Monday press conference: Barry Alvarez

Text from Wisconsin football coach's weekly press conference

Audio file 1 (5:21) –

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What a difference a week makes. You always try and talk about keeping emotions as level as possible, but how much bringing up did you have to do last week and how much bringing down do you have to do this week, or does that take care of itself?

"No. For the most part, I think just the way we go about our schedule and how we approach things, it does take care of itself. Early in the year, because we were so young, I felt it necessary to go over that with the kids about not being too high or too low, and the things that happen during the course of a year or season, and if you have a big win or a tough loss, you get that over with, and when you come back to work on Monday, that you're focused on the next week, and that's all that counts, is focusing on that game. So we haven't met with the guys yet, (but) we'll take the same approach."

Are you surprised at where Purdue is at right now, 2-4, and from what you've seen, are they better than the 2-4 team?

"Yeah. I am. I thought Purdue, just the fact that a year ago they had to replace nine defensive starters. I think all nine went to the NFL and I believe made teams. Basically all they had to replace was the quarterback, (Kyle) Orton, off of that team, which was a very, very good football team. That team a year ago, I think Joe (Tiller) has mentioned it and I've seen it written before, that our game may have cost them two or three games. You know, they couldn't get that game out of their system, it was such a tough loss.

"But that team … those four losses they had last year, every game was a two- or three-point loss. They could have run the table a year ago. So I felt that they were the team that some people were maybe overlooking. They were preseason ranked in the Top 15. So, their record surprises me, but as you watch them, they're a good football team. They move the ball on everyone. Defensively, I know they've had a couple injuries and some issues there, but (they're) the same guys I saw a year ago and I know they're pretty good."

Barry, it looks according to the depth chart, that you're making a change at one of the cornerback spots. Can you just talk about what you've seen in Jack (Ikegwuonu) that makes you feel comfortable to put him out there?

"I don't even look at that depth chart because I just know who's going to play and I know we'll play four corners. But I saw Jack play, Jack played last week, I thought he did a good job, though he wasn't tested a lot … (he) missed a tackle on a short route. But Jack is a guy that's progressed. He has a lot of ability. You know, I think he should continue to get better and better as we go along."

Coach, with the recent last-second loss that Penn State took, do you think there's a newfound focus on this team for another Big Ten title?

"We don't talk about that. Our only issues, we're halfway through. There's so much football to be played yet. It's nice to be still in the mix and not always clawing up. But to be in the mix is good this late in the season. But I hope our guys are all smart enough to figure out it's all about this week. All the focus is on this week and no further than this week."

What is Matt Bernstein's status and when do you anticipate him returning?

"I have no idea when he'll return. I said when he was injured that it will be awhile. I check with him about daily and he's improving, but I haven't had any indication that he's getting closer."

Audio file 2 (5:49) –

Will you have open tryouts for defensive linemen tomorrow, like Bret Bielema has suggested?

"Well, we're going to have to be creative probably in some sense. We had three different guys, three guys injured in that game. I don't know how severe they are. Some of them, we'll get better answers today or tomorrow. But, we were thin there to start with and then you lose three right out, three right away and then to have more injured this past weekend, it's hard. It's hard. But you just have to find answers. That's our job, is to try to find an answer someplace."

Barry, given the state of your, I mean, the depletion of your defensive line and the fact that the Big Ten, and in your own words, has turned into the Big Sky Conference, do you change your approach offensively at all knowing that, you know, you may have to score 35, 40 points to win a ball game?

"Not really. I think in some cases being, if you can control the ball that's good because you can keep the ball out of your opponent's hands. And so rather than just trying to throw it around all over the place or having to quick score, I think the key is just playing your offense and executing your offense.

"And if you can establish a running game—you saw last week (Minnesota) didn't want to put a lot of pressure on a new quarterback, they're a good run team anyhow. That's what they're going to do and that's how they're going to run the football, and they did a good job of it. But, no, you don't really change, you can't change your offensive philosophy really."

Barry, can you or did you empathize or share any thoughts with Glen Mason? I mean, you've been in similar situations here against Michigan on a punt that hits one of your guys. You've been there before. Did you share those thoughts with him?

"No. Mason has been around a long time. He's a big boy. He's won some games probably like that and he's probably lost some, maybe probably not just like that, but we all have tough losses.

"And right now I'm worried about Purdue, and I'm not sure who (Minnesota) plays, but that's who (Mason is) worrying about right—well, he's got a week off, so he's got to agonize over that for a few more days. But, you just have to move forward, and he will. He's a good coach and he's been around a long time and he knows how to get those things out of the way. It may take a little while longer to get it out of your system, but he will."

People probably forget Brett Bell is only nine months from pretty major surgery. How has this whole process been for him mentally and physically, and how is he holding up?

"Well, I think his knee, his knee has been strong and he's had all the tests to indicate that it's where it should be mechanically, yet I don't know if everyone, unless you've gone through that type of surgery, knows how tough that is mentally to get over it.

"He has arthritis in his knee, which is very painful. I know that. So, those are hard issues, hard things to get over with, to deal with and get into full contact, especially when you're playing a team like that that's throwing at you and around your legs all the time. But you appreciate the effort that he gives you trying to be there."

Barry, after thinking about it a couple of days, what was the wilder finish, the Minnesota game or last year's Purdue game?

"There is no question: this past week. Yeah, I said that after the game actually. Somebody asked the same thing. But I don't think there's any question this past week. And you know what was nice about it, and we talked about it as a staff, all three phases really had to come through in that situation.

"Actually our defense, there was another point in the game you forget about. They had gone up 10 points and they knocked the ball loose on John (Stocco) and they were in field goal range when they took over the ball and we were able to come out of that with no points. The defense held them to no points.

"And on that last series, all three phases had to produce, the offense. The defense had to hold. The offense had to score quickly, scored, went 71 yards in a 1:15 or whatever it was. And, we missed an onside kick, but, that was a well-executed onside kick. Actually Zach (Hampton) had it in his hands and his knee hit the ball. That's what shot it out of there.

"And having them deep in their position was crucial in that situation, and then you get a blocked kick. And I couldn't answer you guys after the game because I didn't see it. I didn't see how it happened. I saw the kid drop the ball and then I saw the confusion and I didn't know whether it rolled in the end zone or what happened. But, (Jonathan Casillas did a) heck of a job blocking that ball because it's a rugby kick. You know, you can get those things off, but he smothered it. He really did a nice job.

"His job initially was to occupy one of the up backs. And he came off of that and put himself in position and picked that ball off of his foot. So he really did a good job. It wasn't just because the kid dropped it, but Jonathan had to really do a good job of seeing it come off his foot and timing it."

Audio file 3 (5:41) –

What do you think your defense needs to do different in the upcoming games so that the 300-plus yards on the ground that you've given up the last two weeks doesn't become a weekly statistic?

"Well, we're going to try to figure that out. It gets difficult when you keep playing different guys up front and the teams you're playing are pretty good. That team we played Saturday, I remember not long ago watching them rush for over 400 against Michigan.

"And I think it was the night before we played Ohio State, we beat Ohio State here and broke their record, but had that big lead on Michigan, rushed for over 400 and threw for I forget how many, it was a ridiculous number, and lost the game. And I said it's impossible to rush for 400 yards and lose a game. And then I think if you keep watching, I just watched Northwestern and Purdue. Northwestern had over 200 yards the first quarter and 600 yards again.

"So, let's give a little credit to the offenses that we're playing. We don't like that. We don't like to give up that many yards. Our guys are trying. Got a lot of young people playing defense. I think you all recognize that there's new guys to start with how we've been thinned out, so let's not be so critical all the time and point the finger at a lot of young guys that maybe are playing before they actually should be ready to play."

Barry, you mentioned the sequence against Minnesota, or all three phases. I'm just curious, that last defensive stand where they ran the ball three times and didn't get the first down, that came right after that 19-play drive. What's the most important ingredient a defense has to have to be able to make a stand after just getting pushed down the field consistently that way? Is it mental toughness or what?

"Well, a lot of it's just being able to have a little durability, because we there weren't many guys rotating at the time. And they moved the ball down the field, there were two fourth-down conversions. Probably the biggest play in that drive was the naked (bootleg) by the quarterback. And so it was, both teams were grinding. You know, we just couldn't make the play and get a big enough hit, get a surge to cause a minus-yardage play.

"They came up with one play on that third-down situation. It was third and long. And, he came up fourth-and-two or whatever it was. But I guess to come back, we actually took the ball after that and went down the field. And the TV timeouts help you because that gives you some rests on the sidelines.

"It's not like you've gone through 18 or 19 plays, come off the field, your offense has gone three and out, and then you go right back on. You get so worn, and then that type of offense wears you out now, because they're whacking you from outside, the ball goes away, somebody is chopping your legs, you're on the ground, and then you have some big, strong back coming at you. So it wears on you. They'll wear on everybody they play."

Coach, Joe Tiller said he's not sure whether he's going to start Brian Kirsch or the backup Painter this week. Can you talk about what you know, the differences between the two quarterbacks and how you have to change your game plan?

"I just saw the one kid a little bit in the last game when he came in for a while. But the game plan won't change. Their offense won't change. You can't change an offense. You may feature some different throws for players. We don't know enough about the other kid to know what his favorite throws are. So you prepare for what you've seen the most and what their system is."

You kind of already mentioned that, someone made a joke, that you call it the Big Sky Conference now. What really, going against another spread offense team, what has made this like paradigm shift in the Big Ten, where it used to be thought of as an all-power running conference or an all-smashmouth football conference to now you have teams that are averaging over 500, close to 450 yards of offense a game? What caused that shift and kind of when did that happen?

"Well, it happened in about 1979, if you really want to study it, when Hayden Fry came into the league and then the next year Mike White came into the league, and they're predominantly throwing coaches, and then the following year, or I think in '79 also Joe Salem came into the league at Minnesota and ran a spread offense, run-and-shoot type offense. (Mike) Shanahan was his coordinator.

"But that's when it all started. And there are a lot of people, and the years, particularly when Ron (Dayne) was here and we were a run-oriented team, I think people were misled to think that everyone in our league was run-oriented. But fact be known, at least half the teams in the league since '79 have been throwing teams. Purdue with Everett, if you go back and study Purdue, they've always thrown the football, with Jim Everett and a lot of those people.

"So this isn't anything new to the league. The thing that's happening now, that the way they're running the spread and how well they're executing it, the quarterbacks make the difference. It's how you execute offenses. It's not just because you're in an offense that you're putting up more yards. (Brett) Basanez is the key of Northwestern's offense. He makes them go. And it's not just the offense itself. You have to execute it."

Audio file 4 (5:39) –

Coach, do you think this conference is as evenly matched as you can remember? It seems like every Saturday, I mean, games can really go either way.

"I think it is. I think there's been balance and we've been pretty strong. I don't know if we've had as many quality teams, but, I always reference the '93 season, we had one loss in the league and that was probably the last-place team, Minnesota.

"And, in the days of the Big Two and the Little Eight, Ohio State and Michigan never had to worry about the bottom-feeders. I mean, they could go out and play their seconds and go through the motions and win by three, four, five touchdowns. There was that much difference in the teams, but not anymore. I think scholarship counts, plus the quality of the coaching is very good.

Barry, is the situation dire enough in the defensive line to take the redshirt off any of the freshmen? And is maybe Gino Cruse the next guy in line who is in time for minutes?

"Gino played, if I'm not mistaken, 40-some plays last week. So, yeah, Gino is going to have to play and get more snaps. I prefer not to take a redshirt off of one of the freshmen. But, amazing thing, Matt Shaughnessy played every snap. That's a 225-pounder and he's getting double teamed. You know, the tight end is a, I don't know, 270-pounder. We recruited him as a defensive tackle. The tackles are 320. He's getting double teamed by those and he played hard from the first snap to the last snap, chased guys down, unbelievable how he played."

Is Roderick Rogers becoming a playmaking free safety you kind of maybe envisioned with that kind of athletic ability that he could be?

"I think he's improving. I think Roderick is improving. I think he'd be the first to tell you he has some things to work on in his game, but he's getting better and he's around the ball more. I think the more he plays, the more comfortable he feels with it, and hopefully he can start using some of his athletic ability and range."

Barry, what goes into a 10-game home winning streak? How do you get there? I mean, how do you win 10 straight at home? You know, it's never been done, I guess.

"One time."

Right.

"I don't think there's any secret, Tom. We've had a pretty good stretch. We were a pretty good team last year, and we've played well this year. I'd like to say it's just because we've made it a point of emphasis, but we try to every year talk about (how) you always want to play well at home, you want to win at home. It just so happens that our guys have played better.

"And I always tell the kids the stadiums and the fans don't win the games for you, you have to win, you're the one that has to execute, you're the one that has to make plays, but your opponent has to execute through crowd noise and through distractions and all the potential things that can happen on the road. And I think we have become a tougher place.

"It's always been a tough place to play here. But I think since the renovation and as we were bowled up, I think our fans get into it more. It seems like, in a lot of the big games, they've really been into the games, and I think that's really helped."

Barry, back to the D-line for a bit. I mean, there are some guys like Brandon Kelly, who I assume is going to have to play a little bit more, he played on Saturday, (Mike) Newkirk on the inside, those are guys, former linebackers that maybe a lot of people don't know about, probably Newkirk, but what can those guys give you, whether it's just to rest the other guys, and also is (Travis) Beckum getting close to helping you on the line?

"I think J.P. (John Palemo) feels that Beckum probably will help, is getting close to helping in certain situations. Newkirk played quite a bit Saturday and played well. You know, he's a physical player. He's a guy that can hold his ground in there and can chase people down. Brandon Kelly, you like to think that he's been there long enough, he's big enough now that he can hold up at defensive end. But, we used them all last week and in a tight ball game because that's who we had. But they're all going to have to play now."

You mentioned the Purdue game last year and obviously some things were said afterward about the block on Erasmus. Is that becoming a pretty good rivalry for you guys?

"I don't know. Every game in this league is a big game and every one there's always an issue because all the games, we've had good games with them. I think you go back and look at, from all the way back to that (Drew) Brees game and the following year in '99 down there and the last two we've played with them, the last three we've played with them, they've all come down to the wire. They've been barnburners, all of them good football games."


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