Big Ten teleconference: Randy Walker

Northwestern football coach talked about coming off a bye, Brett Basanez's development in the Wildcats' offense and more

Audio file 1 (4:53) -

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Opening statement

"Well it's great to be back. When you go through a bye week you kind of feel like you're lost. It's like what am I doing? It's uncomfortable sitting and watching football on TV. We're supposed to be playing. But I think it was a good week for us. We accomplished I think a lot with some of the practice we had in the off week. We're trying to improve our execution and do the little things a little bit better.

"The Penn State game, again I think you play a good football team and a team that's well coached like Penn State, it reveals some things. We think we can correct some of the problems we faced in that heartbreaking loss to Penn State.

"We are looking forward to getting back this week but again we jump right from the frying pan into the fire. We play a great Wisconsin team that's playing on a roll and playing great football. And just got to give a lot of credit to Barry (Alvarez) and his staff. They have them, as always they're well coached, they're technically sound, they have great athletes to make plays and we're going to have our hands full.

"In addition to having a quality week of practice it's also been a week to help get us back a little bit. We have been kind of behind the injury bug all season. It's given us a chance to give some guys some quality time and let them rehab and get back.

"I think we're coming into this game as healthy as we've been. I think our kids are anxious to start playing and get back into the Big Ten season."

On Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson:

"Well I think it first shows a lot of confidence by Coach Paterno and the coaching staff there. You know, sticking with a kid, hang in there. I've said all along… I think they're doing the right things with Michael. I think they got him at a position that he's good at. They're not trying to play quarterback-by-committee, which sometimes is good but I think it can be difficult. He's their guy. I think they put a lot of faith and trust in him. I think obviously he knows that…

"He's a time bomb. When you are playing him, even if things aren't going well., you know he has a chance of exploding at any time… Especially in our game where we get up to a lead and then they come back and battle back and take the lead in the fourth quarter and then we come back and regain the lead at the end of the fourth quarter. You just got to give a lot of credit to him on that last drive. Because he made some shots and plays in that last drive that won a football game for them."

On Penn State's improvement on offense and their freshman wide receivers:

"You'd have to give a lot of credit to the young receivers. Again, I still think Michael is underrated as a quarterback. He threw some long balls with great accuracy and great touch. That's not an easy thing to do. And I thought he put some shots that were right on the money. And of course he had guys to run and catch it. And if they did catch it, you weren't catching them.

"They certainly are very skilled at wide receiver. They have threats in a variety of ways… I like some of the things they are doing with Michael Robinson. He's an athlete who can not only make shots but… I really was impressed with some of his, especially down the field passing game. He's a great athlete and makes plays with his feet too.

"You couple that with a real solid offensive line and a very veteran team. They are a very senior-dominated… there are some seniors that have gone through some tough times and Joe's done a great job of holding them together and they're off and running. I think they've got a lot of things going for them right now."

Audio file 2 (3:45) -

Despite only one starter back in offensive line and some questions at tailback you seemed pretty confident about the offense going into this season and it turns out with good reason. How much of that had to do with having a four-year starter at quarterback and how much is just faith in your system and the problem it presents opposing defenses?

"Well, I think one, our offensive staff, led by Mike Dunbar, does a good job. We try to find ways to keep evolving and find a way to stay ahead of the curve if you will.

"But it doesn't hurt to have a four-year starter at quarterback. There are some real advantages to that. I have always said all along he's a young man who's grown in our program and in our offense and as a person. I'm really proud of where Brett Basanez has gone. He's matured a great deal. He's one of the best students of the game I've every coached. And he is the acknowledged without question leader of our offense… We knew we were going to have some young guys up front and some young guys in the skill positions. We knew we were going to go through that. But it was nice to have a guy with the kind of leadership that not only Brett has but also Zach Strief, who is our one returning starter on our offensive (line). So those guys have done a great job us."

Could you talk about how much more you are able to do with a four-year starter at quarterback? Is there any example of, you know, how more evolved you can get with him?

"When you know, I think he's a real student of the game, so you hopefully can get to the right play with him. Sometimes when you're a young quarterback, you got to dial up the offense. You can't give them a whole lot of wiggle room. And sometimes you guess right, sometimes you don't.

"With Brett you can put more on his plate, he can handle more things in the offense. It still comes down to — the thing that I think marks Brett is his consistent improvement as a quarterback. He's come a long way in a couple years. To the point where we have a lot more confidence throwing the football. We think he can make some shots. At one point a couple years ago we were trying to take the ball out of his hands and not let him throw it. Now he's gained our confidence, he's gained the confidence of his teammates and he's grown as a player. We feel like we can be a more balanced offense than maybe we could his first couple years."

How are you preparing for Brian Calhoun….?

"It's like any real good back. We're going to do the best job we can to try to contain Brian Calhoun, but he is a great talent. He has that one attribute that really changes the game and that's tremendous speed… We are going to try to do the best job we can to contain him and not give up big plays but we also got to come to grips. He's going to make some plays. It's unrealistic, when you play good people in this league, to say we're going to shut them down. Hopefully we can contain it. But Brian's an outstanding football player. He mixes a rare balance of having some talent, the ability to go at people, take people on with just flat-out out-run people. And just go by people in a way I've not seen for a while. So he's a tremendous talent. We are going to have our hands full on Saturday."

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