back for us. And, but I wanted to keep the football and I wanted to send a message that we went down there to win. And I wanted to get a first down."

Barry, when you watched Purdue throw the ball, it seems like there's always an open receiver running through the defense. Is there, is that passing game based on like isolating receivers or putting a bunch of receivers in an area and trying to confuse the defense or what's kind of the basis of their passing game?

"Just seeing how you're playing, what leverage you're playing with, and knowing where the vulnerability is. You put two out and two, you only have 11 guys to work with and you have to still stop the running game, so you can either commit five or six to the running game. You'd like to be three on two with the receivers. You know, if you have five in the box, if you go three on two on both sides and, but my math is pretty good in those small numbers, but that gives you five left, they'll likely run against five. If you try to take those other, the two in, the linebackers in to help with the running game, then you have leverage with the number two receiver and he can throw that five-yard route all day. So it's depending upon what you do. And, you know, many times, it's a quick throw, and if you, like I said, if you're pressed up on all of them, you're going to see it go down the field. You'll see somebody running down the field and, you know, they're going to just match their guys up with yours."

Barry, you talked earlier about the fact your team is older and the maturity level has kind of come to life when you've gone on the road, and one at Arizona and at Ohio State, what approach do your coaches take? What approach do you take to get ready for a situation like this, that what impact do they have on getting your players ready, especially an older team like this?

"As far as?"

Does it change with every road game? Does it, do you take a little bit different approach trying to send messages, trying to get guys to think about what's at stake, those types of things?

"Well, you know, these guys are college students. They're pretty smart. They know that number five's playing number 10. They're both undefeated in the League. I think they're smart enough to figure out last week that it's two rated teams playing and whoever wins is going to stay undefeated in the League. And, you know, things start, the longer you win, the more important the game gets, the more that's at stake there.

"Coaches don't have to remind the players of that. It's just about what they have to do that particular week. And our emphasis is always on staying focused and trying to eliminate outside distractions, knowing and then putting in enough time to know the game plan and what you're going to see, what to anticipate, being comfortable enough with it when you see it, a formation if you're on defense that you can anticipate what they're going to do so that you can play it fast, so that by, when you see that first flash that you can react to it. And the same thing offensively, that you're confident enough in the track and the path that you're in that you can read and then react to it, it's just that type of preparation, it's a consistent preparation. And the message is always the same, just every week is a different situation. Now I'll talk to them about the bus ride because that's different. You know, I always spend my Wednesday, just myself and the team, and I try to send a different message. I always talk about the itinerary. I always talk about the atmosphere. I always, you know, talk about what kind of locker room they're going to be in. I don't want any, I don't ever like any surprises. And just so everybody's at ease and they can concentrate solely on the game."

Barry, we've all talked about John Stocco improving kind of incrementally game by game here. Was the game Saturday just another step forward or do you think maybe that was a huge step forward for John?

"I thought it was a huge step forward. First of all, that was a very tough environment. With 105,000 people, it was a loud crowd. They were really into the game. Against a very good, who was, gave us, I believe, their best shot. They were prepared for the game. They threw a lot of things at us, a lot of new things at us. They loaded up, you know, every yard that Anthony got, Anthony earned. They were going to try to make John Stocco win the game, make us throw the football, and he responded. He got the ball down the field. He knew where to go with the ball. He didn't turn it over one time. He didn't cost us a timeout with a 20-second, didn't run the clock out on the 25-second delay. Put the ball where it needed to be. You know, had some third, key third down conversions. He did all the things that you had to do to win. So I thought it was a huge step for him and hopefully gives him a tremendous amount of confidence because, you know, we may have some environments that'll be just as tough, but it won't be any tougher."

Barry, you mentioned Anthony's performance Saturday. You guys were able to be persistent with the running game and just keep banging away. I think he carried 39 times. Other than Illinois against Purdue, has anyone really committed to running them or have they got to back off a little bit sometimes because they've been behind so early against Purdue?

"Well, Penn State couldn't run last week. They could not establish a running game, but they didn't get far, you know, way behind. Notre Dame ran the ball on them. Notre Dame moved the ball. I think Notre Dame had 500 some yards on them. So, but they didn't put a lot of points up."

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