Bielema News Conference - 10.20.08

Addressing the media about P.J. Hill's injury, if the sky is falling and that Dustin Sherer will start against Illinois, head coach Bret Bielema addresses the media on a variety of topics against Illinois.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema -

full transcript

OPENING COMMENTS: Basically, Sunday after reviewing the film, the first part that I mentioned after the game about Wisconsin being able to take care of their business before the snap and during and playing within the rules of the game has to be corrected for us to move forward. Second part, all phases of the game need to be better with their details, their physical nature, and to finish for us to have improvement. Third part and probably the most important, we need to have our best players on the field to give us a chance to have success on any given play when we call it from an offense, defense or special teams standpoint. As coaches, that's our obligation to put 11 guys on the field that we feel best give us the chance to have success.

Offensively, we recognize as our MVP Eric Vanden Heuvel, who probably played one of his best games here at the University of Wisconsin. Defensively, Jason Chapman played really well. I thought he had been on a little bit of a comeback trail and played really well, especially in the second, third, fourth quarter of the game on Saturday.

Special teams-wise, we recognize Billy Rentmeester. Billy has been a dominant force, really, for the last three to four ballgames on special teams. Just unbelievable what he's been able to do, especially in a punt game, as well as the kickoff return.

Philip Welch, recognized him as well, just what he's been able to do the last ballgame, going out there and executing. And an offensive scout, I thought it was interesting, our two scout team MVPs, both are well-known kids from here in the state of Wisconsin, who have really impressed us since being here. Jeremy Reierson, a young man from Rio High School who played tight end for us. Did a tremendous job last week in the preparation, trying to simulate some of the guys at Iowa. And then our defense scout, again a repeat offender, J.J. Watt from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, has just continued to do a very good job. He emulated Mitch King last week. He's actually been playing defense end for us, but I threw him in there at the defense tackle position, did really good.

From a head coach and coaching point of view, we're excited about the opportunity for Homecoming week this week versus Illinois. We need to be focused and understand that Illinois brings in one of the most productive offenses in the Big Ten. Juice has probably escalated his level of play, just being able to add the element of being able to be so efficient in the passing game.

As a unit overall, they lead passing efficiency in the Big Ten. As a quarterback, he's in the top in the Big Ten. They've been able to have some very impressive numbers, both throwing the football and running the football. They got a couple running backs back there with the introduction of a freshman this past week, Jason Ford, who we also recruited. We know a lot about him. And then obviously, the talented wide receiver, not just Benn but other guys that have been able to be productive for them this year.

An injury update. Blake Sorensen we expect to be out there tomorrow. He tried to go a little bit on Saturday, wasn't able to be full strength, so we held him out. P.J. Hill, don't know where he'll be at by game day. Didn't practiced yesterday, and kind of just reaggravated the injury that he did a year ago, getting hit in the same area with where he had surgery before.

Gabe Carimi and Kraig Urbik are continuing to make strides. I'd say they're probably as close as they've ever been. I thought we might get one of them back last week, but had some setbacks towards the end of last week that prevented them from getting there. And then I didn't want to, because of the bus, because of the bus ride down, we probably would have taken them and letting them be around the team like we have with some of the other guys, but those two guys in particular because of the knee and the nature, I didn't want to put them on a bus ride for three hours down and back.

John Clay is fine, good to go. Mario Goins, who was slightly concussed during the game, should be back and ready to go for practice tomorrow.

With that, I'll open it up for any questions.

QUESTION #1: Given how long P.J. struggled with that last year, are there concerns it could be similar this time around?

BIELEMA: You know, it's really in P.J.'s hands, Tom. You know, we did x-rays on it, and obviously everything that we can do to test from a perspective of trying to see if there's anything that got damaged. And it's just a difficult deal when there is some direct contact on that. We padded it up and did everything we can to protect it, but if he gets hit just in the right way, it's just a situation where you got to, he has to determine what kind of tolerance he has for it.

QUESTION #2: You mentioned, you were asked about Dustin's performance after the game. You said you'd have to evaluate the tape. According to the depth chart today, it looks like you saw some things you liked. Could you explain why he's going to be the starter and what you saw?

BIELEMA: Well, I think the part that we made the decision to make a chance was basically some of the things that we weren't being able to capitalize from an offensive point of view. Felt that if we changed things up and had an opportunity to see what Dustin can do, and I honestly, you know, eventually see what Scott Tolzien could do.

And, you know, Dustin didn't play a clean game, didn't, you know, by any means set the world on fire. And I know just reading his comments after the game, he, you know, made that assessment of his own play. There were some things. I liked the ability that he showed to stay alive. I think the first third down play was, you know, a little bit of a scramble, and made some things happen.

Obviously, accuracy was an issue on a couple throws, but the energy he brought to the table, you know, his preparation, I thought he was into it, and we'd like to see how much growth he can have another year, another week, you know, being a starter in the development that he has. And then also, probably a little bit of a change that will take place this week, we'll give a large amount of the reps, outside of the one Dustin gets, to Scott Tolzien, and watch him continue to progress.

QUESTION #3: Bret, after the game, you said, mentioned about going back to the fundamentals, some of the players going back to square one. What exactly does going back to square one mean?

BIELEMA: Well, I think from the three phases of the game, it probably had the biggest indication of what we need to get done without going into detail. Defensively, the first thing is obviously to be lined up and be fundamentally sound, and then being able to, you know, especially in the perimeter. And then the secondary, be better tacklers, being able to hold our point up front.

Offensively, we have to be able to understand what the play is, the concept, the alignment, and then basically everyone's individual execution once the ball is snapped, what their assignment is. And then from a special teams standpoint, being able to execute the plan, and being able to maintain blocks in the return game, being able to get out blocks in the coverage game. And in the kicking game, especially with the punt game, obviously being able to kick the ball in the air with maximum hang time.

One of the great tools I learned in coaching back from my first day as a freshman at the University of Iowa is a thing called CASKAR, and CASKAR is simply the call, alignment, stance, key, and responsibility. And that was the way that I learned fundamental football. I've used it in every approach that we've taken, especially now from a defensive point of view.

But I do believe it carries over to every snap that you take offense, defensive, or special team. You got to know the call, you got to know the alignment, you need to know your stance, you need to know your key, and what to react off, and your responsibility to the other ten guys on the field.

QUESTION #4: This has always been a detail-oriented program under Barry and your first two years. What's happened? Why has that deteriorated?

BIELEMA: I don't think there's any lack of, first off, emphasis on details. I don't think there's any lack of coaching of details. I don't think there's any lack of feel or want to to be precise in the details. But bottom line, the details of what you need to do to have success are not being penalized, being able to execute fundamentals correctly. And when those things don't happen, you have bad plays or bad results, and that's the outcome.

QUESTION #5: Back to the quarterback for a second. I think last week you used the term, when you said you were going to tell the guy, just go in there and don't look over your shoulder. Are you comfortable? Have you told Dustin, you're our guy for the rest of the year, don't worry about looking over your shoulder?

BIELEMA: No, I haven't said it for the rest of the year. But, you know, he definitely knows that this week he'll have an opportunity to go out there and prepare and do what he needs to do to get himself right for a game on Saturday. And I don't want him, you know, thinking this week during the course of the week, because he did excel once he became aware that he was going to be the guy last week.

QUESTION #6: But has Stallons done anything to put himself in the mix for quarterback?

BIELEMA: Stallons, no. He's not in the mix. You know, I would say that he'd be fourth out of the four.

QUESTION #7: Bret, there seems to be a significant portion of the fan base that thinks the sky is falling. How much of that are you exposed to, and can you give any assurances about the direction of the program?

BIELEMA: Well, obviously, you know, the thing that, the fan can care and appreciate with everything that is in our program as a head coach, as an assistant coach, as an assistant or as a player, as a starter, everybody is disappointed in the results of the last four weeks. That hasn't changed.

I would say, though, you know, from a head-coaching standpoint, you're asking me from where I stand. You know, as a head coach, I didn't get into this profession for the salary, I didn't get in this profession for notoriety, I didn't get in this profession to do TV commercials, endorsements, any of the extra outside things. I got in this profession to win. I got in this profession to be around young men and help them become people that, once their playing days are done, they're going to go out and have success, you know.

I think as an assistant coach, you really, when you're just an assistant, as a position coach you're in charge of that responsibility, and I took a lot of pride in how my guys played, how I recruited. But I don't really feel that I had an effect on the overall game until I started calling plays when I became a defense coordinator at Kansas State, where I would get together with the defensive staff. We'd put in a game plan based on what myself and the other coordinator would think would give us success.

The calls that we made during the game were calls that we felt affected the game. And, you know, since that time, my two years at Kansas State and my two years prior to being here as a defense coordinator, and my two years as a head coach, I had a lot of success. I've been on teams that had a minimum wins of 9 football games, and played good football.

So for me to be in the situation I'm at now, as a losing record 3-4, doesn't sit well. I feel the same disappointment. But this is my life. This is what I live every day, 365 days a year. I know that I have to stick probably to what I believe in more so now than ever before, and that is the only way that, you know, gets us to where we need to be in the end.

It's going to be a journey. Everybody, I try to find any way. Everybody's, over the last two weeks especially, has tried to find a way to, you know, perk up, Bret. How can I make Bret happier, how can I make him feel better. The only thing that's going to cure that is winning.

But I had a conversation with Brian Lucas today, and, you know, I said, well, what's, I don't read the comments in the papers. I mean, I read your guys' articles. I have certain opinions on what you guys write, but don't go into commentary, all the other outside things. And it was made reference that, a couple comments were that people don't like my windbreaker on the sideline. I thought back to my freshman year when I was told by the merchandising people that they couldn't keep enough windbreakers in stock.

So I mean, it goes to show when you're winning, everybody agrees with what you're doing. When you're losing, everybody's got all the answers, because the right answer isn't out there. So I appreciate that, and thank God that we have fans that care.

QUESTION #8: Coach, with the uncertain status of P.J. Hill right now, how important is the play of John Clay and how he seems to be improving every week?

BIELEMA: I would say John Clay and Zach Brown. I really liked the way Zach competed. You know, when you're in a situation like you were in the fourth quarter against Iowa, you want to see guys that were out there competing, straining, giving it their best, and I thought Zach went out there with a purpose. He knew where he was at, and he knew he wanted to get the ball in the end zone.

So I'm very excited about John Clay. And probably of the three guys, you know, P.J.'s a little bit of the both together, our best option. But John Clay, with what he does, is very, very good. And Zach's really a completely different complement to what John does. So with those two, if we went into a ballgame with those two guys, I'd be very excited to see what those two can do.

QUESTION #9: Just curious about your rationale. I mean, normally we get to meet with the players on Sunday night, except for the previous week. Did you, I'm assuming you gave them it off because you felt they needed a break from things?

BIELEMA: Well, you know what, Jeff? I really, I'm glad you asked that question. You know, Sunday, ever since I took over as the head coach, that Sunday, even when we were a 12-1 football team last year, a 9-4 football team, that Sunday interview list always seemed to be more of a punishment for the players. They just view it, I mean, as much as you guys think it's fun to be interviewed, they really don't enjoy it, and especially after a loss.

So the first week, you know, I gave you the four captains because I thought those guys have been through it, they've been versed. If you remember correctly, the next week I believe I gave you four seniors again that I felt can handle the situation and be able to persevere and move forward. Last week, I gave you my assistant coaches because I know you had questions. I tried to give you a chance to have answers about the game the day before.

And then this week, I was going to give, you know, a group of seniors, I was going to give a group of young guys, and the bottom line, when a player walks into an interview and he perceives it as a negative situation, that's when they can probably set the potential to say something more negatively than positive. And I just said, you know, they got me tomorrow all day. I was going to interview with you last night, but you guys would have ran out of questions to ask today.

So the bottom line, what I have to get my guys ready for is to play a game against Illinois, and I felt to put anybody in a situation to go back and answer questions about the day before after, you know, they didn't answer. You know, I realize certain players, to be quite honest, I asked Brian, I said, who didn't go to post-game interviews. And he said, coach, this person, this person, this person. He goes, but I will be honest with you. By the time your conference got done, there were already a fair amount of those players had moved on to the bus, were already on the bus, you know, or already out seeing their families. And if they've already left the locker room, we just have never brought them back in.

I was going to give you the guys, but, you know, obviously that would have set a precedence.

QUESTION #10: Bret, you said in the last couple weeks effort hasn't been a problem, but with the large senior class that had such high expectations, do you have any concerns going forward of keeping them into it and motivated?

BIELEMA: Absolutely not. You know, I do believe that our guys have believed 100%. They're giving it their all in the fourth quarter. I know we were straining and competing. We had one touchdown in the fourth quarter. Believe me, we were trying to make it a 20, you know, another touchdown there at the end.

I think that's why Scotty really forced the ball in there at the end. He knew he had a limited amount of time on the clock. Our defense talked about going out and making a stop. I'm not worried and concerned about the effort that they're giving out there.

QUESTION #11: Kind of an offshoot to that. I think after the game you said you sensed that if something went wrong in one area, guys kind of had the oh, no or whoa, something else is going to happen. Do you sense, with four consecutive losses, they're a little bit fragile? Not across the board, but some of them?

BIELEMA: Well, I do get concerned, you know, especially when, you know, we had the same situation similar to what happened in the Michigan game where we had a roughing the passer call, and then, boom, right away a big play defensively, boom, right away a play in the special teams phase. And, you know, things just swayed the other way so fast.

And, you know, the momentum and the pendulum swings so quickly, you know. On the flipside of it, you know, the part that on Sunday, I'm sitting there and I'm watching the punt return with David on the one where he almost broke it. And kind of a segue into that, Tony Megna is the young man that walked onto our program. I put him when Blake went down. I basically subbed Tony in three different phases of the kicking game, and two of them he really excelled in.

On that play, he takes the right guard from Iowa, now Tony's not really big, not all that big in nature. He takes a linebacker from Iowa, puts him on the ground, finishes him off on the ground, gives a little shove, he's 40, 50 yards from the return, and gets up to hustle and go pick up another player. While he turns his back and runs, David breaks free, and all of a sudden that guy he knocked down is standing, he's the only guy that has a shot at David. And as much as I wanted to, you know, make an emphasis about the effort that he made to put that guy on the ground, when he left his man, that was the only guy that was unaccounted for in that return, he ends up making the tackle. Otherwise, that's a walk-in touchdown.

And it just shows how, you know, all the intentions can be right, all of the right angles can be right, but bottom line, the result is whether or not the play was executed.

QUESTION #12: Bret, you have conversations every week with Barry. How much of his message recently has been sympathetic and how much of it has been stern?

BIELEMA: You know, I have conversations with Coach Alvarez every, on a daily basis I would say. You know, from a program standpoint, the part that I appreciate is, you know, Coach is a, there's a reason I call him Coach Alvarez. He had a lot of success obviously coaching defensive football, first as a coordinator, as a head coach, about the things that make this program go the way they have.

And, you know, he definitely shares with me any things that he seems from the angles that he has. He's also there at practice quite a bit. He'll share with me anything that he has picked up. But, you know, the part that he probably watches the game a lot different from the average fan, or even a lot of times another AD, is he knows the X's and O's, and he's not afraid to share that with me if he seems something break down fundamentally.

As far as the sternness or, you know, sympathetic, Coach wants to win and I want to win. I feel disappointed when we don't win, because obviously I know his name is going to be tied in with mine and vice versa. So, you know, it's one that's always trying to make the program better. I don't know if I got a formula on how much is stern versus sympathetic. I don't think Coach is a very sympathetic guy in any situation, but you can probably ask him. He's about five feet to your left.

QUESTION #13: Coach, you talked about Juice Williams and the impact he's going to have on this game. How do you see your defense? You know, what do they have to do to contain him and the Illinois offense as a whole?

BIELEMA: Well, I think in general, the part that Juice has been able to do is he's got a much more understanding of the vertical passing game. Some of their passing strikes have taken, their scoring drives have been amazing, and I believe the first score on Saturday was in the first 45 seconds, Tom. You know, I watched the Minnesota game live, and saw the way that he could change field position in a heartbeat.

With that in place, you know, it opens up certain things in a running game. They have a couple different running backs back there have been able to benefit him, because now they have, you have to be in there support versus run, which puts sometimes your coverage at an absence.

QUESTION #14: Bret, it seems like you really enjoy the special teams aspect of it, but do you believe the argument you could be stretching yourself too thin, and is that something you would reassess after this year?

BIELEMA: You know, after every year we reassess. I made a switch my first year from not being a special teams coordinator to being a special teams coordinator. Last year, you know, I obviously did all the same things that I'm doing now.

There's been a few fundamental breakdowns on, you know, a punt return versus Penn State, you know, on a blocked punt this week, this past week, and then obviously against Fresno State at the beginning of the year. So it's easy. Again, the general consensus is when things aren't going well, there's quick reasons to put out why they haven't.

I haven't changed anything up in my coaching techniques or really schemes, just basically the way that the results have happened haven't been as favorable. So you know, I enjoy it. Obviously I'm trying to break in a new kicker, a new punter. One kicker is doing well. One punter isn't, but he has at certain times, and the faith has to stay there. And again, you just got to believe in what you know and how you assess it. But as of right now, there's no plans to change.

QUESTION #15: Coach, back to Juice. With all the talk this year being about his new passing technique, do you think his scrambling ability has kind of fallen to the wayside? And what do you have to do to make sure that the defense is ready for that side if him?

BIELEMA: He still creates plays with his legs, you know, movement passes, and he always has the ability, obviously, to make something out of nothing. I think that's the special thing about him as a quarterback, is you may have one guy assigned to him on a pitch play, on a quarterback's replay, on whatever type of scheme they have, but you have to have one plus one. You can't just defend him. That's why with one player, you also have to have another player in the vicinity to make sure that you can have a stop.

QUESTION #16: Bret, if you had to look at your defense and isolate one or two, the biggest problems you're having on defense, what would they be?

BIELEMA: Well, third down conversions has been a little bit of an issue. And although they are very good, I believe they were nine for ten on Saturday, but I would say third conversions. Because bottom line, that's money down. That's whether or not you get on and off the field. That's been a little bit of an issue for us.

And then obviously, you know, over the course of the season, in each ballgame in particular that we've lost, there seems to be one critical penalty or one critical mind, mental error that, you know, ends up being a critical play in the game, and you never know. That's what I kind of emphasize to our guys on Sunday. You don't understand from a player's standpoint that every play of every snap of all 11 players on the field could win or lose a football game when you're dealing with a Big Ten race.

And on the flipside of it, you know, some of the stuff that, probably to me the most enjoyable play on Saturday was when I saw Shane Carter break over the middle and make a tremendous break on the ball, a great hit on the ball, and jarred that ball loose when the tight end was running on a seam route, to show him that he can't do it, and I'm excited to see the play out of him.

And then Niles Brinkley came in and subbed for Rio (Mario Goins) and had a very nice third down stop, lowered his shoulder and made a critical stop that got us off the field. So there's enough positives out there, you know, in relation to what went on that gives you an indication of what could hopefully come this week.

QUESTION #17: Bret, you said you want to win more than anyone and this hurts you more than anyone, so how do you deal with it? Are there people from your background you check in with or consult or anything?

BIELEMA: You know, Saturday after the game, I got a ride home from my favorite priest, Father Mike (Burke). He felt he needed to console me. I'm the only non-Catholic head coach that has a priest that's worried about me. You know, there's, at one point I just kind of took my phone and put it in the other room. On Saturday I was, and I got to give thanks to all the family, friends, supporters. I mean I heard from some, e-mails just get me and urge me to stay with what I believe in, which I already knew, you know.

But, you know, probably Coach Alvarez, because he knows the situation and has it firsthand. I've heard from several of my former coaches, you know, obviously none from Iowa because it was so recent on the schedule. But, you know, the part that I always deal with and struggle with is just the disappointment that I see.

And like I said, this is my job, this is my life, this is my profession. This is what I chose to do. So I kind of built the path that I walk upon, I know that. But, you know, these guys that are seniors, it's their last go-around. You know, I heard a great one a week ago in the teleconference when Tressel made a comment. You know, when they're evaluating their players, he said they're evaluating the performance, not evaluating the performer. Don't take it personal.

I thought that was a great way of kind of expressing to the kids, you know, that, hey, we weren't being critical about the way you're playing. We're not being critical of you as a person. But on the same account, to see their eyes, to see the disappointment, that hurts a long, long time.

But the bottom line, tomorrow at 3:00 or 2:30 when I have my special teams meeting and being around those guys when we go out to practice, they're the ones that bring you back.

QUESTION #18: You started at the beginning saying but you got to get your best players out there. Does that mean you're assessing a lot of positions? Are there positions up for grabs this week?

BIELEMA: Well, we kind of made some changes, you know, over the last two weeks. I was excited and, you know, Nick Toon, to me, you know, made a very nice catch, did some things that, you know, don't show up because it wasn't a reception, but did some nice things.

Niles Brinkley, like I mentioned. Chris Maragos, although he missed two critical tackles, you know, that could have prevented a score, he made several fills that, you know, made a gain that was potentially in the past maybe a touchdown or big, big run. He came up and made some really nice cut tackles. Billy Nagy I think was, at the beginning of the first quarter was a little bit hesitant and wasn't really confident, but he played his best football second, third, and fourth quarter.

So there's a lot of guys that are subbing in there for the first time that did some positive things, and that's what we got to, you know, continue to move forward. But even just like the discovery of certain guys on the special teams, different guys, offense, defense, if they can continue to give us better numbers or better production.

Obviously, but what I was getting more to the detail of, you know, every chance, every snap, you know what the call is from an offensive or defensive coaching standpoint. Put your best guy out there that gives a chance for that play to have success, you know. If it's 22 and we're running a football and we want a wide receiver to, you know, commit us or, you know, be the best blocker that we have, I want my best blocking 22 wide receiver out there. If it's the fullback that's going to execute a certain look, give me the best fullback option, whatever the best tailback option.

Other than the quarterback, you know, anybody out there at the skill position offensively can you have interchange, and same thing from a defense point of view. You see us, you know, Jay Valai is basically in there in every situation other than our subpackage when the passing's in the game, and that's when Shane and Chris are back there, and that's when, you know, hopefully see some good things out of them. But that's kind of what I was in reference to.

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