Monday press conference: Alvarez quotes

UW football coach discussed the challenged posed by North Carolina, and building off the team's two wins

Audio file 1 (4:36) -

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Do you have any idea, Barry, if that hurricane is an issue? Have you talked to people out there? Is that a concern at all?

"I've talked to some people. The best that I know from what I just heard was should be, that front should be out of there on Thursday, so that's all I know. You might have to check with Owen Daniels."

Editor's note: Tuesday morning Tropical Storm Ophelia, which has at times gained strength and been classified as a hurricane, was stalled in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina. A hurricane warning is in effect for the coastal regions of the Carolinas. The extended forecast calls for rain Thursday in Chapel Hill, which is about 120 miles from the coast, but partially cloudy skies Friday and Saturday.

Daniels, a senior tight end, is an atmospheric and oceanic studies major.

Barry, what do you remember from that 2003 game when you played North Carolina about the problems you had on your kickoff coverage unit, and how much of a difference does a kid like (Taylor) Mehlhaff make whether he can drill it deep or give you a lot of hang time?

"Well, obviously if you drill it deep they won't return it, so that is considerable help. You know, they executed it well. Since that day, we've made some adjustments in our kickoff team with how we kick and some of the things we do. But they really executed. They had tremendous speed. And that's what I remember about their team. They were very athletic-looking and had a tremendous amount of speed on both sides of the ball. A lot of those guys are still playing. It's a senior-dominated team. And, but that's kind of what I remember."

You've talked many times before about your feelings about the special teams and the importance in the game. Why, especially with Brandon Williams, what does he bring to the table? You've had good special teams, punt guys returners for you, Jimmy Leonhard. What does he bring to the table that's special and why do you feel it's such an important role for the way you guys play?

"It's important for the way anyone plays. I mean, that's a third of the game. And special teams determine field position. And, you know, some of our real good teams, if you go back and study the '99 team, we had a 15-yard difference in position, field position... where we took the ball over as compared to our opponent times how many possessions you have during a game is a hidden yardage that no one takes account of.

"That particular year, we didn't throw the ball well but we made up all that difference, or we didn't throw it a lot, but we made a lot of that difference up in the kicking game. But the kicking game sets up, or determines field position. Last week is an example, our average field position was the 50-yard line. Theirs was the 19. Now times, how many times we had possession as compared to theirs, now that's a huge advantage.

"And you can score points, you know, as we've shown, in the kicking game. So if someone overlooks it, and I don't see any coaches that do overlook it, but some emphasize it more than others. Brandon gives us someone who has speed, who likes to be there, who likes the challenge. Brandon wants the ball in his hands and has been a playmaker for us ever since we've had him. So, you know, hopefully he can continue.

"And I've always believed that special teams is attitude and effort, and we try to break it down to one-on-one situations, whether it be a hold-up on a punt or a blocking scheme on punt return. It's us challenging their guys, you know. Just we try to outwork people. And I really like the effort that our guys have been giving us in two games."

Audio file 2 (4:52) -

Barry, I think before the season, when anyone asked you about your defensive line you always said, well, it's not like we're starting anew because a lot of guys have at least experienced, they've played. What has stood out about that unit so far the way they've performed in these first two games? And in regards to Kurt Ware, was there much debate when you guys eventually moved him from tight end to defensive end? Was that a tough call?

"I don't think, you know, Kurt wasn't, he may have mentioned it because he wasn't getting much playing time and I think J.P. (defensive line coach John Palermo) felt that he could work him into the mix and worked him in (to a game) after four days of practice. So all of a sudden, he's on the field.

"So for the kid, it's good. Everybody wants to play. And, you know, he still wouldn't probably be in the mix, maybe as a blocker, as a tight end, so there wasn't a lot of discussion. Anytime we have someone who has an opportunity to get on the field and play and contribute, that's what we would rather do.

"I think the one thing that stands out to me right now is Matt Shaughnessy. As an individual, you know, not very heavy, but he's very wiry and he's around the ball and to pick things up as fast as he has, gives you quickness off the edge, and he's been somebody that we've, he's a surprise because he's been so effective."

Coach, John Stocco had mentioned that he thought the competition was going to get better in a hurry. Do you think this test coming up with North Carolina is truly going to be the first big test for this club to show you what they're about?

"I thought the first week was a pretty big test. You know, that was a team that some people had ranked in the Top 25 and deservedly so. Their offense, you know, was, I thought, outstanding. That quarterback has got to be one of the better quarterbacks in the country. So that was a big test for us, for a group, and then with a number of guys who hadn't played before, I thought that was a very big test, particularly for an opener.

"But this is a better football team. North Carolina is a much better football team, better athletes, deeper than Bowling Green would be. This outfit will be very similar to an upper-echelon Big Ten team, I think. I think they're a very good team. They played, very easily could have won last week on the road against Georgia (Tech). They had a decided disadvantage because it was their opening game. Georgia Tech had a game under their belt where they had beaten Auburn already. So this will be our sternest test, but we've been tested already.

Barry, is North Carolina offensively more of a big, physical, traditional type of team, and if so, how do you think your D-line will hold up to that style of play?

"A traditional what type team?"

More of a power team, not a spread team, I guess.

"Well, they do both. They're multiple in what they do offensively. They like to run the football. A lot of the stuff they do is similar to us with the movement of the tight ends. But in the same respect, they're three wides, four wides, sometimes five wides. They're not going to be exclusively a five-wide team. You know, this offensive coordinator grew up in my neck of the woods, so if he can run it, he'll run it.

"But they're multiple, and the quarterback, I was surprised. I wanted to watch him. I didn't know what type of quarterback he was because the last one they had was very mobile and created a lot of problems for you, and this kid can pull it down and run too and did so last week. But they are big and physical in the offensive line. I guess that's what you wait for. You watch on film, you don't ever know how you match up until you get there and line up against them.

You know, you're averaging 60 points a game. I mean, no matter what the competition is, are you starting to think you have the makings of a pretty, not necessarily a special offense, but a very good, balanced offense?

"I think we could be a very solid offense. I thought that all along. We've got, you know, I think everyone's question mark coming in was three new starters in the offensive line and whether John could take a step. I think John has.

"The offensive line has been more than adequate, yet in the same respect we're, you know, we know that the defenses we've played are not the caliber of the ones that we're going to play. So we don't have any misconceptions that, you know, we're a great offense by any stretch of the imagination, but I think we have a chance to be a very solid offense."

Audio file 3 (5:38) -

Coach, are you more comfortable with your secondary now than you were this time last week or was it merely a case of the Temple offense just not being as dominant as Bowling Green's?

"Well, they're not as dominant as Bowling Green's, and most of them probably won't. I do feel better about them today than I did a week ago today. They were where they needed to be. They made some mistakes. I thought there were a couple plays in down and distance where, you know, we did some things that we shouldn't have done and took some wrong angles on the ball that against a real good team you could get burned on, but yet not near as many mistakes as we made the previous week."

How about the new starters, Langford and Stellmacher, did they meet your expectations?

"They played solid. You know, they really weren't tested. You know, we'll find, we'll get a better judge of that this week. This team will throw the ball down the field and has some big, very fast receivers. I think we rattled the quarterback last week, you know, which helped us.

"But I, you know, and I told you and I meant that, I was concerned going in because I thought the two receivers that Temple had had excellent speed. They showed that in that game. The quarterback had thrown for 4,000 yards in his career and threw for 200-plus the week before, so I was very concerned, particularly after that first game. But I thought they played much better.

Coach, you mentioned Carolina's young quarterback

"He's not young. He's a fifth-year guy."

He's a fifth-year guy. Okay. With him, isn't he making his second career start though?

"Yes."

Does the gameplan change at all with someone with little experience out there?

"No. He executes their gameplan and he showed that, you know, he's been playing all along. He hasn't started, but he's been playing all along. You know, he's been in meetings. He understands the offense. He showed last week that he can execute it. That's what impressed me. I really thought he did some good things and moved the football against a very good Georgia Tech team."

Last year's road-opener at Arizona showed you never know what you can expect. What concerns you with a young team going on the road the first time?

"You know what? You always worry about big eyes. You worry about guys being distracted. You know, you try to stay focused on what you have to do. We to try to keep them busy. You know, we're going to get a workout in at one of the schools on Friday afternoon, either NC State or Duke. We're going to go to the stadium under the lights that night just to get a feel for the stadium and see the lights.

"The next day we'll take them to a high school stadium in the middle of the afternoon just to break the day up and break the tension a little bit and throw a ball around. That's how we normally do it for a night game. So we'll keep them busy and try to keep them focused on the game, and not just sitting in a hotel room."

Just thoughts about playing a team in the ACC, only the fourth time that Wisconsin has played a team in that conference. Does it make any difference or

"You know what? It's more about the team. You know, it's not about the league. We played these guys a few years ago. You know, it's more about preparing a team that's, I think, very talented. If you study their recruiting classes, they've been ranked very high in their recruiting classes.

"They have excellent players. They went to a bowl game last year. They have high aspirations for this season. I know we're playing a very good team. And so that's what it's all about. It's not so much our league against their league or what the league means. It means just going down and competing against a good team on the road."

You said after your opening win that you felt you had a good tape to work with, good and bad things to point out to the guys and got the win. Some preparations for this week coming off a blowout like last week, do you feel like you have a good tape to work with again or it was so good

"As far as improvement, we really did a lot of good things. You know, anybody that watches practice, and I told our staff this today, we grade our kids and we're tough on our guys, and, you know, like I mentioned with the secondary, there were some times we were out of position where you possibly could get burned, you know, a couple of our linemen didn't play especially well.

"And give a couple of their guys credit, they did play well. We had, we made plenty of mistakes. But when you score that many times, you execute, it's hard to do against your scout team in practice, let alone in a game. And their game planning too, you know, their guys are on scholarship too. And so to execute that well, I was very pleased. I mean, we really did a lot of good things.

"And then not to get the game sloppy. I've been through this enough that, boy, you clear your bench and it looks like a fire drill out there. And we'd like to, you know, Jim Hueber had one of the greatest lines at the half as he talked to some of his young linemen about playing, he said, 'I would like this to look like American football.' You know, so they did, and that was pretty good.

"So we accomplished a lot of things, but just like a practice, we look at a Friday practice, which is no pads, just walking through, and you correct off of it, you took the wrong step here, you know, you weren't deep enough here, you know, you had the improper leverage. There are so many little things in football that you can correct, and so we have a ton of things that we can correct."

Audio file 4 (3:59) -

Barry, do you have any better idea or any update on the prognosis for Justin (Ostrowski) and whether he might come back?

"I don't."

You joked about dusting off the screen pass on Saturday. Obviously it's something you haven't chosen to feature in the past a lot. What's just your philosophy about that play in general? Do you have one? Is it a hard play to run timing-wise?

"No, not especially. But you have to have linemen that can run about 15 yards and then in open space be effective, you know, be able to go down the field, look for a defensive back, search up the defensive back, and, you know, block him or, you know, take the proper angle so the back can cut off of him. We've always gone into a season saying, hey, we want to be a good screen team because, you know, it's a good play and it slows defensive lines down, creates a lot of problems. But if your linemen aren't agile enough to block down the field, you're just wasting time."

Is this group (agile enough)?

"This group has been pretty good. You know, our two tackles get down there. Joe Thomas is about as good in space as anyone. Our guards and Donovan have been effective. Jason, they call Jason the chopper. You know, I mean, he goes down there. He's going to throw at you. He's going to get down around your ankles and he's knocked a lot of people down. So they've been effective in space."

Going back to the D-line, has just the, you know, you lose Justin at the beginning of camp and yet J.P. is still playing an eight-man rotation and all those kids have kind of had their moments in the first two games. How surprising is that, I guess, the depth that you've come up with there and how well, you know, most of those kids have played so far?

"Well, I've been pleased how they've played. You know, the important thing is that they continue to improve. You know, a guy like Gino Cruse has come light years in a year. I didn't know, you know, if he'd ever contribute, and all of a sudden he's making plays in the game. You know, as long as they continue to improve, and I thought, I know they're athletic enough. You know, I felt that going in.

"But J.P. felt all along that he'd have a good solid line. I wasn't crazy about losing Ostrowski because I just, you need some, you know, you need some meat in there and you lose a 300-plus-pounder, you know, it concerns you. But these guys, they've responded so far. Hopefully they keep continuing to get better. That's the important thing. You have to continue to improve. And no one can be complacent and no one can be satisfied.

"We have to continue to improve because people, as I explain to the kids, people look at film. We swap film. They're going to study everything just like we do. We're going to study everything you do schematically and individually. And if we see a flaw, then we're going to attack it. Same thing with us. We have to study ourselves. If we see a flaw with our players, we have to correct it because somebody is coming after it."

Barry, you mentioned Gino Cruse and I think J.P. has mentioned that he has come a long way as well. When did the light start to come on for him when you guys could see some potential or some progress there?

"First game. I think probably after Justin was injured and he got into the rotation. He realized that, hey, I've got a chance to play. You know, and that's a big body. That's what they're supposed to look like. And he's playing hard and he's getting better."

Coach, what kind of weapon is (Connor) Barth, the kicker for North Carolina, give them guys? He made a couple big kicks already in his career.

"Well, again, you know, I gave a dissertation already on the kicking game and the importance of special teams. But when you have somebody that, you know, not only kicks it far but can place it, it gives them a chance to create field position."


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