Monday press conference: Barry Alvarez

Wisconsin football coach discussed putting Michigan State in the past and focusing on Iowa

Barry, what unique challenges does Iowa's stadium present with the proximity of the fans, and what do you tell some of the younger guys who haven't been there before?

"I think the first thing, what I try to do every Thursday is I go through our itinerary. I talk to, if we're on the road, talk about the stadium, the locker room, the atmosphere. The one thing that has to be addressed is how close the stands are to our benches. I mean, you're actually talking to players and there's somebody sitting right there. And they could, if the players allow them to get into their heads and allow them to bother them, or if there's a banter back and forth, you have a tendency to lose concentration, and you can't be focused on the game if you're bantering with somebody in the stands. So they're the closest of anybody we play, and so that's something that you definitely have to address."

Barry, you've had to put some difficult losses behind you in the past. Is this one any different? Is this more difficult to address personally?

"No, not really. I've had many, many, many more that are more difficult than this. I think when you're beaten soundly they're easier to get behind you. It wasn't like you got beat in the last second or you walked off the field and felt like you should have won the game. We were beaten in all three phases. So you move on. You move forward, and take a look at where you are, what you're playing for, and what you have to correct, and just move forward. So you never like to lose, but I've had some, many more that have been more difficult to accept than this one."

Barry, I think you guys have been in this situation before, where there's a game immediately preceding yours that could have an impact. I mean, I don't know what your exact schedule is before the game, but do you have time to watch any of that? Do you want your players not to watch any of that if they have access?

"You know, we're in the hotel until probably, if it's a 3:30 game, we get to the stadium two hours before, and it's probably a 40-minute, 45-minute drive. So we would probably see a little of the game. Whether they announce it, you know, the score or not, I don't know. I'm not going to make an issue. I will address it with the team today when I talk to them. But, you know, all we can concern ourselves is what we can do and, you know, we have a lot of things to play for and let's not sit, you can't sit around and wait for something else to happen, someone else to make something happen.

"I had, probably one of the best lessons I learned one year, we were with Iowa, we needed one of them, either Ohio State or Michigan to win. I can't remember which was which. But we sat around all day up in Minneapolis in the hotel and watched the game and the wrong one won. And that's another reason I changed my schedule on night games. But we then went out there and we were very flat, played a lot like we did last week, just were very, very flat, and I thought that had something to do with it. So we'll try to get, direct our guys' attention away from that game."

Coach, I don't know if you had a chance to see Iowa earlier in the season versus how they've grown this year. Can you just talk about how they've grown and reeled off these six straight?

"Early in the year I think they were more balanced. I don't think they wanted to put too much pressure on the young quarterback. They had a nice stable running backs, but because of the injuries to the running backs, they've had to put more and more of the offense in the quarterback's hands. And I've seen him grow with it, and they've done just a very good job. He's very mobile. They've done a very good job with him, of moving him around so you just can't take off, tee off and hit him. They've used his mobility and escapability to get the ball around.

"So, you know, he probably handles more of the, much more of the offense than you would normally think of a first-year starter, and it's been by necessity because of their injuries. Defensively they've been very consistent. They've been good, very good for the last three years. The scheme really hasn't changed, and a lot of the guys haven't changed."

Barry, do you consider Ohio State a long shot to beat Michigan, or, given the history of that series, do you think anything could happen?

"Well, I think we've all seen that anything can happen. And Ohio State certainly has good players, you know. I wouldn't say it's a long shot. I'd say it'd be a very good football game, like it normally is. You know, both those teams put a lot of emphasis on that game. You know, I'm sure if you talk to Jim or Lloyd that they spend time in the spring and during two-a-days and everything else with an emphasis, period, on each other, because, and that's how they've built that game. So, you know, normally anything can happen in that game."

You mentioned earlier about overcoming losses. Do you have just like a step one, step two, step three that you tell your players this is what we've got to do after a loss to get rid of it and learn, or not?

"No. You know what? Every game, every team, they're different situations, depending how far along you are in your season and that type of thing. But normally I'll come up with a plan and go over it with the coaches, and we'll come up with some type of a plan so that we can move forward and we can get our guys refocused, and the sooner the better."

I guess to extend on that, is this team better-equipped maybe to handle a loss like this because of its veterans and the leadership, that sort of thing?

"Well, I think you've heard some of the guys say they've never been 7 and 0, or 8 and 0, or 9 and 0. So I think they've all been accustomed if they've been around, the veterans have been around where we've lost some tough games, and they've been around where we've had our back against the wall, in this position and had to win the last game to move on to a bowl game. So, you know, they know what it's like. They know what this league is like. And I'd be very surprised if they don't respond and focus on Iowa immediately."

Given all the injuries Iowa's had to overcome this year, do you think this might be Kirk Ferentz's best coaching job, and what do you think of the job he has done overall?

"I think he's done a tremendous job. I think when you adjust your offense, he's finding ways to win. He's done some things similar to what we did early on when we didn't, you know, when we were down four tailbacks. You depend on, your defense is playing well, you depend on your defense and turnovers and that type of thing. You don't lose it with the offense. And that's exactly what he's done. He's done it over a longer period of time. And now he's developed a quarterback that he's very comfortable with and he's very productive. It has been an excellent coaching job."

Barry, I think after the game (Bret) Bielema said that he felt Michigan State was the more physical team that day. I know you guys like to look at film and evaluate what happened. After looking at the film, was their offensive front just more physical? They went into that game seeming to think they had seen some things they could take advantage of that other teams had not done.

"They did."

Was it because they were just more physical?

"Well, I thought they neutralized our defensive line. They neutralized them. They were able to cover them up. If you watch throughout the year, most people, they didn't get to our secondary level very often because of our line. They were able to get to the secondary level and we weren't very effective once they got to the secondary level, once they got past the defensive line."

All the attention heaped on the defensive line this year in Sports Illustrated and all that, do you think that was a factor at all? Were they believing their press clippings?

"Well, I think that's easy for anybody to say, but I saw them prepare well all week. I still don't know if a couple of them were 100 percent, but they gave us … I didn't see any lack of effort from the defensive line. And I'm not saying that they didn't play well. It's just they didn't dominate like they've dominated for eight games. And that was, you know, and in a lot of cases they neutralized.

"So, we can't expect them all the time, and we have, and we've gotten to rely on it, where they've really dominated the front and not allowed anybody to get penetration past them. And a lot of teams, I think Minnesota tried to do the same thing the week before, came in with the same type of game plan, but we got out so far ahead of them they had to go away from their game plan."

Regarding the other side of the ball, you've had some offensive lines who, regardless of the down and distance, have been able to drive people off the ball and push them. Is this line better at getting guys to the edges and not as good on the interior when you really need a yard or two?

"I don't know that. You know, there are a lot of factors. There might be one guy from the backside, might be one breakdown. That's too simple. That's too simple of a question to answer, and there's just too many factors involved. It could be one breakdown on each play, a different person, and everybody else is knocking people off the line of scrimmage. So it's not that simple of an answer to come up with."

You probably remember your first trip back to Iowa. What's this week going to be like for Bret (Bielema), given how emotional he is anyway, and any advice?

"Wear earmuffs, keep those headsets on. I'm sure it'll be emotional for Bret. And besides that, it'll be very similar to the first time I went back. I think I'd been gone three years, and players that I had recruited that were still there. I think he has seven of those guys on the defense that he recruited, a number of the staff, the majority of that staff he coached with. You know, he had a good relationship. He was in Iowa City for a long time. So I'm sure that, you know, that he'll reminisce when he goes back and it will be very different. It'll be much like the first time I went back there."

Barry, how were you treated in your first time back there?

"I can't say it was bad. We weren't very good. I don't think they felt threatened."

Barry, do you pretty much at this point have a New Year's Day Bowl, one of the Florida bowls, clinched at worst?

"Well, I think we have a bowl clinched. I don't know which one, because there's so many things that can play out yet. But we have a bowl clinched. I know that."

As the third-place team, I mean, at the absolute worst you could be would be the third-place team in the Big Ten.

"I think that's the way it breaks down. But, I mean, I know we're going to a bowl. But there are just too many things that can happen, and so, you know, we've been on the phone. We talked to the Big Ten yesterday. We had a Big Ten conference call yesterday and talked about situations. And I talked to some of the bowl people today. I think you always want to sit down and lay out, you know, different scenarios and what possibly could happen, and there really is a lot that can happen. We saw that last week in our ballgame, and with our game and other games around the country. But I do know we'll go bowling."

Barry, there have been a couple games this year, I think Northwestern and Michigan State, where going in you noted that the team had very good tackles, big guys who were going to be tough to move out. How does Iowa's front four, their tackles in particular, stack up in that regard?

"Well, I think [Matt Roth] is different. He's so quick. He's very strong, plays with good fundamentals, he's a penetrator. He can run around you rather than run through you or hit a gap charge and get penetration more so than those bigger guys who might get some movement and are hard to move. Their other outside, their inside guys are very solid, good. They're more mobile than the guys, the other guys we talked about, as I see them. And their linebackers are physical, they can step up and really stuff a line."

I think a lot of people expected Iowa to take a fall this year from where they were the last two years. How have they been able to kind of reload and stay up there and have this kind of a year?

"Well, I think the majority of their defense is back, and if you've got a good defense, you've got a chance. And their young quarterback, I would think the only reason somebody would say that about them, or would anticipate that, is because they were starting a new quarterback, but he's responded and played very well. So, you know, I thought they were picked in the upper echelon going into the season. They had good running backs, good defense, pretty good nucleus coming back."

I think as far back as the spring you were asked about all the new quarterbacks coming into the league and how that could change the league. Are you surprised at guys like [Drew Tate], [Drew Stanton], [Chad Henne] at Michigan, I don't know how much you've seen all of them, but how well they've performed this year?

"I didn't really know much about Henne, and I didn't know much about Stanton. I'm really impressed with Stanton. Henne obviously has been outstanding. I know Tate's dad. I've known him for a long time. His stepdad was a coach, coached when I did back in Iowa. He was a high school coach in Iowa and then went down to Texas and coached. And I'd heard a lot of good things about him.

"He had originally committed to Texas A&M and was very highly recruited, and there was a lot written about him. So, and then I had heard word from Iowa City that they were very impressed when he got there. So it doesn't surprise me. He comes from a football background, dad's a coach, played a very good level in high school, and just from the initial reaction when he showed up. It doesn't surprise me. I didn't know much about the other ones, but, sure am impressed with him."

What are a few things that you're going to have to do specifically differently than against Michigan State? You talked about the defensive line was not able to dominate. What are you going to tell your guys this week in practice, or what will be some of your points of emphasis this week to get back on the track?

"I'm going to tell them try to dominate. No. This is really a different attack. You know, we'll face a totally different attack this week than we saw last week. This will be an emphasis on the pass, a lot of break containment-type runs, bootleg, naked-type quarterback action passes, a lot like we've seen the last couple weeks.

"We saw it against Michigan State, saw some against Minnesota, where they go in motion and put an additional blocker there and sprint the quarterback out to give him some protection and limit the number of your routes, and a lot of nakeds and bootlegs and that type of thing. So it'll be a totally different type of attack, and, you know, I just want to get back to the type of defense we play. Play sound, play fundamentals, and play our responsibilities like we had for nine games."

Barry, you've never finished in second place since you've been here. When you've had these chances you've taken advantage of them. Sometimes you've gotten breaks. A lot of times you've made your own breaks. I don't know if that gives you hope this week. But as you go along, do you realize these windows of opportunity don't open that often and there's a real feeling to maximize them when they do?

"You always do that as a coach. I mean, that's just natural. When you're a competitor and you compete, you try to do that. But there's only so much you can do. I thought we had great preparation going in there last week. You know, everybody gets, is disappointed when you lose a game like that, when you have so much riding and you've played so well for nine games, have a chance to do something. I think there were only two other teams in the history of our school that won nine in a row and had a chance to be the first team in the history of the school, make history. And I talked to my seniors about the legacy that they would leave, that they could be, go down as one of the great teams, one of the great records in this school history. But it didn't happen. You want to take advantage of it, and I know they did, but we didn't play well enough to make it happen. So I think, I guess that's what you learn. In this business you move on. You want to capitalize on it and you want to do everything possible, and the coaches did. So that's athletics. That's what sports is about."

Two-part question. Does your team still have that capacity, like you said, to go down as one of the better teams in the program? And two, on Saturday night I think ESPN's people were saying that you guys didn't handle the pressure well. Did you see that at all?

"You know what? That's easy. Those guys from ESPN don't know anything about our players. You know, and that's easy, some talking head talk about pressure or not handle publicity. How do they know? I mean, how do you even, how do you know how their guys responded? How do you know about injuries? How do you know about match-ups? That's just, you know, it's not there. It's hard to put, I don't even like to respond to that because they don't know anything about what they're talking about. So I don't think there was anything about pressure that had anything to do with that game."

The first part, do you still think this team has a chance to do what you told the seniors before?

"Well, with this game, we still have an opportunity to have as good a record as any team that's ever been here, so I guess that answers the question. If you're going on records, it gives you a chance to really do a lot of great things and finish on a positive note. And we've still done a lot of things that most teams haven't done and still can do more. And that's the thing. We can't lose and we won't lose sight of the fact that we did a lot of good things and yet there's more to accomplish this season. It's still about the next game."

Barry, wondering, the Iowa coaching fraternity, there's been a lot of talk through the years just about how many good, you know, coaches have come out of there. Wondering how tight you are with a lot of those people, including if you still talk on a regular basis with Hayden (Fry)?

"I do talk with Hayden regularly, probably once every two weeks. And I talk to, I'm close with most of the guys. I talk with [Dan McCarney] all the time, talk with [Kirk Ferentz] usually in the spring and summer. I don't talk to him, you know, during the season much. Bill Snyder and I stay in contact. Bobby Stoops and I talk probably once every two weeks. And the fraternity's growing, because a number of the guys that we've coached are now getting into the field, Mike Stoops at Arizona, I think Chuck Long will soon be a head coach, and it goes on and on. Mark Stoops at Arizona.

"So, you know, I think that fraternity will continue to grow. And we really, when you sit back, and we talk about it all the time and much has been written about it in the National Football Coaches Association, one of their periodicals had a picture of our staff and went through all the guys that went on to become a head coach, and it was a very nice article. But it really was a special group that we had."

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