Monday Press Conference: Barry Alvarez

Wisconsin football coach discussed Jack Ikegwuonu's instincts, Matt Shaughnessy's football IQ and more

Audio file 1 (6:01) –

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It looks like Illinois uses their quarterback to run a lot. I'm not sure how much option they use, but how dangerous of a runner is that kid (Tim Brasic) and is there any similarity with what they do with him versus what Purdue did this past week?

"They do run option with him. And he'll pull the ball down quite a bit of the time and run. Some similarity because they're running option out of the spread offense shotgun, sometimes out of two back, sometimes out of one back they'll run it out of. So there is some carryover from this past week."

As a follow-up then, what kind of stress did Purdue put on you guys to defend the option and what does that do when you've got a quarterback and it's not a traditional option running on that spread?

"It's still responsibility football. And, you know, they would go from a one back, three wides or four wides and motion the receiver into the backfield, changing strength and necessitating communication across the front as far as option responsibilities.

"The problem we ran into in a few of the occasions, some of our guys having not practiced all week, it's very difficult to get all your assignments down and to be where you need to be on that. And consequently, we had more mental errors in this game, actually on both sides of the ball, than we normally do. But it caused us some communication (problems). I think the fact that we ran it last week or defended it last week, and the fact, more importantly, that our guys will get to practice, should help us responsibility-wise anyhow."

Barry, it seems like (Jack) Ikegwuonu from day one is one of those guys always around the football. Is there just an ability to break on the ball, is it good instincts? And do you think long range he has a chance to make a lot of interceptions because of that?

"I think so… The thing about him being around the ball, it wasn't always interceptions. There are some guys that if there's a fumble on the ground, he seems to be there. If there was a tipped pass he hit, that would be coming off of another receiver. I think I mentioned that last spring.

"But it always, there are certain guys like that. Jimmy Leonhard was one who always had that knack. And Dontez (Sanders) is like that quite a bit. But, yeah, I think he's a guy, because of his ability, I think he'll gain more and more confidence. He certainly has what you're looking for in a defensive back.

"As he gets more ability, I think you'll see him press more. He has very good hands. He was a good receiver in high school and we could have used him as a receiver, but because of all those things, I think throughout his career he's a guy that should intercept a lot of balls."

Barry, this team has kind of consistently found ways to win, one way or another. Why do you think that is? How do they develop that?

"You know what? That's hard to put a finger on. I don't know, everybody could have an opinion about that. To make a specific statement or say there's one reason or another, I don't know that. I think it's obvious that they're very competitive. They're resilient. They're a group that stays in the game for four quarters. And that's one thing that we do preach is to play for four quarters and understand momentum swings and understand the pendulum as it swings referring to momentum. And they have played four quarters every ballgame. And we feel like we do have some playmakers.

"And whether it be the special teams being a factor in helping win a game or the defense, as they did this past week, or the offense, as they've done in the past, you have a number of guys and we always talk about when the time comes to make a play, you should be wanting the ball in your direction or you should be wanting the responsibility or the opportunity to make a play that makes a difference."

Barry, this might be a related question to that. The circumstances of this team are very similar to what happened in 2001. You had a very productive wide out. You had a very productive running back, a good offense. But the defense, you had injuries, all those types of things. What's happened this year that's been able, allowed you to have the success that you've had that you were unable to have perhaps in 2001?

"I'm trying to think of 2001. Was that Brooks (Bollinger's) last year or, what season is that?"

You finished 5-6 [actually 5-7]. You had (Anthony) Davis, you had Lee Evans.

"You know, I don't know. I don't know. I don't have an answer for that. Our guys play well enough to win. And, the good part is we haven't put a full game together yet. You know, we haven't had all three phases hitting on all cylinders at the same time, yet we've still found ways to win. But… I can't put my finger on why."

Audio file 2 (5:08) –

Barry, you addressed (Matt) Shaughnessy's play after that game again? I know people have talked about his speed, his strength, this stamina. But what kind of football IQ does he have? Is he the kind of guy who apparently picks things up pretty quickly and recognizes things on the fly during a game?

"I think he must be advanced because we asked a lot of things of him and that position, you do have some strong responsibilities and things that you're asked to do that are difficult to do physically. Many times guys aren't disciplined enough to do and take care of your responsibilities, so he has enough discipline and intelligence.

"So if you want to call it football intelligence, maybe it is. That at a young age he can handle it and it's very unusual for that, for someone to play as well as he has and be as — he's slight. He's 225 pounds, he's very angular. He plays in a good football position so he doesn't allow someone to use their weight to disadvantage him… He keeps good leverage and uses his speed and his athletic ability. But, yeah, I would say he definitely has a good football IQ."

You have a lot of guys playing hurt, particularly on defense. Is there any concern that at some point you just might run out of gas because you don't have a bye week?

"Well, I'm very concerned about the bye week. I've altered practice again this week to try to help our guys. I'm sensitive to the length of the season and how beat up a lot of our people are. You want them to be fresh down the stretch. Everybody has had a bye week. I think, just remembering, Ohio State had one last week. Iowa has one this week. So I think about everybody in the league now has had one but us. But I'm concerned with that, so consequently we've altered practice again."

Editor's note: Ohio State's bye week was Oct. 1.

Barry, it seems like John (Stocco) has made a lot of progress making the right reads when teams blitz as evidenced by the touchdown to Calhoun. Can you talk about his progress. Is he where you want him to be against the pressure?

"Well, I think he recognizes things much better this year than he has in the past. You would anticipate that. You'd expect him to. He knows who to go to. I think he understands the offense. And you have to understand protection also, when we should have enough guys in there to protect all the people coming.

"Like on the first blitz they ran the other day, we just didn't have enough people to take care of it. It was a zero blitz and that ball had to come out quickly. So I think he does understand it. You know, we missed a couple. There were a couple that he just overthrew or we could have had a couple other big hits, but I think he's progressed well."

And kind of along the same lines, he chooses to tuck under and run a lot and not only run, but go in headfirst. Are you comfortable with how much he does that?

"As long as he's making yardage… That's a defensive coordinator's nightmare, is a quarterback pulling the ball down and getting a first down. You have everybody, you've done everything you're supposed to do and he steps up in the pocket, many times the rush overruns him, and particularly if you're playing man coverage, when your back is to the quarterback, you have potential for big plays. But, I'd rather him do that than throw one up for grabs."

Has this most recent hurricane had any kind of effect on your place down in Florida? Are you having to check what's going on down there?

"I will… I was watching the news this morning when I got up, when it was going through there, and they were broadcasting from there. I saw it was flooding… but I've got a place on the 15th floor, so flooding is not a problem. But, you know, we have hurricane shutters, and if the wind was, if it was a category 3 or a 4 for sure, I know the hurricane shutters aren't going to make any difference. So I haven't checked. I'm sure my wife has checked already. I haven't had an opportunity to check with her though."

Barry, you said after the game that the staff didn't put (Mark) Zalewski back in because they anticipated he could return quickly if they rested him. Do you have an idea of whether he's going to be able to come back?

"That was the initial report that the trainers told me. I think he was… stiffer yesterday than they anticipated, so maybe that was a very optimistic evaluation."

Audio file 3 (3:22) –

Barry, what do you think of Ron Zook to get that turned around in Champaign and what have you seen on tape from Illinois so far?

"Well they aren't far removed from being a good team. They're only a few years away from being in the Sugar Bowl. I think they've got a lot of good young players on their team. And Ron is, he's very positive. I read what he said after the last ballgame and that's the only approach you can take. He's got a young team and he's got to keep them positive and keep trying to improve. It's obvious the things they're doing are sound and proven. He believes in them. And I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be successful."

….What did (Andy) Crooks show you then when he came in? I think he said after the game he felt really rusty when he first got in because of lack of playing time. Did he make some strides as the game went on?

"I thought he played better as the game went on. He was rusty to start with. I thought he was a little slow reacting. But I think, as the game went on, I thought he got into the flow a little better and played better."

Lately, you've run the ball well late in the game, but you have kind of trouble getting your running game going early on. What's the cause of that?

"You know, we discussed that. Actually we didn't try to run it very much early in this game. We just came out and started throwing. Whether it be landmarks for the back or us blocking at the point of attack, I think it's a combination of things that we're not doing well. And then after you wear somebody down a little bit, it's probably a little easier to run. But that's something we've got to address. We really didn't play well in any phase on offense in the past game. We didn't play well at all. I know our offensive coaches were very disappointed."

It probably got lost a little bit because of the interceptions in the second half. But can you address the importance of that stand right at the end of the first half after the turnover on that tipped pass where you guys, I think they took over at the 11, and you gave up a field goal but you would expect giving up a field goal when they take over at the 11.

"Yeah, it was very important, because you go in with a tie rather than being behind. But that was a big stand. And there was another time late in the game when (Mike) Newkirk stripped a fumble and recovered it where they were deep in our territory, would have cut it to less than a touchdown. It was a big turnover. The defense came up with big plays. That was a huge stand by our guys.

"And the turnovers made the difference. We talk about sparks; those were sparks in the game. Those were the momentum changers in the game. One that changed the entire momentum of the game, going from being behind in the game to taking a lead and sustaining the lead, and the other one to ice the game. So the turnovers were huge in the ballgame, but that was a very big hold."

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