Bielema News Conference - 9.22.08

Addressing a range of issues from the history and tradition of Michigan to the ever-changing status of Aaron Henry, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema addresses the media Monday afternoon.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema -

Full Transcript

OPENING COMMENTS: I had a chance last week to enjoy a bye week. It came at a great timing for us. We really want to get healthy in addition to accomplish three priorities, improve on us fundamentally in all three phases and develop our younger talent and have an opportunity to jumpstart on Michigan, and we were able to do that. I thought we accomplished those things, and as assistant coaches, we were able to get on the road and do some recruiting across the country, as well as in the state of Wisconsin, Monday and Friday

In game, week one of the Big 10 Conference, everyone's record is 0-0, and I think it's important for us to take note of that as a program. Michigan presents a challenge on all three phases. It's a program full of pride and tradition. Have several seniors that have won a lot of football games there.

Offensively, I think they've found their quarterback and their running back and probably have played their best game up front offensive line-wise, defense very strong versus the run and good personnel. And their special teams, I expect to see the biggest amount of improvement because some of the miscues that they had were a huge impact on the game against Notre Dame. So with that, we'll move into our schedule and take on Michigan.

And I thought it was interesting. I'm sure a lot of you guys follow that packet and read what's going on, but contrary to what's been written or said about our strength of schedule, the NCAA has us as the number six ranked strength of schedule in the country right now. So I'm sure that will be duly noted in your columns and editorials along the way. Just thought I'd help you guys out with that one.

And then from a medical standpoint, P.J. practiced last night, on Sunday, and really practiced very well. We didn't think he was going to do everything, but he didn't want to come out of there and had an opportunity to do what he does. Jason Chapman and Jaevery both reworked the casts on their hand. They practiced the whole time.

Aaron Henry has got a doctor's appointment this afternoon. We're going to hopefully going to be able to give him an injection that might help him release some of the pain he's going through and probably, over the next two weeks, have to make a decision on him if he's going to move forward and be a redshirt guy or be a guy that can help us this fall.

And then also John Clay, we held him out of practice last week. He had some back spasms and basically has got himself in a position, he wanted to go Sunday. We refrained from letting him out there, and he'll be able to go tomorrow and work his way through it. With that, I'll open it up for any questions.

QUESTION #1: Regarding Aaron, is it just swelling? Do they know if it's from the original surgery or the second surgery?

BIELEMA: The original complication was a byproduct of, that they saw in the original surgery, they tried to basically sew down a part of the knee that didn't hold. And then that obviously led to the surgery of the one he had this fall. And then once, during his rehab there, he aggravated his hamstring in a way that is giving him pain around the knee, which makes it very sore and makes it discomforting, and he just hasn't felt comfortable in some of the things he's doing.

So last, last Wednesday, after practice on Wednesday, we shut him down for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Knew that if we didn't practice on Sunday, we could get him back and get him two more extra days of healing, and that's what we did.

QUESTION #2: What's P.J.'s issue?

BIELEMA: P.J. took a pretty good shot to the back. It was a structural, it wasn't anything like an injury that's internal. He really just took a shot to the back and had a significant bruise and was pretty stowed up, and also a bruise on his leg.

QUESTION #3: Bret, it's not often Michigan is 1-2. Is that probably due to transition with coaching, maybe the talent level a little down, or what do you see when you look at Michigan?

BIELEMA: I see a football team that is ready to make Big 10 play. Obviously, they had two weeks, but I read Coach Rodriguez's comments, I believe it was on his press conference after the loss of Notre Dame, about how they have the exact same record they have this year that they had a year ago at this time, 1-2 after losing to the teams that they lost to this year and obviously the teams they lost to last year, and then probably made a stronger push to end up on a high note in beating Florida in the Capital One Bowl. So you know, their record in Big 10 play is 0-0, and that's what we're concentrating on.

QUESTION #4: Bret, you talked in the off season that not every spread is the same. Units have subtle differences. What are some of the challenges or differences you see in Michigan's spread? And also, with regards to that tailback, McGuffie, what do you have to do to keep him controlled?

BIELEMA: Well, they're not, you know, obviously, any time there's a coaching change, you want to grab film from where they came from, and Rich's schemes, although it's a spread offense, were different at West Virginia than they are this year at Michigan, just based on the personnel. And I'm sure that's where he wants to evolve to. But you know, the quarterback is a guy that's probably trying to run a spread offense that's similar to maybe a, you know, a Purdue or a, you know, a little bit, not quite the same as Northwestern, but more along the lines of what they were able to do.

The quarterback is able to do certain things, and obviously, once they settle in on three, it may present more things for him. But they do a lot of angles, you know, with the dive run play. The running back is a little bit smaller in nature, so he kind of does a good job of, you know, all of a sudden he pops out from a hole and gets a few more extra yards. I'm sure you guys have all seen the YouTube clips. I think he's a tremendous athlete and presents a unique challenge.

QUESTION #5: Bret, back to Aaron Henry, what do you need to see from him? How close to 100% does he need to be so you don't burn a redshirt year?

BIELEMA: Well, I think that question is in Aaron Henry's hands. He's got to feel that he can go out and play well. He's got to have confidence. Of all the guys that I've watched, you know, I tore my knee, and I played seven days later with an ACL tear. And that's how I think, but I also weighed 255 pounds and couldn't run like Aaron could. So there's, every kid is different. Every body is different. Every surgery is different. I think Aaron, for him to play, has to be very, very confident in his knee, and only he can determine that, and that's why only he will make that decision.

QUESTION #6: Coach, there was an article in Sports Illustrated recently that mentioned that you sent some of your defensive assistants to other schools this off season. Why did you decide to do that, and what did you maybe take from that that has your defense maybe better now than where they were last season?

BIELEMA: Well, professional development-wise, I really encourage all of our coaches, and that's something I've really benefited on early in my coaching career when I was a linebacker coach, when I was a defensive coordinator, the more you can get out and study and learn from other people, the better you become. And we had certain ties, naturally, with certain staffs just because of different geographical ties that coaches may have had going against certain people, also just the world of college football coaching is a tight-knit fraternity.

And you get a guy that knows a guy, and obviously, they want to, you know, gain knowledge and experience certain things. We had several schools that contacted us about getting together. I, on the same account, wanted our defensive coaches to obviously go out and explore as much as they could about spread offenses, and that's what they focused on.

So it's something that's really not new to the world, but I didn't want to come forth with knowledge because then, obviously, everybody going into season would know who we'd talked to.

QUESTION #7: Coach, Chryst talked about Travis was a little rusty in the Fresno game. Has he been able to work on several things during the bye week, and are you confident he's going to back to full go?

BIELEMA: Well, Monday was, I'm sorry, Tuesday was a lot of Wisconsin versus Wisconsin, and he practiced that entire period. On Wednesday, that was all dedicated towards scout work versus Michigan. We had a few periods intertwined with one another, but Travis needed to do full reps and needed to do them full speed. And he was able to do that for the most part Tuesday, Wednesday, and most of Thursday. But he, like everybody else, needed some down time then as well.

So he actually didn't practice yesterday, but expect him to be able to be out there tomorrow and just, you know, get that leg, he hadn't caught a ball in three weeks full speed. And that, you know, that first pass that was thrown to him in the Fresno game, although it was a difficult catch, is one you would probably expect to see Travis make all the time. He just has to get back in the flow of doing things.

QUESTION #8: Bret, you mentioned, in general, Michigan's run defense. What has been the reason behind their success so far? Are they just beating guys up front or do they, do they blitz a lot against the run as well?

BIELEMA: Well, they do their fair share of blitzing. They create some negative-yard plays. I will say this, you know, of the three teams they've played, nobody is in comparison to what we do offensively. You know, Notre Dame obviously has a version of the spread and did some good things in the air, but we're really, really benefited for some good field position, bad field position for defense, you know, but.

In the two games prior to that, you know, with, those offenses weren't really anything comparable to what we do as well. So it's a little bit of an unknown because no one has been able to present what we are on Saturday. On the flip side, we don't know really how they're going to try and defend us. So it should be interesting. I know Coach Chryst and Richard Rodriguez have a good relationship, so I know there's a little game within a game there too.

QUESTION #9: Bret, with the Big 10 season starting up, and, you know, you've got four weeks now of looking around and watching other teams.

BIELEMA: Daydreaming?

QUESTION #9: Anything, yeah, there you go, anything strike you about what's gone on so far? As you head into the Big 10, any team surprise you, anything like that?

BIELEMA: You know, Saturday, I just kind of kept flipping channels. I'd get intrigued by one thing, try to go watch another. I watched Michigan State. I thought Michigan State looks really good, but, you know, they did a year ago. And you know, I watched a little bit of the Iowa game, obviously, the Ohio State game. I know this, as we enter league play, everybody is trying to figure out who the favorite is. I believe there's 11 teams that are in position to do something.

Obviously, you know, there was one team that was set back a little bit this weekend, Indiana losing to Ball State, but for the most part, you know, obviously, Iowa lost to Pittsburgh, but I don't see a team out there that maybe jumps out above everybody else. On the same account, there isn't anybody that you can just kind of say that we feel we can go out and play against these guys and have success.

I know every team in this league should be saying right now, we have a group of good coaches, it's a 0-0 ballgame right now in the league, and we'll see how everybody comes out, take it one game at a time. If you ever try to jump ahead, obviously, people have tried to get us to jump ahead to certain games, you know, the only thing that we have in front of us right now is Michigan, and that's all we focus on.

QUESTION #10: Coach, can you talk about Gilreath's ability on special teams? It seems he's been close to breaking one so far this season?

BIELEMA: Yeah. If you take the Fresno State game and the opening kickoff return, if we have a positive block by our left wing, that one has a very good chance of going to the house. And David has shown those guys on film, the guys in the room that are blocking for him, that he does have the ability to make some big plays. But we just got to be cleaner on all of our blocks. We kind of have a phrase in our return units that it's one guy catching and running with 10 guys working, and we got to have all 10 of those guys working to be able to finally put some points on the board with those respective units.

But one part that I've really tried to emphasize during the fall pre-camp season was to emphasize when we have a positive punt return or a positive kickoff return, how much that affects our offense and their ability to score, you know, based on charge, where they start on the field, just also positive momentum coming off the sideline.

QUESTION #11: In all your years here at Wisconsin, and Iowa as a player and as an assistant coach, a lot of preparation for different Michigan games over the years, which seem to be much more smash-mouth football, if you will, or that type of straight up ahead. In your preparation this past week, have you had to look at tape, kind of do a double take at different times, saying this is Michigan now?

BIELEMA: You know, it's different from what they've done. And the film from a year ago does us no good, really even just personnel-wise, because the players, offensively, what, that played a year ago, it's such a different person, you know, different scheme for them. There's no carryover. So it is a little bit different. I've had a year to get used to it though, you know. I mean, obviously, Rich is going to be here for a long time.

You know, Michigan preparation is always special, and I think going into, you know, our next several opponents, they're the teams that, Michigan is one of the sexy schools of our conference. And they're always going to have that label. And bottom line, it's fun to kind of sit back and watch. And I read, not only do I read you guys, I read the Michigan writers, and it's interesting to see how they cast that same question, you know.

Even though it's not the same Michigan of old, as far as the way they're doing it, they believe the wins will be there as well in the end. They're hail to the victors. They think they're going to get, you know, that ship righted. And Coach Rodriguez is a good coach, and my guess is they will. But it just is what it is. I really try not to react to what's been or what hasn't been and just kind of move forward with where we're at.

QUESTION #12: Back to your run game, how important is it to prove you can run it against a really good defense?

BIELEMA: That's a good point, Tom. I, you know, have brought up, and I've heard the staff bring up, you k now, P.J. Hill's rushing numbers versus certain opponents in his two-year career going into this season. I know that's a proof of point. I think that's probably why, in Fresno State, you might have saw P.J. Hill, even though it wasn't his most productive numbers, may have played his best game as a college football player here at Wisconsin last week versus Fresno State.

That's why last week, you know, he was a guy that was a little bit sore, and he's been giving his all. We didn't have any problem with letting him sit out and rest a little bit. Same way with John. John only had three plays in that game, and we could have pushed him and made him practice last week. But we knew if we were able to take some time, get ourselves healthy, and put ourself in a position to make a run in the Big 10 schedule, we'd be good.

QUESTION #13: Bret, this gets back to Rob's question a little bit. Everyone talks about Rich Rodriguez bringing the spread to Michigan. But have there been other, are there other ways that he's changed what you see on the field and on tape?

BIELEMA: Well, you know, just because I like to read those things, he's changed certain traditions within it. I do know this. They have a staff photo in their media guide, and there's like 50 people, I swear, in that photo. There's, you know, they're one of the first stats in the Big 10. I believe that they have 10 strength coaches. They have an assistant strength coach for every position. Obviously, budgeting isn't an issue there, and it's something that they have, you know, that was something I knew existed in the SEC.

One of the first teams I ever heard of doing it was Alabama. And all you got to do is take a look at their media guide and figure out the numbers. I believe they have anywhere from two quality control coaches on both sides of the football. They also have a special teams quality control. They have recruiting assistants. So by pure numbers, they have a lot more to their staff, which is a benefit then because sometimes those strength coaches are allowed to work with coaches. Because they're strength coaches, they're allowed to work with them during the summer, and that's a huge advantage, and you know, it's something that is kind of the new wave of college football.

So Rich is very intuitive, very intelligent. He's got the Michigan background and support that he needs to have, from a standpoint of getting any staff that he wanted in there. I knew he basically had a carte blanche of whoever he wanted to bring in on that new staff of his nine assistant coaches. So he's been able to do some things long term-wise should be able to benefit them.

QUESTION #14: Garrett Graham is leading the team in receiving by a fairly good margin. When Travis missed the first couple of games, do you think Allan just developed a pretty good connection with Garret in that time?

BIELEMA: I think Allan with Garret, and also Paul Chryst with Garrett, we realize that Garrett Graham is a guy that can make plays. As a coach, one thing you have to be able to be at the University of Wisconsin, you have to play to your players' strengths. And we don't have a cupboard full of players that can go out and win football games for us on their own. And there are a few guys that can make a difference in a ballgame just by a few special plays, and Garrett is one of those guys, and we recognize that, and that's why he's been able to get the ball.

QUESTION #15: Has Evridge run less than you expected, and do you want him to run more?

BIELEMA: I would say yeah. I know this, in the Fresno game, in the second half, my guess was he wasn't going to be scrambling just because I know he was having those cramping issues. But a little bit of that comes to be a feel too. As a quarterback that's really trying to work his reads, his keys, his responsibilities, sometimes I think he's gotten so wrapped up in that, that he's realized that maybe his best asset might be to be able to take off and run. And you know, that's something that hopefully we'll be able to expand upon here in the next couple games.

QUESTION #16: Coach, historically, the Badgers are 6-26 at the Big House. How much emphasis do you put that on the players, or do you at all?

BIELEMA: Well, there's certain guys that have been a part of the game up there. My first game as a head football coach on the road in the Big 10 was at Michigan. We weren't able to come forward with that. And I've seen, obviously, the history of the last four games that we've played that haven't been able to be a victory for us. But none of my guys are on those teams.

And the biggest thing we have in front of us is an opportunity to go play Michigan at the Big House in an environment, in a stadium, that is storied in college football. There's been a lot of won, a lot of championships won there. A lot of great players have run across that field.

But the only guys that are playing on Saturday are the guys that they're going to suit up and the guys we're going to suit up, and I'm excited to see what happens. You know, I've gone to Michigan and won. I was able to do that as a player at the University of Iowa, and it was a very special feeling. It's something that you can take with you for a long time.


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