Big Ten teleconference: Glen Mason

Minnesota coach discussed inconsistent play, Wisconsin's defense and cut blocks

Opening statement

"Just a couple comments about our game with Indiana and I must preface by saying Indiana should get a tremendous amount of credit. I think they're very much improved. Gerry DiNardo's staff are doing a great job with a bunch of kids that they had lost five games in a row and they came out well-prepared and played tremendously hard.

"On the flip side, I was not happy with the way we played. Getting off to a 14-0 lead and then having turnovers and missing opportunities. We're playing very inconsistently right now. It's really unraveled as a frustrating year for us. I don't really know which team's going to show up, either one that performs well or one that performs lousy.

"Hopefully we'll have the team that performs well because that's what we're going to need to stay in the game this week against a very, very good Wisconsin team. Undefeated. Ranked fourth nationally. Just a tremendous defense. I think there defense is one of those defenses that comes into that category as a cut above. You look at them, you wonder—there is no weakness—you wonder what you are going to do? How are you going to run it? How you can pass it? How you can move it? How you can get a first down? I can't say enough about them.

"So with that it's a tremendous challenge and playing for the Axe, the longest rivalry in college football, 114th meeting over in Camp Randall. It should be fun."

Could you tell me some of your impressions of Jim Leonhard?

"It's funny you said that. That brings a smile to my face because I'm one of those guys, when I coached for Woody Hayes he used to say, ‘What does a football player look like?' Because some guy gets off the bus, you think he's all world and he won't hit anybody. Then, using your words, not mine, you have a pipsqueak like Jim Leonhard, who is a tremendous football player. I've seen him operate on the field. I think he's a young man [who] obviously has great instincts. I'm not trying to diminish his athletic ability. I know he won their slam dunk contest over there just about every year. At the Big Ten Luncheon in Chicago this year, though, I had an opportunity to—I was riding up the escalator at the same time with Jim Leonhard and Anthony Davis. And he's not very big either. He's a good football player. But I looked at Leonhard and I said, ‘You're really Jim Leonhard?' I said, God, I've got managers bigger than you. And he kind of laughed. And I said, ‘I'll tell you what, you're a football player.'

"Football's a game of respct and I respect the heck out of that kid. I'm glad he's a senior. I wish him the best of luck. He's a winner and I'd like to have him on my team but I don't like to compete against him."

Cut blocks have been in the news a lot lately. Obviously teams like yours and Purdue have effectively incorporated that technique. Nobody's accusing you of doing anything illegal or unethical but with all the attention on the issue do you find yourself having to defend the technique at all? Could you just kind of explain your philosophy on cut blocks?

"First of all when you say at the college and the NFL level, I saw the replay of the one that you're talking about, that one that's been replayed numerous times from the pro ranks. We don't do that. That was on a naked pass. Our cut blocking takes place on run plays. To be honest with you I don't think we are doing a very good job of cut blocking any more. I see in teams that we're playing against doing a lot better job of cutting our defense than we're cutting their defense.

"I don't think so. What I would worry about is if a coach thought it was something unethical in what was going on, I'm sure they would pick up the phone and call me because I'd call them. They know we're not chop blocking. That happens on pass plays."

Can you talk about Bryan Cupito, his development at quarterback and the challenge he'll face this weekend.

"Bryan Cupito came into our program a couple years ago but this year he had to step in with a really experienced class. An offense that was at the top of the Big Ten last year. A lot of pressure on a young man like that. At times Bryan has played awfully well. At times he has left a little bit to be desired, like you might expect out of a first-year starter. When we have struggled it has not been all Bryan's fault. Last week against Indiana we had a couple big gains, touchdowns, that were right on the money and the receivers dropped the ball. He can't be held accountable for that but last week was not a good outing for Bryan. So you look forward to your next outing, but against a ball club like Wisconsin it's a difficult task for a quarterback to get healthy because everything will be a struggle against those guys."

Glen, I think a couple weeks ago on the conference call you said that Bryan was almost too hard on himself sometimes. How has he handled the struggles of the last few games?

"That's a good point. I think he is. I would rather have a guy like that than a guy who wants to point the finger at everybody else. He tends to take a lack of us winning right now, a lack of the offense performing, as squarely on his shoulders. Even when it's a dropped pass he'll say, ‘well if I would have thrown it a little bit better,' and I don't tend to agree with him in that. I've talked to him. I firmly believe and you hear it mentioned all the time that all really good quarterbacks have short memories and probably the best indication of that is the guy that plays for the Packers. He does some bonehead things but he continues to play. He forgets about it and he moves on. You can't look back, you've got to move forward. So it's a tough situation for Bryan right now. But I just want to reassure him that no one has lost any confidence in him."

Before the season you guys were pretty candid about wanting to be taken seriously as legitimate Big Ten title contenders. Did you feel a need at that time that people had to be convinced? Are there any regrets now, the way things have turned around?

"First of all, when you say ‘you' I think you are talking about Darrell Reid, our defensive lineman that was quite outspoken. I just tend to always call it like it is. I'm probably a less dramatic than Darrell is, was and probably always will be. But I really thought going into this year that we'd have a good football team. At times we have displayed that we're a good football team. Even in some of our losses at times we were a good football team. What we lack right now is consistency in making plays when they need to be made. I don't regret, at least—I'm not saying I would have said the same things Darrell did but if you want to hold me accountable for the things that I said I don't regret that."

As you know when there are two undefeated teams like Wisconsin and Michigan the first tie breaker is overall record. Is that the best tie breaker you can think of or are there any other ideas coaches have thrown out there?

"Well I don't know if it's ever come to discussion. Obviously this is a lot better than having the athletic directors or someone else vote on it. That used to happen back in all the controversy over Ohio State and Michigan. It's a tie breaker when there is no head-to-head competition. If there's head-to-head competition the overall record doesn't matter. I know some will get involved in if you are on the short end of it you are going to say you played a tougher non-league schedule. But I think it's a pretty good system."

Do you have any affection at all for adding a 12th team and going with a conference championship game?

"I'm not in favor of a 12th football game. The reason being it's a band-aide approach to financial woes we have in intercollegiate athletics and it's not because we spend too much money in football. It's because we make a lot of money in football and spend a lot of money on other sports. The burden continues to go to our football players. I know I've heard a couple times where, well, they've talked to players, they'd much rather play than practice. Well, yeah, but you mean you are not going to practice for that extra game? Is that going to be one of the stipulations? I just think enough's enough. If we do this, in a couple of years what are we going to do, add a 13th game?

"As far as a conference expansion, I've always kind of struggled with the idea that we call ourselves the Big Ten and we've got 11 teams. Everybody knows, or they at least assume they've got the answer why we haven't been more progressive in expanding and its because of the thought that Notre Dame would probably come in at some time. I would be for expansion but not for a 12th game."

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