Bret Bielema News Conference - 11.3.08

After falling to dead last in the Big Ten Conference and needing to win two of its last three to become bowl eligible, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema addresses the media about penalties and productivity.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema -

full transcript

OPENING COMMENTS: On Sunday after watching the film, we recognize the following people offensively. I thought our offensive line played well. Obviously had two running backs gain over 100 yards, but the MVP went to Garrett Graham, just his ability to step up and played every snap from an offensive standpoint, did a tremendous job, played a complete game.

Defensively, I really thought that our front seven and . . . played well, but two guys jumped out out front. O'Brien Schofield probably played his best game, and Mike Newkirk really did a great job in the middle.

Special teams, Dave Peck, they challenged him a little bit in his protection, and he did a great job, so we gave him our special team MVP. And then our scout offensive MVP was Erik Smith imitating Ringer last week. Our defensive scout, Andrew Lukasko from Edgar, did a great job, is really doing a good job for us overall in the program.

And then also on Sunday, we found out a little bit of bad news in reference to Lance Kendricks. Lance broke his fibula as well. Kind of a freak play, where he basically collided leg-to-leg with a Michigan State player. The good news is it wasn't broke to the extent of either Matt (Shaughnessy) or Travis (Beckum), so they'll cast that thing up and won't require as much rehab time. Could get back as close to four to six weeks, and expect a full and complete recovery out of him.

The disappointing part for that was a kid that really, from the time we entered fall camp to where we were going into Saturday's game after the injuries that Travis had early on, the way he prepared, then to get a rebirth after Travis' injury, I couldn't say more about the way he prepared last week and got himself ready. Was anxious to get out there and play a football game, and difficult for him to sit through it, but he's got a lot of eligibility in front of him.

As far as, you know, where we're at with our players, I did make reference and let them understand, you know, when I turn it on, I watched the film in all four, all three phases. I thought I saw great hustle, great energy, four quarters of guys competing against Michigan State all the way, even up to the last kickoff return that had a chance, and their belief in winning. It doesn't just happen. They got to make it happen, and we all have to work together to get it done.

So I was excited about the way that they handled themselves on Sunday, and basically understand, make them understand three things. Understand where we're at, we're a 4-5 football team, and where we can go, but nothing more important than to work to get where we need to be on Saturday, go over and play Indiana.

Indiana is a Big Ten football team, kind of experienced some of the same things we had this year. I know they've gone through some injuries, had some quarterback issues. Thigpen comes in as the number two all-purpose rusher, all-purpose yardage in the conference. Offensively, they have produced a lot of yardage. That ballgame on Saturday against Central Michigan, there was over 1,000 yards of offense from those two teams. And like I said, they've faced some adversity.

Obviously, a lot of these players were recruited by Coach Hoeppner, to go through the transition they've had, and Coach Lynch is a good football coach who's done a lot of good things during his career. So I know they're going to be a hungry football team for a win on Saturday, and we're excited about the opportunity to go over there and see where we're at.

With that, I'll open it up for any questions. If not, we can go on.

QUESTION #1: I know up through the game you didn't have any seconds thoughts about the timeouts before the field goal. Were you aware there were 10 defensive guys on the field, did that factor into it, and have you felt any differently about it since then?

BIELEMA: As a special teams coach, what you have to do is kind of take an understanding before you even go to the game on how you would handle every situation. So before every game, I basically take a look at what their field goal kicker has done in the past, what he's capable of doing, how far out he has a legitimate shot at making a field goal, and you have to take that all into consideration, not only at the end of a game but the end of a half, to kind of feel where you're at.

So before Michigan State, and before we even took a snap, on Friday when I sit down and decide those things, the things that really jumped out to me were Michigan State field goal kicker had missed three field goals the week before. Felt that he would probably be on edge in a big game. And when it came down to it at the end of the game, I knew I wanted to ice him.

When they ran their field goal unit out there, it was just like any other field goal. They'd, you know, ended the ball on third down. I knew they were going to run a field goal. They were lined up in plenty of time. I know there's been commentary on that. I had two field goals and, you know, basically I told our defensive coaches, I'm going to take a timeout, which is why we kept our block corner.

We take Antonio Fenelus, he's the only player that subs on our defensive package from our regular personnel. Antonio has shown a knack for being able to get off the ball and block a kick. So once I made that decision to, I told him, I said, I'm going to ice him, I'm going to give a timeout, they just kept Antonio on the sidelines.

So there was a nonfactor there. I was going to give a timeout, and that's basically the direction we went. Again, reiterating that, you know, he missed three field goals the week before. I got him, I knew this kicker. He's from St. Thomas Aquinas High School. George Smith is a very good friend of mine, a high school program that has won a lot of football games, so I knew all about the kicker, and obviously I knew about his struggles from the week before. I read his comments, and he jabbed me, which is what I would do as well if I was a kicker that just kicked a game-winning field goal.

QUESTION #2: Bret, first of all, do you expect Mario Goins back this week? And along those lines, Kerry Cooks had said that he'd like to rotate those guys for a number of reasons, one being he didn't want one of them having to go the whole game.

And I'm just curious. Without Mario these last couple weeks, has (Niles) Brinkley, maybe not gotten worn down, but has that been too much for him to handle at this point in his development?

BIELEMA: Yeah, Mario actually practiced yesterday. We thought he was getting close last week. There's a certain thing our trainers, when you're dealing with a concussion, as of, you know, probably the last three or four years, there's just been a heightened awareness on repeated concussions and how damaging that can be for someone's future. So I know they're overly cautious here, which is rightfully so.

He, Mario worked out last week, and still had some of the concussions after the workout. It's one thing to be able to go out and run around, but if you have symptoms that exist after the workout, that's when they get scared. And Mario was not clear to go from Thursday on. Felt if we got him through, we'd be able to have him this week, and every indication is that he practiced on Sunday, expect him out there tomorrow.

We really, you know, because of the injury to Aaron Henry, and really because Antonio and Devin, we didn't feel they were quite ready for game action yet at corner, Niles had been forced the last couple games to go in and play the entire game. And, you know, there's some plays that were obviously rough spots for him, but I love the way he competes.

I love, I think he's a guy that his best football is in front of him. He came in as a wide receiver, switched to DB in year two, and now is really, you know, playing a valuable part of what we're trying to do defensively. And unfortunately, had a rough go of it in the fourth quarter, but I know he'll get better and he'll get coached up.

QUESTION #3: Bret, it appeared on the final, your final drive on offense that you guys could have milked some more time off the clock, just maybe by letting the play clock run down a little bit. Did you notice that too, or do you agree with that? And is that on the quarterback or is that on coaching staff letting him know about that?

BIELEMA: Well, anytime that we're a situation that, you know, we're ahead, you know, whether it be one score or two score, we note the clock as early as the third quarter. It's something that, you know, I first really witnessed when I was here with Coach Alvarez. We talked about it on the last drive that, you know, Dustin went out there.

But on the same account, what we needed to do on that last drive was make first downs and, you know, basically we were able to do that. And anything that we could do to take extra seconds off the clock, but also dealing with a quarterback on the road, you know, for the first time, you know, being in that situation, he didn't want to have him take it down to one second, two seconds.

I remember John Stocco, you know, being able to milk that thing down to a second and snap the football. It's something he got better at with time, and, you know, it's definitely something that we try to do, and that's why we ran draw on the last play, just because I knew I could take 40 seconds off because they were out of timeouts.

QUESTION #4: How would you assess Dustin's progress so far in his three games, particularly the two on the road?

BIELEMA: What I really like Dustin, especially the way he handled the second half. I think in the first half we were able to, you know, score some points, got some field goals. But you know, I think he knew at halftime coming in there were some things left out there that he felt he could have been able to capitalize on, and I know our offensive coaches discussed that at halftime. I really like the way he responded in the second half.

And, you know, the thing I love about Dustin is there's no hesitation by him in admitting, you know, that he missed something or a wrong read. He just, he knows he wants to be coached up and he wants to move forward, and I think that's a great indication of what you'll hopefully see in the future.

QUESTION #5: Bret, it appeared at times Michigan State was able to attack your defense, passing the ball in the middle of the field, maybe over the linebackers and in front of the safeties. I know defensive calls vary from play to play, but is that an instance of where backers aren't getting enough depth or where the safeties aren't reacting quickly enough to come up and make a play on the ball?

BIELEMA: Well, in zone coverage there'll usually be a linebacker getting a little bit more depth. And the man issues, on the 3rd and 17, there was a, you know, a guy got beat across his face. You know, the part that, you know, they did a good job. They went with a bender route by number two in the second half, which they hadn't really shown them much of, and went to it and capitalized on it with a tight end over the middle. And obviously, that was a huge, huge point in the game.

But, you know, what we got to do is be able to play whatever defense call. We got to be able to understand, you know, exactly what they're trying to do, and make sure that everybody fits those components together.

QUESTION #6: Bret, your defense has held two pretty good teams to relatively low numbers. Could you explain what the difference, I guess, has been in the last couple of weeks, and I know you've probably talked about this, but how much having Coach Doeren upstairs has helped in that regards as well?

BIELEMA: Well, I know Dave has felt better during the flow of the game, just being able to see the whole picture and understand what caused the make. Defensively, I think we just played better. You know, we hit a rough stretch there for a while where we weren't really being successful on first down. I think that's been a huge part of what we've done. We've also been a lot more successful on third down, just getting off the field, which ultimately, you know, makes you have more success.

We've been able to bring in some pressure and mix up what we're doing on third down. The one play that obviously was a big play was that 3rd and 17 where they were able to convert Saturday.

QUESTION #7: Is it hard to draw a hard line with your players on penalties when you had one of the worst ones, Bret? Does that cost you credibility in that department?

BIELEMA: Well, it did, you know, and that's what I expressed to our players. You know, I mentioned again on Sunday to our players, one of my favorite things is it's not what happens during the course of the game, it's how you react to what happened. And my reaction to that play was a poor example to them. But on the same account, I think they understand and understand the big picture that it's not one play in particular, it's not one penalty, it's the cumulative effect of 12. But it was a play that, as a head coach, it's something that I will forever be able to hold in my memory bank and make me a better person in the future and obviously be able to affect not only my assistant coaches but our players as well. But thank you for the reference.

QUESTION #8: Bret, it was documented during your first season that you were pretty aggressive with the facial expressions, you know, debating calls, talking about calls, working them. Last year, you openly criticized an officiating crew. This year, is it a coincidence that your penalties are up significantly?

BIELEMA: Well, all you can do is look at the numbers, and those numbers would indicate, you know, that this year we're a more penalized football team than ever before, since I've been here. We started, I think we went into the, I was excited going into the, I don't know if it was Michigan or Ohio State where we were the second least penalized team in the league. And obviously, after a rough stretch of losing, we're one of the, I think this week we broke into the 11th spot as the most penalized team in the league with a 12 game, with 12 penalties last week.

But you know, the part that we have to understand and take, you know, there was, of those 12 penalties, 8 of them happened in the fourth quarter. So when things started to go bad were when things began to happen from a penalty standpoint. And all those penalties were big, big penalties. They were penalties that gave them first downs, automatic first downs. Other than I think the five-yarder that we got the sideline infraction for, every one of them after that was a first down penalty. And those are things that, you know, if you're a football team that's struggling to find a way to win, if you grant them automatic first downs, you're never going to be able to get on top.

So as far as, you know, being able to compare the years together, the only time that I really regretted my actions my first year was my experience up at Michigan and, you know, just because I felt that that got away from me for a moment. Last year, I really didn't have any issues during the flow of the season. There was a point in time after the bowl game where I probably could have sat back and had a bottle of water before going and taking the podium. I was a little frustrated with how things went during that session. But those weren't Big Ten officials.

I know this, Dave Parry, since I've been a player, since I've been an assistant coach, and since I've been a head coach, the direction that our officials get from the top up, starting obviously with our Commissioner Delaney to David Parry and the way he gives feedback to coaches, and the crew that we had on Saturday, even though I voiced my displeasure, I doubt any official on that field is making a call or doing something that they don't feel is absolutely correct.

QUESTION #9: You said before the game that your tailback rotation or ball distribution would be a little bit different than it was the previous week with P.J. (Hill) banged up. Did you guys get what you were hoping for, and is that kind of what you had envisioned in the beginning of the season as John felt more comfortable?

BIELEMA: It is. You know, especially with both of them getting 100 yards. That's something I'd definitely like to stay with. Zach (Brown) got in there and did some good things. You know, as the season's wore on, the part that really has jumped out, John, as he gets into the game a little bit more, really does a better job once he gets in there after the initial couple carries, and that's why we opted to go with P.J.

He's been in that role and, you know, John felt really comfortable coming in off the, and just how they happen during practice, you know. When we call our number one offense out there, P.J. definitely is the guy that is eager to jump in there, and John kind of wants to wait. So he's not quite there yet. I love and appreciate the way John has handled everything, and I think the sky is the limit for him. And you know, as long as we have a couple guys back there, I think it's going to be speaking volumes for what we can put up, hopefully, from an offensive number standpoint.

QUESTION #10: You send in calls to Dave Parry each week. Were there any more than normal after this game?

BIELEMA: No. Just handled this week as a standard, normal operating week.

QUESTION #11: A follow-up to the tailback situation. Is John (Clay) just anxious because he wants to perform, that those first couple carries maybe aren't as productive as once he gets into rhythm?

BIELEMA: I think just a little bit more comfort level. You know, it's probably something you can ask him. But I was kind of, you know, pushing and trying to get him more and more involved in what we were doing. And you can to a certain extent, but, on the same account, you don't want to put a player in there, especially a younger player, that isn't totally, totally comfortable with where he's at. And if he feels better coming off the bench or if he feels better coming in in the middle of the first series or in the middle of, or the start of the second series, I'm all for it, because obviously I want a comfortable player that can perform well.

QUESTION #12: Bret, as a young coach, is controlling your emotions something you continue to work on and need to work on more, do you think?

BIELEMA: You know what, I'm going to go back to a common phrase that I've always said, age is just a number. How you handle your emotions, I've seen some very upset 40-, 50-, and 60-year-olds that go about their business in a certain way. The situation that got me the penalty where I was, that by far was not the most strenuous or vigorous comment that I've ever made to an official, but the timing of it went against me because of the reaction that I received from him.

So it's not having to do with age or maturity, and obviously that's an easy circumference to draw, but I'm sure that, you know, there's certain parallels that can go on in everything that I do that those things will come out, but it's a growing experience, a learning experience, and one that probably has a bigger effect on me than you can ever imagine.

QUESTION #13: Each of the last couple weeks we've asked, after some of the tough losses, what's the message to the kids, how do you try to rally them and find their focus? Can you do that again this week? Is there sort of a win one to the gipper or can you go to that well kind of speech or do they have to kind of find their own motivation at this point?

BIELEMA: Well, I'll go back to what I said at the beginning of the press conference. I think this is a great indication of what our kids are made of and who they are. If you can show me a clip where we don't have 11 guys busting on offense, defense, special teams, they are hustling, they are playing with energy, they're believing, they're fighting all the way down even to that last kickoff return.

To me, it's been unwavering, their spirit, their will, and it probably goes to the type of kid that we recruit here at the University of Wisconsin, the type of people that we have that follow our program, the people that support our program day in and day out. It's a workman's mentality. They don't necessarily come here for the glamour and whistle and all that goes into it. They come here for a true love of the game.

You know, I got a great indication from Mike Newkirk, you know, that, a guy that, you know, he made reference to the paper on Saturday or Sunday when I was either listening to him on TV or saw a quote where he said I've been part of a 12-1 football team with a lot of memories. I'm now part of a 4-5 football team with a lot of memories, and both of them I'll take a lot from.

You know, yes, I want to coach, I love coaching and winning football games, but sometimes there's more to it, and you grow more from it from the experiences you have along the way. And it's not an easy thing, it's not a great thing to be ale to go through, but I can't say enough about the spirit and the good will of our kids. They're frustrated. They got upset. And they got to voice those things and be able to express them, but I doubt that you'll ever see a team that wears a W on their helmet that gives in to a feeling that they can't do anything more.

QUESTION #14: Without Lance (Kendricks), can you get the same things out of your double tight end formation with Turner and Graham, or do you go more to three wides or you're going to have to look at that differently now?

BIELEMA: Well, the good thing is twofold. First off, Mickey, you know, had his most extensive playing time when he got in there this past Saturday, and hopped right in, and we were still able to do a lot of our 12 formations. Jake Byrne has continued to come along. So those three tight ends will give us that.

The good news is, probably out of our entire team, the guys that have come along the most in the last couple weeks have been our wide receiver core. I'm very excited. You know, the growth that Isaac Anderson had in the last month, Nick Toon, the growth he's had in the last month, David continues to come along, and then Maurice Moore, who got back on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, should be involved in our rotation all this week. So we should have more wide receivers, which will be able to help us more in our two receiver and wide, two and three wide receiver packages.

QUESTION #15: Who are you voting for tomorrow?

BIELEMA: I didn't know there was an election. Due to my standing position at the University of Wisconsin, I will remain neutral on that one.

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