Wisconsin Prepares for Michigan State

With the Badgers moving into the conference slate of the season with a home match-up against Michigan State, UW head coach Bret Bielema addresses his confidence in the play of Scott Tolzien, the problem with ball security and a variety of other topics heading into this week.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema -

full transcript

BRET BIELEMA: Thank you, Brian. You know, one of the things that we were able to see on Sunday is a lot of the issues that we talked about the post game are things that could be cleaned up, individually as well as certain units. But I did feel that I liked the response. You know, like I said after the game, really liked the way our offense responded and being put in a tough situation. On the flip side of it, I thought our defense came out in the first half, and for the type of offense they were playing, were able to defend it, and all the things we practiced during the course of the week really, really worked out well. So there's enough positives to go forward.

We recognized some MVPs offensively. Lance Kendricks has been doing a lot of good things for us all fall camp and through the first two games. Really wanted to try to get him involved more, and he's a young man that finally came forward, had the six catches, but also did some things in the running game and just excited where he is. And from my standpoint, in kickoff coverage, set a tone early on that unit that they carried forward for the rest of the game. So I really thought he did a good job overall for us.

Defensively, we recognized two guys who had a lot of plays, Culmer St. Jean and Mike Taylor. But I did share with the team the reason those two made a lot of plays is because of the play in front of them. I really think our defensive line, even though statistically didn't have a lot of plays, they monopolized the line of scrimmage, force the ball to go in certain directions where we had linebackers scraping too, and because of that, those two had really high production numbers.

And then our special teams MVP was also a co-MVP in the league with Chris Borland. Not only did he block a punt and the force fumble, but I believe he had four tackles on special teams as well as what he did from the line of scrimmage. So those three, those MVPs, and then I can't say enough about Jared Abbrederis to run last week as an offensive scout against our defensive players really put us in a position, a walk-on from here in the state of Wisconsin. And then a young man you'll probably hear a lot about in the future, Pat Muldoon, a defensive linemen from Xavier High School over in Ohio, who we actually considered playing early on, had some issue with his shoulder, so he missed a bunch of practice, but really like where he's going to be in our program for the future.

So with that, I'll open it up for some questions.

QUESTION #1: Guess one of the questions going into the start of season was the starting quarterback and who it was going to be, and Scott Tolzien has obviously seemed to take that job and run with it. Has he done what you expected, even more than what you expected so far through these first few games?

BIELEMA: I would say, Rob, he probably has done more than I expected, to be quite honest. You know, going into fall camp, I had a certain level of interest and to see where certain guys responded, and he's the one that just kept moving forward. You know, the other guys had certain times where they would regress a little bit, and Scotty always seemed to move forward. Through the first two games, showed me what he could do, and then to put this third game together and put it together in a way that things were not necessarily good around him. You know, when the issues were going on with the ball security at running back, he just was steady. He was solid.

You know what, and then probably a bigger indicator to me, I'm a guy that really believes in when you see things going right away from the game, they tend to go better for a player on the field. And we had a young man last week who was brought to our attention that was a little bit in a battle of his own with cancer at the age of six, but he loved quarterbacks. We actually had a little helmet where all the quarterbacks signed, and he came to practice on Friday and had an opportunity to meet him. And you know, I just brought him out to practice, never really told anybody I did, grabbed the quarterbacks.

Mark Taurisani, one of our operations guys, said that probably an hour after the game, Scotty Tolzien was calling him to try and get a number to try and get an update on what Jackson's situation was. So it just showed me that he was, you know, an hour removed from winning a football game, had to go down and deal with the media, and the first thing he was going to think about before dealing with his own family was how he could maybe have an influence on that young man.

So his head is in the right places, his reaction is what you want, and I think he's probably more excited right now to play anybody and to get into Big Ten play as anybody on our team.

QUESTION #2: Bret, it appears that both on the offensive and defensive line you guys may be at full strength this week probably for the first time all season. What can that mean for both units, and which unit can make the biggest jump from here on out?

BIELEMA: Well, I think from the offensive line standpoint, we've been getting by on the hair of our chinny, chin, chin just in case somebody, you know, when realistically, when Travis (Frederick) went down and Pete (Konz) went in at center, he was our number two at like three different spots. So we were able to get through that, persevere to get Billy (Nagy) and John (Moffitt). I believe they both got 29 reps apiece on Saturday. The energy that they bring and just the competition that they've already had in this program will help us out.

And the reps that Jake (Bscherer) and Zeitler, Kevin Zeitler have gotten are invaluable, but those four guys will rotate through. Probably leave Pete right where he's at, at the center, knowing those other guys can pop in there as well. So I get excited from a depth standpoint, but yet to see what Billy and John are going to do when the bigger defensive line, that's the challenge that presents itself this week. Michigan State's defensive line will be as good as we've seen to this point.

As far as our defensive line, to get Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu back in the lineup, I mean, you know, David Gilbert has probably put himself in a position now to consider playing time as well, just the way he's responded and playing David was great for me on special teams. Did a better job at the line of scrimmage, so it's going to be interesting. And our three inside defensive tackles played pretty well on Saturday, (Patrick) Butrym, (Jeff) Stehle and (Dan) Moore, so it gives us a rotation in there that we've never been able to have before since I've been here as a head coach.

QUESTION #3: Do you think that passer efficiency rating is a good, accurate way to measure a quarterback, and do you know how to figure it out?

BIELEMA: I don't know how to figure it out. I believe in two things in judging a quarterback, A, how he handles and manages the game, and then turnovers, and that's the thing I've been very excited about Scotty, just his awareness of ball security. And for a quarterback, that's threefold, it's first off the center/QB exchange, it's what you do when you have the ball in your possession in the pocket, and when you're outside of the pocket, and what you do with the ball when you deliver passes. And he's been exceptional in that regard, and that's probably what set him apart than all the rest.

Just because of the way the games have unfolded for us, you know, he doesn't have a number of throws in there, which I know affects certain QB ratings. You know, the big part that I like is three wins, zero losses.

QUESTION #4: Just to clarify something back on the offensive line for a little bit. You mentioned Jake and Kevin, the snaps they've gotten, and you said Moffitt and Nagy. You said you're going to rotate those guys through. Do you know how you're going to?

BIELEMA: No. It will be determined by this week. You know, really, Billy and John haven't gotten through a full week of practice, you know, beginning on Sunday, which they did through the game week. Last week, they were limited on Sunday, and then went out there for Tuesday versus scout, but they didn't work against our good versus goods. So this week we're jumping in there full-go and see where it takes them. In a little bit, will probably be determined on how they handle Tuesday and Wednesday's practice, you know, from a just soreness standpoint.

QUESTION #5: What's your impression of the Big Ten, what happened in the non-conference season and entering the race . . .

BIELEMA: Well, I think as all Big Ten coaches, we sit around and we, I'm sure a lot of people don't believe it, but we cheer for all Big Ten schools. I sat there on Saturday, had an opportunity to come back and watch Michigan State and Notre Dame, and was pulling for Michigan State in the worst way. As many of you know in this room, that's probably natural. I just like the way that they perform. I didn't get to see the Minnesota game, but obviously someone that's coming up on our opponent, if they were able to beat Cal, that would be tremendous, you know, respect for the Big Ten. But also, with them coming so close on our schedule, it would be a great thing for us. The week before, just sat there and cheered for Michigan to pull out against Notre Dame, and they were able to do it.

So as far as assessing the Big Ten, I think, you know, the part that I saw going into the conference, there was going to be a number of new faces in the league, you know, a lot of the quarterbacks were guys that were known, but weren't really well known besides Terrelle Pryor and, I guess, (Adam) Weber at Minnesota and Penn State from a standpoint of being there a year ago, but not the premier guys maybe that have been there before, as well as running backs. So I think there's a lot of guys in this league trying to prove things, and now this week it begins for real.

QUESTION #6: Have you seen overall the improvement in your wide receiver corps that you had anticipated, given how they kind of closed last season? But in addition to that, one guy, David Gilreath mentioned some issues in the offseason, the physical problems. Has he slowed? I mean, is he being hampered by that now?

BIELEMA: You know, from a physical standpoint, he's probably the only one that could answer that. I know this, when I've seen him hit a couple kickoff returns, he's been more powerful and faster than he has been in previous years, and I thought that was more confidence related. You know, there was a couple drops on Saturday from the wide receiver corps, and that's the part that I've always hit on my coaches. It's not one player at your position that plays, it's, you know, it's how your players play collectively. And our wide receivers were a strength for us in certain games this year. Last Saturday, there was some guys that probably played as high as they had, but there was a couple that dipped. And you know, we want to definitely set a precedence that once you do it once, we need to see it every time, and consistency will be a key factor for us this week to see how they perform.

QUESTION #7: How important is a fast start in the Big Ten, and have you put any more emphasis or focus on that?

BIELEMA: You know, I talked Saturday after the game to our guys. I sat them down for a minute and, you know, explained to them, hey, we need everybody here coming over on Sunday. Guys are going to work, guys are going to need to get done what they need to get done, but I wanted to say in front of the whole team, now it's Big Ten play. Everything gets ratcheted up ten more levels of intensity, the way we need to practice, the way we need to prepare. There's three quality opponent films to watch now against Michigan State. So now as you get further into the season, you should be able to be better on tendencies, better on, you know, just being able to understand the guy that you're going to be going against. So everything needs to get raised just that much more.

QUESTION #8: Bret, you mentioned Michigan State's defensive line. What else on film do they pose a challenge for you, the Spartans?

BIELEMA: Both sides of the ball? Well, first off, you know, from a special teams standpoint, the guy that kicked the winning field goal against us a year ago is one of the best kickers in the country, let alone in the Big Ten in (Brett) Swenson so they've got good specialists. They've got good personnel. I think offensively what I see is, you know, they've gone through a little bit of what we did, you know, not knowing who the quarterback is going to be. Both quarterbacks have definitely skill levels that can help a football team win. Running back has been a little bit by committee. I know they're really liking a freshman and seen where he's at out front. They're physical. They're big.

You know, and you look through the, what Mark (Dantonio) has tried to instill in that program is just, you know, the mental discipline and toughness, and they are that. They are a couple plays away from being a 3-0 football team. So we know that they're going to come in hungry and want to earn a W, but it doesn't need to start in Madison.

QUESTION #9: You guys always talk about learning something whether you win or lose. I'm just curious what everybody on the team, what lessons could be taken from last year's game against Michigan State?

BIELEMA: Well, I think everybody, including the head coach, knows that when you're in a situation where you're up by 11 points in the fourth quarter and you don't get a W, you need to really look at what you did there down the stretch. And I know I can easily correct anything that I did from a head coaching standpoint. Obviously, the penalty that I received didn't help the situation at all. So I've really taken that as a life lesson to carry forward, not just in this game, but in every game.

And then, you know, bottom line, our offense, you know, converted a first down. It was called back because of a holding call. So I know that individual player can grow. That coach can grow. That unit can grow, defensively. Bottom line, they scored points at the end of the game and gave up some third down conversions. So again, the players, the coordinator, the head coach all can grow from that situation.

You know what, I brought up a, on Thursday nights I like to meet with the team, and I'll talk just, I learned this one from Coach Alvarez, just have a team meeting to kind of instill some thoughts in their minds about the game. And on Thursday night, I encouraged them to, you know, get off their feet that night. We were talking about hydration, getting their rest. I said sit back, relax, and watch a Miami-Georgia Tech football game. And some of the guys from South Florida popped up, the U, the U, started piping up a little bit.

So I said, I'll bet you anything Georgia Tech runs for a bunch of yards against Miami. Antonio Fenelus from the back of the room, I'll take that bet. And we all started laughing. And I said, okay, Antonio, I'll bet you. And midway through the fourth quarter, obviously that wasn't happening, so I text Antonio, you're right. You're right, buddy. I owe you one. And he, lots of love, coach. I know a lot of things.

I thought it was great because on Friday, then to start our team meeting, I kind of made reference to that story, because everybody was in that meeting on Thursday, knew what I said and what he said. And I said, you know what, there's a great lesson there. I go, I had not watched Miami or Georgia Tech play at all this year. I was basing what I saw off of what I witnessed last year.

And I go, you know what, if no one has seen us play, they're going to base and assume what they saw last year was what they would see this year. And from what I've witnessed from every day, the beginning of fall camp to where we are today, I know that we don't have the same team. And it's up to us to prove that by a game by game basis, and I thought it was a great way to bring it full circle and also poke fun at the head coach, which they all enjoy.

QUESTION #10: You talked about Kendricks covering kicks. You know, former receivers sometimes have a reputation of not liking physical contact. What does it tell you about him, the way he plays on kick coverage?

BIELEMA: It's a great point, Tom. I think it's first, twofold. First off, that he wanted to do it, which makes a huge statement to me. He wanted to be on that unit a year ago. As I looked at the film after the season, there was probably one guy on one snap the entire year that was the best clip, and that was Lance Kendricks taking out two guys and making a play. So it was something he was very, you know, important for him to do this year. Because he was getting so many offensive reps, I would ask him if he was good to go, and he always says yes. So there's a desire to do it, and then just the physical ability to do it. Lance Kendricks is not built, you know, like a normal wide receiver or a skinny tight end. He is rocked up, yoked up, can run very, very fast, and should be good at what he does. And again, I think it's a mentality factor with him more than anything.

QUESTION #11: You had a couple of big plays, turnover type plays on special teams. What do you look for when you go into a game? Do you have a goal for big plays or do they just kind of happen?

BIELEMA: Well, no, you always want to take advantage of every opportunity you can. I really emphasize during fall camp that our return game was going to be the first play of our offensive series. If it's a kickoff return or a punt return, the bottom line is we need to secure the football and advance it as far as we can to give our offense a great field position.

Defensively, every coverage unit is the first play of our defense. And more importantly, is to watch the chemistry or the body reactions of when those plays occur. In the Fresno State game, I made a big point in front of our units that, you know, they had just scored and gone up by 14 points. We talked in the huddle about making a great kickoff return to give us momentum. David broke one down the sidelines. I think he got out to the 43. He jumped up and started bopping up and down. One of the Fresno guys tried to hit the ball out of his hands, a couple of the coaches were on him, and I said, look what you just did to this sideline. You took a very positive sideline that they had up 14 points to a negative energy taking the field defensively, and our offense scored, I believe, six plays later.

So there's a huge momentum factor there. And then when you get exceptional plays, like what Mr. Borland and Mr. Gilbert were able to do, you just want to make as big a deal of that as possible. You know, I told in front of the team, you know, Chris made this play, but because of the way the other guys ran their assignments, that freed up that opportunity for him to leap. David made a nice adjustment to get the ball inbounds. I told Chris if he ever scores another special teams touchdown, I'll let him kick the extra point. I know our guys will kind of get a kick out of that, and I said within reason. You know, it would just be another way to find things to be motivational and have fun.

QUESTION #12: It looks like you've got Zach Brown listed number one this week. Is that solid or to be determined . . .

BIELEMA: You know, it could be determined by camp or by practice this week. You know, a little bit has to be on how John (Clay) responds to what happened Saturday, but also how Zach responds. And to be quite honest, you know, Erik Smith came in and by no means took himself further out of the race. You know, he's different from those other two guys. I don't know if Erik could ever really be a full time, you know, back here at Wisconsin on first, second, third down like those other two might be able to be, but it's going to be set. You know, and that's why I kept all those guys on there.

You know, Montee (Ball)'s in a little bit different situation just because he hasn't played yet, unfortunately went through some illness last week and then the passing of his grandfather. So he's actually not flying back today until this evening from St. Louis. So he's kind of in a different boat, but those three guys will be determined how they practice this week.

QUESTION #13: You talked about the special teams turnover. Obviously, the running backs not fumbling a point of emphasis this week and ball security. But what about your defense, how much of the turnovers that they've been able to create is, you know, they're more athletic, they're more skilled at that, they have a knack for that, or is coaching in the game plan?

BIELEMA: You know what, I think it's twofold. First off, I remember sitting and watching Northwestern win two back-to-back Big Ten championships, and they led the nation in turnovers back-to-back years. And I remember as a linebacker coach, that made a huge influence on me. I believe I was listening to their coaches talk at the National Coaches Convention, and they put up that statistic, because I knew what kind of personnel they had on the field. And although Pat (Fitzgerald) was a great linebacker, and I don't want to upset Coach Fitzgerald because we're going to see him in a couple weeks, their personnel maybe wasn't the best in the league, but they were the best in the league in overall record because of that.

And then, you know, I think that shows that turnovers are contagious. You get one guy stripping a ball, one guy taking a swipe at it, you know, it tends to affect everybody. And you know who made the first real effort at that this year, Mike Taylor, and Mike Taylor is a freshman. Now bottom line, he went out and did it, but somebody is telling him to do it, and instinctively he knows how to do it. So I really believe that players set the precedence and the tone. I saw a couple other guys making a swipe at it. Chris Borland made a swipe at it. A couple other defensive linemen made swipes at the football. And if you're not taking a swipe, you're never going to get the chance.

QUESTION #14: Bret, I believe you said the other day that you thought Aaron Henry was having confidence issues. Since he arrived here, he's always been a very confident guy. Are you surprised that happened?

BIELEMA: Well, you know, I don't want to speak on Aaron's behalf. I believe that, you know, because of his injury and where he was at, sometimes, I tore an ACL twice, and I've had seven knee surgeries. When you first come back from those things, you're not exactly ready to go out there and, you know, run through an obstacle course and have people leaning on you and, you know, people throwing at you. So he, he has to work himself through that. And as coaches, we can encourage it, but we can't brainwash him. He's got to be able to come through that on his won. I think Aaron made some steps on Saturday, and my guess is as the competition rises, so will Aaron Henry.

QUESTION #15: How do you expect Clay to respond this week?

BIELEMA: You know what, I expect him and hope for him to respond in a positive way. Yesterday in the team meeting, I drew attention to him individually as well as the opposition and what we need and all on offense about ball security. I liked his response last night. Today is Monday. We'll see where he goes from there. We've definitely done some things from a football standpoint to try to instill that, but also mentality gets to be an issue there, and we'll do whatever we have to do during the course of the week to enforce that.

QUESTION #16: Along those lines of responding, it looked like Zach ran hard after that first fumble and wasn't affected by it. Did he run against Wofford after that one as he did in camp?

BIELEMA: You know, he definitely ran very, very hard at the end of the Wofford game. And, you know, we kind of went with the guy that, you know, he came off the sideline after one of the scores and said, coach, ‘It ain't going to happen again.' You know, and just the way he looked at me, and he hit me on the chest, I kind of believed him, and I believe we put John in one more time after that, and then that's when we kind of said, okay, this is where we're going. So I liked Zach's response. I still think that, you know, he's got another gear left to show us out there, just based on what I've seen him in the past and where he's at now. So we'll move ourselves forward.

And I don't mean to, believe me, I don't need to minimize six fumbles on Saturday, but what I do want to understand, you know, through 15 games, John Clay put the ball on the ground four times. You know, to put it down three times in one game is unacceptable, but it's not like this is something that's been a chronic issue. It is a game, I have to measure it as a game, you have to react to it, you have to understand it, but you can't just overemphasize, you know, what happened in front of you.

So I want those running backs, whosever in there, to realize and understand they're back there because we have confidence in them. I think that's very important for our players to understand.

QUESTION #17: Bret, you mentioned the penalty at Michigan State last year. Have you changed your sideline decorum, and if so, has it been difficult?

BIELEMA: You know what, I guess I have, but I can't say I consciously say, hey, I'm going to say this, I'm not going to say this. You know, I think in the situation that I was in at Michigan State I said something that I should not have said, in a tone that I should not have said it, in a way that my mother wouldn't be happy with. So I know that. On the same account, you know, the part that I really took forward from that was my reaction to it. You know, I sit here and preach it, and one of the things I wanted to know right away is why he called that instead of why it happened. I know why it happened, and that's the situation that I've corrected.

QUESTION #18: I used to really enjoy Brian Wozniak's Twitter. Do you have any idea what's happened to that?

BIELEMA: I didn't disallow it, but. You know, the Twitter thing is really, I'm probably not as good at it as I should be, but what began to happen is we actually had, we would follow Twitter of opposing players, find out things that they may say or may do, you know, during fall camp when I was trying to, you know, understand when I should keep them here later or longer or where they were going to spend their off time. And I read that they were, you know, going to concerts or wherever, I'd use that to my advantage.

We've used, I don't mean to upset you. I realize, off of what I read that some of you get mad when I announce things on Twitter versus in these open press conferences, so. It's technology at its finest. There's probably good and bad with everything. Yeah, Jimmy, you can ask one more.

QUESTION #19: Do you have any sort of policy on what your players post? I mean, do you, have you set any guidelines?

BIELEMA: Yeah. Basically, anything from Friday on is going to be talked about, you know, from a football standpoint. You know, it's 2009. If they want to, get done with a game and if they had a touchdown and they said, it was awesome to score my first touchdown, I don't know how I can deny that. But we, you know, constantly talk to them about Facebook. We constantly talk to them about anything that, you know, you put out there from a purely entertainment or just, you know, ways to communicate that they do in this generation. I don't want to deny that because then it can be used against you in recruiting, you know, and that's something you always got to keep in mind.

But you know, the cell phones are off. And they saw by my reaction after a couple Twitter episodes that they probably ought to be really careful about what they do there, but, you know, it's a growing process for everybody.

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