Bret Bielema: There were several positive things that came out of Saturday's game, but probably one of the more significant as you get later in the Big Ten schedule is just for us to be able to come out of it relatively healthy. From this point moving forward, the only expected player that could be in question for Saturday would be Kevin Claxton. He got the concussion. And at this point, probably won't practice tomorrow, but we'll play him day by day and hopefully be ready on Saturday.
We took the opportunity to recognize some MVPs yesterday. On offense, it was Lance Kendricks, somebody that has continued to make strides and move forward. Defensively, I gave my coaches a little bit of heat. We gave it to three guys that probably played their best game to this point, did really good, took advantage of maybe some teams starting to pay attention to OB (O'Brien Schofield). Dan Moore and J.J. Watt, we gave those guys co-MVP, as well as Devin Smith. Those three guys we thought really played well.
I think probably the bigger picture you recognize, our conference recognized Chris Borland as a co-MVP defensively, and for him to get the same award in the same year defensively and special teams just shows how much of an influence he's had on our team as a true freshman. Also, I took that kind of to sit back for a minute and realize it's not just one guy here or there defensively. It was 11 guys that played pretty well and some other guys that played significant on some sub packages.
And then special teams MVP we gave to David Gilbert. He basically played on three of the units, and then his play on the punt block was exceptional. I'll give kudos to the other two guys, probably the most heads up play on the whole day was Antonio Fenelus to knock down the punter and to be able to give Aaron (Henry) that chance to get in the end zone.
And here's Antonio Fenelus, a guy that started a couple games for us, was not going to start in this game and only played a limited amount on third down, he was great for us on special teams and made a big, big difference. And then Aaron Henry, a guy that has been a premier player for us, has gone through some struggles and just has remained very, very positive, for him to get that break and get in the end zone was huge.
So with that, we started our Indiana preparation yesterday. We'll resume duties back tomorrow. Indiana is a good football team that, unfortunately, hasn't been able to close out some games. You see they have a lot of players offensively, defensively, and some special teams. So we've got a tremendous challenge in front of us this week. With that, I'll open it up for questions.
QUESTION #1: You mentioned Lance, you know, singling him out for his offensive performance. How much of that was things that maybe you don't normally see, like his run blocking, in addition to what he did statistically?
BIELEMA: Well, the carries that he got, just under 100 yards, were exceptional. I was giving him, pimped our running backs a little bit in front of the team. Lance went out there and looked like an All-American tailback on that run and made some guys miss, stiff-armed a guy, and read the blocks the way he needed to do it, and I haven't seen that all that much out of our running backs. They've gotten what they've gotten. So I put kind of a challenge out to those guys.
And then on the flipside of it, Lance probably, probably him and Chris (Borland) would be tied for the most consistent kickoff cover guys on our unit. The one play against Ohio State where they went all the way was the one kickoff coverage that Lance wasn't in there on, and he has just been exceptional for us in so many ways and continues to move forward.
So he's not there 100 percent. We were on punt later on in the ballgame, and he got confused and realized he was on punt covering and he thought he was on punt return and got out of the way of a ball that was bouncing back at him. So we're not totally there yet, but we're making strides.
QUESTION #2: Do you think some of the tough times your defense went through last year has helped it get to where it is right now, and if so, how?
BIELEMA: Yes, Tom. I mean, there's so many guys that are playing for us right now that weren't in that mix. J.J. Watt was watching it from a scout team. O'Brien Schofield, obviously, was a starter. Dan Moore, Jeff Stehle, Patrick Butrym, those three guys were never on the field a year ago. And then obviously, before Mike Taylor went down, he was redshirted, Chris Borland wasn't even in the program. Culmer St. Jean watched it primarily from the sidelines.
In the back end, we do have experience back there, so that factors into it a little bit, but I think it's more off of what they've done this year. I appreciate what you're saying. But you know, we've made so many emphasis on certain things. I know Brian (Lucas) pointed out in the weekly program, but I looked at Big Ten play, and we're one of the, I think we're tied for the least penalized team in the league.
We gave up so many third down conversions last year off of critical points in the game where we would make a stop, but we would be penalized and we'd give them a first down and (it would) just drive you nuts. Well, the only way to do that is to eliminate the penalty. It's not to eliminate the player. It's not to eliminate the scheme. It's to eliminate the process to get to where you need to be, and that's where I've seen them make strides.
I think we're still one of the leaders up there in the turnover, getting them defensively, which is strictly on you. It doesn't have to do with turnover margin, which plagues the offense a little bit. It's just upon how many times you take it away from them, and we're ranked very highly there. So those, to me, have been the biggest difference, and then just doing what we do on third down.
QUESTION #3: You mentioned then, with all those new faces, do you think that has played a role? Because sometimes guys don't know what went wrong last year, and they don't make the same mistakes.
BIELEMA: I read a great quote from Lou Holtz. It said pre-game prayers always go better when you've got better players. It's probably lots of truth to be said to that. Game plans work better when you have better players, and they execute them better. I don't know if we have better, I know we don't.
People constantly ask me about O'Brien Schofield, and the thing I like about OB is here's a guy that came in with four other linebackers, Travis Beckum, who's in the league as a tight end, DeAndre Levy, who is starting for the Detroit Lions, Jonathan Casillas, who's on an active roster with New Orleans Saints, Elijah Hodge, who isn't in our program, but is playing well for his team where he's at, and then you got an OB, who's playing at a high, high level. And he's not, by any means, done everything perfect, but I think he understands the process to get to where he is. He lived those scars last year, so I think he can pass that on with those younger guys.
QUESTION #4: You mentioned kickoff coverage. Obviously, Indiana, that's one of the things they do really well with (Ray) Fisher. I don't know if they use both guys at the same time, but what are some of the problems that you're going to have to be aware . . .
BIELEMA: Well, they've, much what you saw, I'm sure a lot of you in this room watched the Packers/Vikings game yesterday and saw an exceptional return man that just needs a little bit of a hole to make something happen, and Fisher is that guy. They've been very good on kickoff returns for a number of years, and he's been part of it, but we have to be very smart about where we're placing the ball, what kind of coverage we're putting into it. Unfortunately, he missed the latter half of the game the other day, so I don't know how that's going to come out, but that unit right there is a big concern of mine.
QUESTION #5: Bret, it couldn't have been easy for Dustin Sherer to go from a starter to third string. How has he handled that?
BIELEMA: Probably as good as you could ever hope, because I know how much it means to Dustin. And a game like this, where he's going to play against his brother, comes from a great family. Now we haven't had a lot of players from Indiana, but Dustin is more engaged probably than anybody could ever imagine on game day. I mean, he's saying things every play, him and Coach (Paul) Chryst talk back and forth. There's certain things that I've involved with him on certain phases of the game that he's just taken it and run.
There's so many times you just want a fifth-year senior to go out and start every game and win them all, and for him to sit where he is right now, and I told him earlier in the year, it's my own personal belief that, at some point this year, we're probably going to need him to win a game, and I think that still may be the case. But I can't give any award or any recognition in our program to anybody more deserving than him.
QUESTION #6: Bret, you have an undefeated Big Ten leader, and here we are in November and they're ranked eighth in the country. Is that fair, and does that concern you in any way as a Big Ten coach?
BIELEMA: You know, I'd probably disappoint Kirk (Ferentz) if I said that I even think about it. I know that as somebody that's played them, they're very good. I made a comment in our post-game press conference that I wanted to watch the game to watch Indiana. We've already had our shot at Iowa and weren't able to take advantage of it.
But, for our league, the only way that we can change things is to win. And when we're in league play, we're all beating up each other, so we got to win out of our conference and out of our league play. So if we're fortunate enough to go to a bowl game, we got to be able to expand upon what we have as a league in the past couple years.
QUESTION #7: Bret, you said a couple times that you're 22 personnel grouping is by far your best. Why do you think that formation is so successful?
BIELEMA: Actually, I don't mean to nitpick you, but I think I've said 12 has been our best. I said 22 last week. Twelve is two tight ends, two wide receivers, and one running back, and for what Paul (Chryst) does from an offensive standpoint, I think that gives us an advantage because there's matchup issues with our tight ends, especially when those two tight ends are Garrett (Graham) and Lance (Kendricks). Twenty-two was a good personnel grouping for us last week, just because of what we could do, I think, body on body.
QUESTION #8: You've mentioned a couple times just recently about the young talent in the program, specifically the last two recruiting classes. What are some of the factors you think that came together with those classes? Any consistencies . . .
BIELEMA: I remember I was, early on in my coaching career, somebody put a bunch of articles in my box, and it was Bielema as a recruiter when I was a young coach at Iowa, and I actually got mad because I wanted to be known as a football coach. I didn't want to be known as a recruiter.
And my coach at the time basically said, all young coaches, when they recruit, are recognized as that until you become a coordinator and you get your chance to move on and have success. I think Joe Rudolph and Charlie Partridge have had a tremendous impact. If you look at two guys, two true freshmen that are really doing some things in our program, it's Chris Borland and David Gilbert. Joe recruited Chris. Charlie recruited David.
And bottom line, those guys brought them to our program. We recruited them a certain way as a staff, but you have to understand for, and I got nine coaches. I've got some coaches that I need to put together game plans, Paul Chryst and Dave Doeren, and then the other seven guys have got to contribute in their own way, but a lifeline or, it's Kentucky Derby through your coaching. You can't win the race if you don't have the right horse. If we don't have the right horses in this program, that are going to fit our program for what they are, we wouldn't have success over time, and definitely wouldn't be able to put together a consistent approach to the game.
So and that goes a lot more than just talent. I just read today, just because I found it in a little file that I had, it was a little note that Chris Borland sent me after his recruiting visit, and I put it away because I said I'm going to pull this out and read it when he's going to be a senior, in his last senior banquet, because of the things that he said in there that I knew meant the world to him, and it doesn't surprise me, on a daily basis, what I see out of him. But to get him here to our summer program, if Joe Rudolph doesn't get him here to our high school program, our high school summer camp, he's never a Badger, and I give Joe credit for getting him here.
QUESTION #9: Are you and your staff better recruiters today than you were three or four years ago?
BIELEMA: I will say this. My first year, because of the way that season laid out, and because in my discussions with Coach (Barry Alvarez), we didn't want to make any transitions with the staff until after Hawaii, it really hamstrung that first class. And at the time, I didn't want to believe it or see it, but now when I see the bottom line resultsof guys that we brought in in that class, and how much of a factor they are in our program right now, it's pretty easy to see. The next year was better, and then obviously the last two have been dramatically different.
As much as I want to say I like the freshmen that you're seeing now, if you come out on developmental Sundays and see some of our guys, it hurts to lose a kid, but Pat Muldoon is going to be a very good football player here. Unfortunately, you won't see it in spring ball, because he's got to get an ACL surgery now, but there's some very, very positive things that are happening without anything going on at Camp Randall yet.
QUESTION #10: Just getting back to the Big Ten for a second, is this league more unpredictable this year than what you've seen?
BIELEMA: I think that anybody can get anybody on any given Saturday. Now I think there are certain teams that have more talent than others, but there's a constant struggle between a number of us to jockey for that team that every so often can make a special run. You do your business, you do what you're supposed to do, if you stay healthy and you've got some great leadership and you have a couple key difference makers, on offense/defense then good things happen. You got to have the ball bounce the right way.
But this league, you look at Saturday, you look at a team that was penalized 19 times that won a game. Look at a team that threw, I believe, five interceptions and won the game. It's just amazing how things can pan out if you battle for 60 minutes.
QUESTION #11: Coach, now that your team got a taste of, you know, 60 minutes, pretty much dominating performance across the board, how can they carry that forward and finish off the season . . .
BIELEMA: I think the more we can explain it as coaches, why it happened, I really stressed that yesterday in our team meetings. Hey, what you did, and I think I said it even to some of you guys on Thursday night when I met with you, I know I spoke to it on Wednesday night when I spoke to the Mendota Gridiron Club, I really felt that there were going to be some good things happening on Saturday based off of what I saw during practice.
I don't have a crystal ball at home. I don't have special powers to predict anything, but I knew what I saw and what I believed could happen, and all I needed to do was have them go out and do that. So hopefully that will continue forward. And then also you believe a little bit in the theory that once they've tasted a certain number of times, they want to keep going back to it, and hopefully they'll be able to do that.
QUESTION #12: Coach, how important is it for the confidence of Kraig Appleton that he got some catches in that game going forward for the rest of the year?
BIELEMA: Well, I think it's important that he did it during a game because we work him now during some of our periods. We just keep throwing the ball at him and throwing the ball at him, and want to stress to him it's something we did two years ago with John Clay. I remember we'd get him something, when he was redshirted, obviously Kraig is playing, but when John was redshirted, we'd go a couple developmental scrimmages where we'd give him the ball 20 times in a row and just say, can you handle it big boy, and he would respond.
Kraig came up to me yesterday because he knew his name on a little list that I had that he needed to answer some things to me. So I let him explain his case, and then I kind of smiled and said, did it feel good to catch one in a live game, and he was just grinning ear to ear. He claims he was in on the boundary one there, and I was standing right there. It was probably his best catch of the day. His foot was out. I mean, it was the right call, but to put that, to get that ball down and try to get where he was, yeah, I think he's going to be very special.
QUESTION #13: Coach, I saw Lance Kendricks get multiple carries on Saturday. Where did that come from, and can we expect to see more of that in the future?
BIELEMA: We repped that during the course of the week. I think we ran it two years ago. I'm not quite sure if we ran it last year with Travis Frederick, or probably wouldn't work too good with Travis Frederick, with Travis Beckum. And you know, Lance carries a lot of the same tools, athletically, that Travis had, and I think that's why I popped out to him. But bottom line, certain plays are run by position, but when you have a player at a certain position that has certain skills, you have to use that set. And to be able to maximize that, that's what Paul saw. And I think that play presents a unique challenge for a defense that's trying to defend it because it looks very similar to another play we run, and all the sudden you have an extra blocker with John Clay being that guy.
QUESTION #14: Just a quick follow on Muldoon. You said we won't see him in the spring. When do you expect him back?
BIELEMA: You know what, Jeff, I get him and Mike Taylor's two surgery dates screwed up. One of them is getting surgery on the 11th, the other one is getting surgery on the 20th. I think Mike is first and then Pat Muldoon is second. Those guys would probably be getting right back to playing right around spring ball, so I doubt we'd get them in live competition, but we'd get them in all through summer and get them back in the fall.
I think I shared this with Mike when we were talking about him, that ACL surgery, I've been through two of them, I've been through seven knee surgeries, and I remember now they expect you back playing football in four to six months. When I first saw an ACL surgery of a guy when I went to college, he was in a cast for six months. I mean, the technology and the abilities that doctors have now, that injury is not nearly as significant. Although it's significant because it takes you out of a season, it's nothing compared to the potential career ending surgery it was at one point.
QUESTION #15: Bret, does Indiana run that pistol offense? If so, what challenges do they pose? And Ben Chappell a pretty good trigger man there?
BIELEMA: You know what, Brian, they run every offense. They run the pistol, and that's probably their meat and potatoes, but they have a couple formations in every game that they come out and try to run at you and vary gadgets and formations. We saw him a year ago, the quarterback, and he's, I think he's over a 60 percent passer right now in the league, so, that's going to present its own challenges. They've got a covey of skill players that I think are talented players, so, bottom line, they've just had trouble closing it out. And Coach (Bill) Lynch is a tremendous football coach. He's had a lot of success in his coaching career, and I know what we're going to see on Saturday because we've had a little bit of success on him the last couple years, I know they're going to come in, or when we go over there, they're going to be very hungry to play us.
QUESTION #16: Back to your defense for a second, five shared opponents rushed for less than 100 yards in the Big Ten. What have you seen there with your run defense?
BIELEMA: Better tackling time, support has been there. I think the edges of our defense have been there primarily. Some of those early games that escaped them a little bit. You haven't seen the big runs. I think a great point in our league, we're number one in rush offense, and we're number one in rush defense in Big Ten play, and I don't believe that's been done, Brian brought up, since 1950, 1951.
And I know in this league, if you can run the ball and you can stop the run, you got a chance, especially in the month of November when things get a little colder and a little windier and people are going to get beat up a little bit.
QUESTION #17: Bret, I apologize if you've addressed this previously, how did it come to be that you don't have a vote in the coach's poll? And I'm guessing that you don't have one, you don't miss it this year given the volatility of that poll.
BIELEMA: I was waiting for that question because I figured when we got voting into it, you guys thought I voted us number one or something. No, I‘ve been, my first year in the league I wasn't asked. They asked me my second year, I accepted. And then they asked me if I'd do it again, I accepted. And then I believe, I think what happened, Andy, is the coaches, AFCA, put together a little study and asked, I think it was whether or not the poll should be released at the end of the year.
And so they asked a company to come in and say what's going about this poll or what can we enhance it or make it better with. And one of the things they came back was a ratio of votes per conference, and I thought the Big Ten conference had one more vote than it should, and I think they just blind random drew who would be asked to vote on the coach's poll, and that's how it came about. I turned all my ballots in on time and I voted within their rules.
And I don't mean this as any disrespect at all to anybody in this room who votes on polls, but I know there's a certain debate out there that the coach's poll should have less weight in the BCS formula, because I know the AP doesn't and the coach's does. I think coaches have a greater appreciation of who really is a good football team and who can go out week in and week out and do what a schedule allows you to do.
They aren't so enamored with, I think that a large reason that we moved up so quickly is because it was a 37-0 win. I it was still 37-24, I would still think it's a pretty impressive win based off of what I'd seen Purdue do the last two weeks. So I don't mean to get on a soapbox, but I think, I respect that the coach's poll carries the weight it does.
QUESTION #18: Bret, how many of the coaches involved in the poll do you believe do their own poll, actually sit down and do their own poll every week?
BIELEMA: I would like to believe every one of them does. Now if I, I'm not going to call any coach out, but I know that there are certain coaches that probably, well, you've seen what Brian has done with my depth chart, so I'm not going to leave it up to him. But I think I might be on the shorter end of the list that does that, but I believe if you're given that opportunity, it's your obligation to do it.
I'm not saying I would spend two hours on Saturday night trying to figure out what my vote is on Saturday, but I would go, at the time Justin (Doherty) and then when Brian took over, lay out of the week, I'd pay attention to certain games and look at how things happen, and I would specifically try to watch as much as I could and even try to figure out was this game a close game, was it not, who played well. I paid a particular interest to teams that would do certain things the week after an opponent, and how they fared after a big game or a let down game.
QUESTION #19: You mentioned Indiana's offense. Do they run that wildcat with that, I guess, former quarterback now a wide receiver and how do you just prepare your kids to be aware . . .
BIELEMA: Yeah, they do. Because of what he can do from an athletic standpoint, they've kind of done a different, a variety of different formations, kind of a flavor of the week. So what we have to do is be aware of what he is. I think our guys have been in tune to it. The first team that really did that to us, that we went into the game knowing we were going to see, was Minnesota, and it was a nonfactor because our kids identified it and recognized it. But you just have to be sound.
I think one thing I really like about Dave and the defensive coaches, they haven't tried to reinvent the wheel. I would say in our last four, five games, would have one of the smallest game plans/call sheets that we've had. And I think the result of it is we've played well. And I don't mean to beat up our guys, but sometimes the less you know, the faster you can play and that's really come up these last couple weeks.
QUESTION #20: Bret, after looking at Saturday's game, even though they weren't front and center, can you talk about the play of your two quarterbacks last Saturday?
BIELEMA: Quarterbacks or cornerbacks? Throwers? I really thought Scott (Tolzien), he probably had the longest bye week time as anybody. He had to answer a lot of questions and handled his business the right way. It was a good game for him on Saturday. He really didn't have to do a lot to have success, but on the same account, he put us in, we have a lot of double calls in the run game, and he was awesome, and that was almost 100 percent. Did some good things early in the game, converting and being what he needed to be.
Curt Phillips, who I think is going to be an exceptional football player, during the bye week, we were working him, and he pulled his hami a little bit, so he didn't get a lot of work during the week last week going into the game. True tribute to him, he went in there, didn't bat an eye, and made some things happen. When you don't play in a long time, when we're repping like we are, he doesn't get near the amount of work that Dustin gets, I'm sorry, that Scott gets, and I think it took awhile for him to get that body going the right way.
And I tell you what, we did mass sub in our 2-0 line, and I like those kids, and hopefully they're going to be good players. But when they still had their good guys in, it wasn't good at times. So Montee (Ball) and him in particular were the direct result of not having a solid group up in front of them that had repped together a lot.