Barry Alvarez Verbatim: Monday Press Conference

Here is what Coach Barry Alvarez had to say in his Monday press conference, addressing such topics as Lee Evans, the Big Ten season, blitzing, Penn State's strengths, and whether he was rooting against his alma mater this weekend with good friend Dan McCarney coaching against the Cornhuskers.

We always talk about bye weeks being good, but can you also lose sharpness during a bye week?

Alvarez: I think you always worry about that, when you have a rhythm. I thought we played well the last game. Two of our better years here were seasons where we went 11 straight games. So I think there's a little concern there. Yet for the long haul, with the youth on this team and 13 games, we needed a bye week. As I said last week, it came at the right time. We'll have to get back in the groove today. We've got a long practice, full pads. It will be a physical practice. We'll try to knock the rust off and get our rhythm back today…historically, we've played pretty well after a bye week. I think we've always judged what our players needed, whether it be more time off or work on fundamentals, and have been able to adjust accordingly. I think this year we needed a combination of those two things. We were able to work on both ends of it and give them a little time off. We had guys…both kickers had some strains and some other guys had little tweaks. They are able to play, but they wouldn't have been 100 percent. Hopefully when we're out there today, we'll be nearly full force, and we'll be able to get back into rhythm.

Is there any news about Lee Evans for this week?

Alvarez: I'm not going to…nothing else has changed with Lee. I'm not going to make any more announcements on Lee. We'll announce when Lee is going to play when he takes the field. And any other speculation is pure speculation.

Does this Penn State team remind you more of some of the powerhouse Penn State teams of a few years ago?

Alvarez: We didn't play their '94 team which is probably their best team. I think as you look at their talent, all their skill players are excellent. Big, strapping guys. They can hurt you a lot of different ways. They put a lot of pressure on your defense because of the number of offensive threats they have. And defensively they're physical. I said that a year ago. If you remember, that defensive line, I thought was one of the better ones that we played. They're the same guys, they're big guys, they run very well, and it's a talented outfit. We see a lot of those kids in recruiting, and we know what type of athletes they are, and they're talented. I would say this compares favorably to the good teams that I've seen. We didn't play that '94 team, but watching them on tape, I would compare them.

What does PSU quarterback Zack Mills do well that worries you?

Alvarez: Everything. Not just passing, because he can run option. He can pull the ball down and run. The guys that pull the ball down and run are the ones that always scare me. And he's like Brooks (Bollinger). He can move the chains. You can do everything else right, and he can still make one guy miss. You have people covered down, and he can move the chains. And that always bothers me, as a defensive coach. I don't like that. But he throws it down the field well too, and he has a pretty good command of the offense. I thought, boy the way he came back. You saw their explosiveness at the end of that game last week. When they scored so fast and got the ball down the field, receivers competed for the balls to get back into that game and pushed it to overtime, it was pretty impressive.

Do you have to put a lot of emphasis on stopping the option this week?

Alvarez: I don't think they live and die by the option. They run the option. They are kind of like us. They run it a little more than we do. I would guess probably 5-10 times a game, somewhere in that range, where you have to defend it and they can get some big plays on it. They can move the sticks with it. They can win a few battles with it, but not the war. But you have to be option-sound. They do it enough where you have to be option-sound in everything you do.

With Joe Pa on the other sideline, do you feel like you have to match his strategies blow-for-blow, or is just like any other game?

Alvarez: You know, our league is pretty good. We have some outstanding coaches in our league. You approach every game the same, particularly league games. I'm not very smart. I only know how to go about things one way. And that's try to prepare, study, see if we can find any tendencies, see how we match up, and just go about it regardless of who you are playing or who the head coach is.

How much of your incredible turnover margin has been coaching guys to strip the ball and so forth, and how much is it luck?

Alvarez: I think it goes in cycles. We always try to coach it. Sometimes when you have success early, I think your guys look for turnovers more. By that, if you're the second guy going into a pile, the back has been hit and he exposes the ball, if you haven't had luck with turnovers, you're not looking for the ball. If you have had a rash of them, then they're looking to strip the ball. It's almost like a shark with blood in the water. You see a receiver or you see a back flinch and he exposes the ball, and the second and third guy goes after it. We've had some balls thrown to us, but most of the passes have been defended. Guys breaking on the balls and they've stripped them. There haven't been many unforced fumbles. So I think our defense and the defensive coaches have emphasized it and I think you get it. Some years you emphasize it and don't get it. But since we started with it, I think it's just kind of snowballed. It's good.

Have you ever had a situation after a game where you were upset with some of the game officials and wanted to converse with one of them, and touched one of them inadvertently?

Alvarez: I never see them after a game. I don't know where they go. I used to remember as a college player, my coach used to chase them at the half of every game. He knew exactly where they were going. He chased them. That was part of his deal. And he would chew on them all the way out. I don't know where they go after a game. I rarely ever see them.

Given that situation with Joe Paterno, would you expect to be treated the same way by the Big Ten? They've been pretty benevolent.

Alvarez: Benevolent…I don't know enough about it. I don't know exactly what happened. I did see a clip. I don't know what was said. So I think it would be unfair for me to make a comment on that.

Can you talk about those big defensive tackles for Penn State. Did Iowa take it right at them? Is that how they had some success?

Alvarez: They ran the zone cutback. Iowa is a very good football team. I mean, a very good football team. That offensive line is excellent. They got movement, and it was a zone play most of the time, then cutting the ball back. But getting the guys to move, not allowing penetration which is hard when you have the 300-plus pounders that has explosiveness and quickness that they have. It's hard not to get penetration.

Do you do anything differently to prepare for Big Ten games as opposed to non-conference games?

Alvarez: I think what happens, coaches understand the importance, and coaches pick it up a notch in their tempo of practice. I think consequently the players recognize that the coaches are doing things at a little different pace. Their voices are a little higher, maybe a little squeakier, and there's a little better tempo maybe than what they've had. There's more of a sense of urgency. And I believe the players…we put more emphasis on it. We let them know, this is the part of the season that really counts. And I think they recognize the other things. All that together, I think puts more emphasis and importance on the games.

Is there anything that you specifically tell the younger guys, the freshmen starters, about playing in the Big Ten?

Alvarez: I want them to continue playing like they have. The important thing for them is…it's not going to change much for them. I don't want them doing anything different. I don't them to treat this game any different, or any Big Ten game any different. Because it isn't any different, other than it's a little more important, but what can they do? I just want them to play. When you have an opportunity, take care of your responsibility. When you have a chance to make a play, make a play. It's as simple as that. It's not nuclear physics. We don't want them to make magical plays or anything else just because it's a league game. Just take care of your responsibility. If you do that and know what you're doing, then things will work out usually. They've learned the pace of the game. They know the tempo of the game. They know the speed of the game now, so don't make it bigger than what it is.

With the success that teams have had against you this year blitzing, are you tempted to try that, when you realize how disruptive it can be?

Alvarez: We blitz and you recognize it.

Will you blitz a little more than you have in past years?

Alvarez: Well, you know a couple of years ago we blitzed all the time. It goes game-to-game with us, whether we feel like they have a good answer to the blitz, how effective we think we can be, (if) what their answer is, is conducive to what we do. But sometimes we blitz and you don't recognize it. I don't recognize it, so we don't blitz any more.

Why?

Alvarez: Well, we get blocked or the ball comes out. It's recognized, they get the ball out quick. But we've been relatively effective. Although the long touchdown run (against Arizona) was a blitz. You know, we're not going to blitz every down. We're going to pick and choose our spots. I think we have a good blend. People have to account for our blitz. They have to account for our numbers.

You grew up near Pittsburgh. You weren't a Penn State fan growing up by any chance, were you?

Alvarez: I was more of a Pitt, Steeler, West Virginia fan. I didn't really know anybody that played there. Nobody from our area. The guys from our area played at those other schools, so consequently, I followed them. I always knew what they did. They were a little farther away. That's a big state. I had never been there. I was never in State College until the first time we played them when I was at Iowa. We played them about 1984-85. That's the first time I had even been on that campus.

Being a Pitt fan, did you hate Penn State?

Alvarez: No, I didn't hate them. Absolutely not.

Looking back at your non-conference schedule, how important was the variety of teams you saw in those five games in preparing for the Big Ten?

Alvarez: I think all of that will help us in the Big Ten. I think you can learn from preparing for different schemes, and we saw about everything. We saw a lot of talented players, and every week was a totally different system and different philosophy. And then putting your backs against the wall, having to play a four-quarter game, where if you make a mistake you lose the game. We've been through that situation. Those are good experiences to have, particularly if you come out on the positive end of it. I think all of that contributes and helps prepare this football team for the Big Ten.

How much do you talk with your players about winning a Big Ten championship?

Alvarez: We talk about goals when the season starts. We list our goals and give them to our players. Then I periodically go back, where are we? We've reached all of our goals thus far. Where we are right now is right where we need to be. Now we start another part of the season and hope to continue with our goals. But I just pick it up at different parts of the year. I talked about it after last game. I'll talk about it about halfway through the Big Ten season again.

You talked about Mills. How about the other skill players on Penn State that are dangerous?

Alvarez: All of them, all of the Johnsons, that whole crew. When I said skilled players, I mean everyone that touches the ball. They all can do a lot. They're very versatile. You can see that with the backup quarterback. It's obvious they've recognized that he's got ability and he's a guy that's a playmaker. He can make things happen. You want the ball in his hands, and you can't get it in his hands standing on the sideline being the No. 2 quarterback. But you can put him in at wide receiver, you can get him the ball in the backfield…they've found ways to get him involved in the game and use his abilities. So you really can't zero in on Mills or a running back or a wide receiver. They put a lot of pressure on you with all the different things they do on offense.

Knowing how close you are to (Iowa State Coach) Dan McCarney, were you rooting against your alma mater on Saturday?

Alvarez: That's funny that you ask that, because I was with a number of friends, and that's what they wanted to know. Who are you rooting for? I said you know what? I'm going to watch this game and hope they both play well. Both of those guys are close friends. I talked to both of them the day before the game. I've talked to both of them since. I'm very happy for Mac, I feel badly for Frank (Solich) but I really couldn't root for either one.

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