Monday press conference: Barry Alvarez

Alvarez talks about Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green's defense and the weekend of activities ahead.

Barry, I know it's early on, but I just wondered (to ask about) the influences (new co-offensive coordinator) Paul Chryst has had on the passing game so far. What have you seen?

"I think the one thing I've noticed is Paul really has a very good teaching progression. And as he installed it, as he taught it to the players, I see a good grasp of it. I really have sensed, particularly this past week, that John (Stocco) really has an understanding of it, as well as the receivers.

"And, you know, it'll be a subtle change for a layman in the stands watching the game. I don't think anyone will notice much difference in the type of passing attack. Yet I think as far as pre-snap reads and knowing where to go with the ball initially, what to look for, all those types of things, I think Paul has done a nice job of teaching it. And that's the most important thing, is to make sure, you can have the greatest passing attack in the world, if it isn't translated to your players where they can execute it on the field, it doesn't make any difference."

Barry, Bowling Green is a very formidable opening opponent. Is it good to throw guys into a hot fire right away?

"The thing as a coach, when you schedule as far out as we do, you don't have much say. You don't know what type of team you're scheduling. Although the teams that we've played in this league, you know, we've had a couple, we've been very fortunate to win against Northern Illinois. But when you have a team like this, I think there are positives and there are negatives.

"The positives, your players have to give you full attention and preparation. It's not just going through practice, get it over with, because you're going to play an opponent that we should be able to handle. They know they have a very formidable opponent. They have someone that's a very difficult preparation, someone that they have to give their full attention to as they prepare. I think that's the positive. It gets them in game mode quicker.

"It's always a negative when you play someone like this. Are you game ready? In particular with a young team. And if you're not, you're going to pay the consequences."

Barry, I think (Bowling Green quarterback Omar) Jacobs threw more than 400 passes last year, yet their sack total, what they gave up, was only like 13. How difficult is it to get to him given what they do, and given his size, is he one of those guys who if you get to him, you're not going to have an easy time getting him down anyway?

"You know, normally from what I see, the ball is released by the time people get there. It's not like a Daunte Culpepper where you bounce off of him, although he is a big, strong guy and you see him run through some things. But he's in the shotgun. A lot of it is quick releases. A lot of it is sprint-outs, where it's hard to get to him anyhow and the ball can come out if you do get pressure.

"So they've devised a scheme where it's difficult to really put (pressure against him); you could put pressure on him, he could release it quickly, but you're really not going to get many sacks against him. That kind of reminds me of the old Miami days. You could have somebody clean straight up the middle and not get a sack on the quarterback. You'd get him to throw earlier than he wants to, but you're not going to get many sacks."

Barry, in the ‘70s, ‘80s, early ‘90s, a MAC team would come in here and it would be almost a payday, a given win. What's kind of happened in that league and what's made the top teams so tough to beat for the bigger schools?

"If you study the history of the MAC, they have a long history of upsets. They've always played excellent football there. I think as the scholarship numbers have diminished, going down from 120 down to 85, there are more players available to them. I think where they are located, in many cases, helps. Where Bowling Green is located is a very hotbed for high school football.

"So you have a number of coaches concentrating on areas close to home. You know the players pretty well and they're good football players. They may not have been, some of them may not have been recruited for specific reasons, but they've always been good enough to beat people. You go back forever and study that league, there are big upsets in that league every year. Now they're not so much upsets. They're very competitive with everyone."

How has the quarterback legacy come to grow in the MAC?

"I think probably they're all a little different, how they ended up there, but I'll tell you, that league probably has had as many high-quality quarterbacks as any league, whether they're late maturers, guys that kind of got lost in the shuffle in recruiting and at the end no one has a scholarship for them. You know, I don't know all of them. We haven't been involved with many of those guys, so I don't know all the cases, but I've read about them, and I think those are probably two of the cases."

We haven't talked that much about their defense, but I'm just curious if you've looked at their defense yet, what's their trademark? It looks like their backers are a little bit lighter and they seem to be going for speedy guys in that level.

"Well, the issue that we have right now with their defense, they've got a new coordinator. He was a coordinator that was at Clemson a year ago, did not go through spring practice with them. So we're anticipating, and the fronts and the schemes initially are the same. The stunts are different.

"So we've studied both schemes. We've studied the Bowling Green defense of a year ago and what they did and their tendencies and their patterns, and we've also studied the Clemson defense as to what they did, what he seems to hang his hat on and that type of thing. So it's been a little more of a difficult preparation for us.

"But it looks to me as though they have athletes that can run. They have a good nucleus coming back on defense. You see a lot of movement, and I would anticipate a lot of movement with their front, pressure from their linebackers. They have used a lot of linebackers blitzing as well as a corner blitz with line movement."

Barry, to what degree are you concerned about the distractions that are available this weekend with the grand opening, all the ceremonies, that type of thing, the throwback uniforms? And if you are concerned, what steps have you taken to try and alleviate those issues?

"Well, my players won't be involved in most of it. The only thing they'll be involved in is wearing the uniforms. The one thing you don't want to do is surprise your players, so we made sure that they've known about those uniforms for quite a while. They've tried them on. They've worn the helmets. They'll wear the shoes this week that they're going to wear. So really that's the only thing that they'll be involved in.

"They're not going to be involved in any of the ceremonies or anything pertaining to the grand opening. They're just going to concentrate on the football game. That's my issue and I have a hard time with it. I'm single-minded and the game is on my mind, but yet I have some responsibilities with those things.

"Hopefully, it's Friday, our players are between dinner and the time that we'll go to a movie, I'll try to touch base on some of those things and then in the evenings, after practice, I'll get my responsibilities completed. But the players, it shouldn't affect (them)."

Coach, we always hear about how good this quarterback is and it's easy to kind of focus on him. But is there another unit on this football team, on Bowling Green's team, that concerns you?

"Concern is the right word. Their running backs are excellent. And you read so much about their passing yardage and the quarterback with 40-some touchdowns and only a few interceptions, yet they have 1,000-yard rusher and someone that was near 1,000 yards. You have excellent receivers.

"So a quarterback just can't do it by himself. It's the entire scheme. It's all their skilled players. They've obviously been able to protect for him to allow him to do that. But offensively, they really present a lot of problems. And the quarterback is the trigger man, but he has to have a complement of players and skilled players in particular to execute that offense."

Barry, we all know, you know, what a hit you took on graduation day off last year's team. As you sit here today, how confident are you that the program can absorb that hit and kind of keep chugging along?

"That's why you play on Saturday. That's what we'll find out on Saturday. You like to think that guys who have been in the program can move it forward, but that's the great thing about this sport, you know. Everybody wants to know what's going to happen beforehand, that's what you find out.

"I'm always nervous. I've never gone into an opening game overconfident. I'm always very nervous, particularly, even when we've had veteran teams, I've gone in very nervous about what's going to happen and worrying about the guys who haven't played before and then whether the freshmen who will play will understand the speed of the game. All those things are things that we're going to find out Saturday."

Barry, along those same lines, when outside expectations aren't as high on your team, do you use that at all as a motivational tool?

"You can use that, but yet the thing that's important are the expectations inside the program. You know, we sit down every year as a staff and I sit down with the players and have them, we sit down as a staff and list goals, things we think are realistic, and then we sit down with the players and let them verbalize.

"I can guide them in different directions just to see where they think they are, and I always like to do that towards the end of camp, when they've seen each other practice and they've gone after each other. So, yeah, you can use that as motivation. We've been preseason ranked (before); I guess we've been ranked most of the time.

"But when you lose as many guys as we did, if you're ranking people, you don't know the guys we have listed as starters, why would you rank us? But all that doesn't make any difference. As far as expectations, it's what's at the end that really counts."

Can that ever be a benefit?

"I think our program is far enough along that we're not going to sneak up on anyone anymore. You know, I don't think anybody is sitting back here thinking that we're going to be a patsy. So, you know, maybe it is. I don't think (so)."

It seems like the only teams to slow down Bowling Green's offense last year were the ones that ran the ball and kept them off the field. How important will time of possession be? And you were so good in that area last year. Do you expect to be as good this year?

"Well, I hope to. I know it's hard for that quarterback to put up numbers if he's sitting there next to the coach. You know, if we can hang onto the ball like we did a year ago, that will always give us a chance. And a lot of that had to do with the defense. The defense didn't stay on the field.

"You can give a lot of the credit to the offense, staying on the field, but if the defense is three and out, that adds to it, and that really had a lot to do with our time-of-possession numbers last year. It was our outstanding defense."

Coach, with all the other stuff going on, how excited are you to kind of forget about the retirement talk and just coach football once again on Saturday?

"Well, I've kind of done that for the last three weeks."

Coach, you said earlier that it could be a negative if your players aren't game ready. Speaking in terms of the youthful, inexperienced secondary, do you think they're ready for the passing attack?

"Our corners are guys that have played before. Our safety started two games, the first two games for us a year ago, our strong safety. Our free safety has played a little bit. It's not like they've never played before. Jack Ikegwuonu hasn't played before, yet he goes against our guys. The fact that he'll be surrounded by players who have played, I think will help.

"And more than anything else, it's just the communication. You know, the fact that you have guys who have been out there, this is an offense that you really have to do an outstanding job of communicating all the different sets that they have, the different formations they're going to get, making sure that you're in the right coverage and that you check to the right coverage when they give you motion or that type of thing. So I think we have enough guys who have played and have enough experience that can carry over for the few that haven't played much."

Along those lines, when you look at tape of Bowling Green, do you see a lot of coverage busts from teams that face them, from a lack of communication?

"I think more than coverage busts, I see, I think you see a lot of consistent types of coverages, and I see mismatches. You see where you've got linebackers who can't cover a back, your nickelbacks can't handle some of the receivers, people don't have enough quality athletes to put them out on the field to match up with them. That's kind of the thing I've seen in the last couple years. And then you'd better be good enough and just not forget about the running game. That's the first thing I'll tell our defense, you better stop the run."

Do you know anything more about how long Justin Ostrowski might be out?

"I don't."


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