Monday Press Conference: Barry Alvarez

Alvarez talks about Northwestern, being 7-0 and the defensive ends

Barry, Randy Walker was saying recently that they really like to use (Brett) Basanez, sprint-outs, rollouts, bootlegs and things like that. And he seems at least as mobile as (Kyle) Orton does. What are going to be some of the keys this week to try to keep him in the pocket and keep him from getting out in the open and doing too much damage?

"Well, he's at least as mobile, but he's used in a different way. I mean, as you said, all those things are part of their arsenal. They want to get him on the edge. They want to give him a run-pass option and get him out into space where he can use his feet. Any time you have someone that does that, what the defense wants to do is limit where he goes on the field and cut the field down by getting someone up the field and pulling him up."

In reviewing the tape, what did you think of the hit on Erasmus (James)? You said you were going to take a closer look at that.

"It was not an illegal block."

Barry, with so much national attention now, do you need to address it with your players at all? They've done such a good job of focusing week to week, but do you need to talk about not getting caught up in the big picture now?

"I obviously will talk to them, just because that's my job. But as you mentioned, Tom, they have been excellent about staying on track, staying focused week to week. You know, you've heard all of them talk about "1 and 0." And as simple as that may sound, they have lived by it. So, but now there is, you know, there is a lot more attention given them, so I'll just, you know, I'll give my normal talk when I meet with them this afternoon and we'll go through the whole thing again. But I think our older guys understand that you can't get too far ahead of yourselves. There's a lot of football to be played yet. It's nice to be in this position, remember how you got here."

Bad timing for this question. With the BCS rankings coming out today, there's the possibility, if you want to cast forward, that an unbeaten team could be left out of the national championship game. How would you feel if that were your team?

"I don't even want to go there, Andy. I don't even want to get that far ahead. I don't think that's been the case. I don't think there have been, I shouldn't say this, but I don't know, have there been two undefeateds at the end of the year yet? So I won't, I don't even want to address that. I just want to concentrate on this football game. I don't want to get out ahead and talk about anything further in the BCS. I don't think that's fair and I don't think that's wise to do."

If someone in this room, maybe at the beginning of the year before the season started, had said to you your team would be at this point, undefeated, where you are, coming off back-to-back wins over top-20 teams on the road, what would you have said to them? Would that have surprised you for somebody to say that that was going to happen with this club?

"I don't know. I felt we had a chance to have a good football team. But there are so many things that can happen, the silly things that have to happen to be a good football team. It's hard to win. It's very hard to win. And to string those games along and to have those two very difficult road games back to back, and I think we took both teams' best shot. It's hard to string them together as well as just win.

"So if someone would have said that to me, whether I'd been surprised or not, I don't know. You always think that you can win them all. I really live by, I mean, you guys go back and look, they're things I've talked about forever, it's always about the next game. I really don't get very far out in front of myself."

Just a simple scouting report on Northwestern, a team that has shown in years past and this year they can beat people.

"I think they're a very good team. Bob Davie, I had him in my golf outing this summer, in our Mendota outing, and he was one of the, that was one of the teams that he said he was very impressed with. Saw them in the spring, talked about how physical he thought they were, that they were talented and multiple on offense. And when you look at film, and as I remember them last year, and then you see a little more mature team, they were very physical on us last year, their defensive front seven, their secondaries will come up and hit you. Offensively they've always created a problem for us. So I think they're a very good football team. They've lost some tough games. They have won. They've shown resilience. They've won. They've been in three overtime games already, won two of them."

Just like at the tailback position, I guess you can never have too much depth on your defensive line. Without Erasmus, just assess where that's at right now.

"We'll take a look at where we are today. I think we played 11 guys last week. But we'll take a look at where we are. John (Palermo) will get a rotation up. And I guess that's the good thing all year, we've had a rotation in the defensive line. You've seen a number of different mixing, guys mixing and matching in that defensive front. And we certainly needed that this past Saturday. We'll need it this Saturday."

Did it cross your mind at all during that game that Joe Thomas, had he prepared for it, you could have used him? And would you think now, in case you might think about using him again there?

"Well, in an emergency we would. And quite frankly, we used (Mark) Zalewski. And (John Palermo) said after the game that Joe Thomas was, it was in the back of his mind if necessary to use him. And if it gets to that point where he can make the difference in helping us win or lose then absolutely I'd consider using him."

At this time of year, how important is your planning for preparation as much as your preparation? Do you sort of school it on what you did last year before the bye?

"Absolutely. And we changed our practice today. We met, when we met yesterday, I went back and looked at notes at last year, and we had two, these same two games that were very gut-wrenching games. Both of them were hard-fought, emotional games. You win one, you lose one on the last play of the game. And we just kept our same routine, figuring we'd get through one more week before we get to a bye. And I really thought our guys were drained and I didn't think we played particularly well. I think it was obvious. It was like we were sleepwalking.

"And so we're going to alter things today and how we practice. I think you always have to do that, sit back and assess the type of games you just played, how much energy and emotion your players have expended in those two games, and then make adjustments. But we're going to change our entire practice and our meeting time.

"Monday's really, this is our longest day normally. We would go through the assessment of the game. I have my meeting. The coaches would meet individually, go through their meetings. We'd go have dinner, then come back, have a scouting report, and then have our walk-through and installation of the game plan. And we're going to really eliminate most of the first part of it and have it all completed by the time we go to dinner."

Barry, you mentioned just a minute ago in passing that Northwestern's offense has given you some problems. Looking back at it, has it been more their running, their passing in the spread? And is this defense better equipped, given what you saw Saturday against Purdue, to handle what they can throw at you?

"I think that because we're a veteran defense, I think we've, and we've seen so much spread-type offenses, I think this defense may be better equipped than what we've had in the past. We've been able to match up with four wides. We've been able, the kids see it all the time now, and so consequently it's commonplace for them. It's not something new anymore."

Barry, I read in the Detroit papers today and I heard on the radio driving over here that Wisconsin is in great shape because it has a fairly easy remaining schedule. What do you think of your remaining schedule?

"I know Northwestern's a heck of a football team and a very dangerous football team, and that's the only remaining schedule that I'm looking at, Tom. Guys, I really don't want to get any further than that. You can ask me any question that you want about the remaining schedule, the BCS and all that, but I'm going to stay on track with this game and I'll discuss that. I'm thrilled because of the fact that this far along in the season that we're ranked as high as we are, but this is an important game for us."

Did Robert Brooks' play on the fumble, on Orton's fumble, did that kind of symbolize what your defense and your team has been like this year, because he bit on the fake, he's got a long way to come, but he didn't give up?

"Yeah. The fact that the ball came out, I felt like our defense really has lost out on two touchdowns and the third recovery on the 3-yard line, the one against Penn State, where they were, we weren't awarded the ball on Erasmus' hit on (Michael) Robinson. We've been so close on those, of our defense scoring, I think it was only appropriate. But I think that's, we've seen that all year, those type of plays, and the ball out, guys reacting accordingly. So I think it is symbolic of how our defense has played and the things that happen when you play that fast, and when you play with effort, and you keep, you've got guys that are cranking it up all the time."

Barry, when you guys have faced spread teams before, I've always heard at least one player or someone just say, you know, we just, we hate this because it's not what we're accustomed to seeing. And last week was the first time I don't ever remember a player saying that. In fact, I heard some guys saying ‘I can't wait to face these guys.' Why the difference?

"Well, I think we have a little more depth in the secondary, and our linebackers are guys that can play in space. Last week we had a week of preparation going into Purdue. Ohio State is running the spread, you know, the things that they did in empty and their spread package basically was the same thing, different people running them, different people executing, certainly.

"But as far as practice, you keep seeing the same thing and you have guys that are veterans there now, guys that have lined up against that and seen all the different patterns and all the different pattern reads and the adjustments. And I guess, you know, it's just like anything else. The more you're repped at it, if you're athletic enough to make those plays, the more familiar you get with it, the better you get at it."

Back to Robert Brooks for a second. I think he's forced three fumbles this year. He wasn't the most physical guy obviously a couple years ago. Could you talk about his improvement and how much more physical he's playing?

"You know, he is playing very physical, and he played his best game of his career Saturday. I obviously, Brooksie, I just think, has matured. You know, off the field he's involved in a lot of things. He's been on the Athletic Board, a student rep on the Athletic Board. He's involved in a lot of things. And it's nice to see him mature on the football field too, because he could always run, he could cover, but you need somebody that can come up and fill and play strong run support in that position. That's exactly what he's done. And, you know, he had to play well because we were getting such good play from Johnny White. He had to earn that position back."

Barry, I'm guessing Homecoming Week as the head football coach, you get tugged at a little bit more to do some things. Do you expect that even more so now that it's Homecoming Week and you're 7 and 0?

"I kind of, years ago, I just kind of stick with my own routine and our team's routine on Homecoming Week. And I know a lot, you know, there are a lot of different functions, a lot of things going on, but I just kind of like our routine and what we do as far as our meals, going to a movie, our meetings Friday evening. It's an early game so you really, we don't have anything but, you know, an early breakfast, pre-game meal and that type of thing. So I'm really not involved in anything as far as our Homecoming is concerned. But there have been a lot of national requests and that type thing in the last two days."

Coach, are Jonathan Welsh and Anthony Davis OK for Saturday?

"As far as I know right now they are. I think our trainers feel like they'll, they should be OK."

Coach, you can't read much about your team without going too far, coming across a 1999 comparison, it seems, statistically or in some way to 1999. How similar or different is this team and its roster and makeup to that '99 team?

"You know, defensively the two teams are, I think, similar. They're both very productive. We were very good in the kicking game in '99. I guess '98 was the one we were better at, I guess. Offensively, we were a different type of offense then than we are right now. But they're solid teams, and it all starts with good solid defense."

Bret Bielema talked about Jamal Cooper's improvement in limited snaps he was getting for a couple weeks in a row. How do you think he held up in the longer stretch on Saturday?

"I think we had, if I'm not mistaken, we played 92 snaps of defense. That's almost twice as much as we've played in some games. I think he played 70-some snaps. I thought he was fresh. I thought he held up pretty well, for a guy that's as light as he is. He did use his quickness. He used his swim move one time to get around the tackle and make a stop for very short yardage. He tried his best to keep pressure on the quarterback. But I thought he held up pretty well. He had a couple mental errors in that longest stretch, but overall played pretty well."

Coach, after an emotional win Saturday, is there a way to specifically coach against a letdown Saturday this week?

"Well, we're addressing, as I said earlier, we're going to address that today in how we practice. We're going to make some adjustments in our practice. Just because I know the guys were drained and I need to give them a little bit of time. It can't be that much, but we can adjust our practices and today especially we can adjust their time to give them a little more time to rest and recover, but you still need time to prepare for these guys."

Barry, just out of curiosity, how much time right now are you spending being an AD and how much time are you spending as a coach?

"Today's my busiest day. This is the day we always have our senior staff meeting. But I, you know, my days are primarily with football. I stay in constant contact with my senior staff so if there's anything going on that I need to know about I'm, you know, I visit with the senior staff. But I, I just, I can't put an amount of time on it. They are long days and nights, but I feel like I have a grasp on both."

You talked about Basanez. What do you think of Noah Herron, and do you think that running back-quarterback combination is almost as good as the one they had a couple years ago at Northwestern?

"I think they're pretty good. Noah's, he's really, you see him split so many defenses, he's a north-and-south runner. He's a downhill runner. He's big and powerful. He can run through tackles. He makes things happen. He's key to their offense. Those two guys right there are the keys to their offense. You know, they're going to move him around. If you remember last year in our game, they moved him, put him in the slot, they did some different things with him to get him involved whether it be in the option, the pitch man, the option, there's some other things. But I certainly think they're as comparable to the pair that you're talking about."

Barry, do you envision a time when the Big Ten, it comes up this year, or it comes up every year at this time, when you would just play two non-conference games and meet everybody in the league at least one time? Are you a proponent of that?

"No, I'm not. I think if you have a full round-robin in our league you eliminate one or two teams from bowls. And I think we learned from the Southeast Conference, you know, studying them when we were putting things together in our discussions, this is years ago, by doing this, like last year you're sitting there with seven teams in bowl games. The Southeast Conference has done that for years. And so I wouldn't want to lose that. I know, you know, there are always times when you're not playing someone you wish you'd played and that type of thing, but that's just the luck of the draw, I guess."

Jonathan Orr and Darrin Charles had those nice touchdown catches at Ohio State, and then this past weekend the guys showed us they could do receiving on that drive where Booker Stanley scored at the end. Can you just talk about the receivers' development throughout the season and how important that's going to be throughout the rest of the year?

"Well, it's a combination of the development and feeling more and more comfortable with the quarterback. You know, our receivers were silent for a while. We weren't throwing the ball very much. We were throwing a lot of check-downs, a lot of safe routes. As we expand the passing game they'll become more and more involved. These guys have all produced for us over the years. They've all been productive players for us, guys that we have confidence in, you know, particularly the last two weeks when asked they've stepped up and made plays. You know, I'd expect that to continue and expect them to be able to step up. But I've been pleased with how they've performed. They're a very unselfish group. You never hear about them complaining they're not getting enough balls. You know, they always talk about being physical and blocking well, and in our scheme that's always, that's been a priority for us, make sure your receivers are not just one-dimensional, that they can go out and they can mix it up and they can go in there and block a safety or go down and block secondary people. They've done a nice job of it."

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