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October 15, 2012

Bret Bielema

THE MODERATOR:  The Badger football team returns home this week to host Minnesota in the battle on Saturday on 11:00 a.m. central on ESPNU. One quick note.  We have a limited number of tickets turned back in to us, so those are now on sale to the general public.  Head coach Bret Bielema is here.  We'll have an opening statement and then take questions.
COACH BIELEMA:  I was excited to watch film on Sunday, guys that we recognized offensively.  Gave MVPs to both Ryan Groy and Montee Ball.  Ryan really did some pretty good things obviously at guard but then for him to step in, in the middle of a series with limited exposure during the course of the week, pop out to left tackle and execute the way he did was really, really special.  And then, obviously, Montee's numbers and what he was able to accomplish, not only just in the game but career wise is very, very special.  Significant.  Thought he really played with a high motor.  Not to be outdone, James White played really good as well. 
A number of players offensively.  Travis Frederick probably had his best game. Woz and Ped together at tight end were really, really effective.  Obviously didn't throw the ball that much, but Abby played extremely well again, and Derek Watt probably played his most complete game. So those guys, offensively. Defensively, a number of guys played very, very well again.  All three linebackers.  Both corners didn't have a lot of action but played well. 
We gave our defensive MVPs to a guy up front and a guy in the back end.  Beau Allen was very, very efficient for us.  In addition to the blocked punt that was a pure improv by him.  And Dezmen Southward as well.  Dez played his best game as a football player here at Wisconsin.  Excited to see him move forward.  He's really taken some huge strides here in the last month.  Especially I think took some big jumps when Sheldon went down and he knew he had to take over that back end. 
Fun to watch that.  Didn't give a special teams MVP.  Just, no one really stood out.  A number of things we've got to get better at in several areas in the kicking game.  Working on that this week. 
We are excited to have a rivalry week roll into town here to battle for the ax.  Something that has been fun for me because we've been educating our new coaches.  Obviously, always have to educate the freshmen.  We'll have a nice little history lesson tomorrow before our first practice to give the guys a perspective on the history and tradition that's been here for a long, long time. 
We'll roll with that.  From an injury standpoint really haven’t gotten any new information.  I tweeted last night. Arrow was up on Ethan Armstrong.  No surgery requirements for him.  I know he's pretty confident that he'll be out there by midweek or so to practice.  Robert Burge was really, really good.  Obviously, we didn't take him on the trip.  Just thought traveling him, the airplane and all that stuff, it would be better to keep him here and we benefited from that. He was moving around pretty good yesterday.  Hopefully, we'll get him involved in some capacity on Tuesday but should be back with us Wednesday or Thursday and get ready for Staurday’s game.
Dallas Lewallen continues to come along.  We did travel him to the game, but he just isn't quite there to play.  So that's why we went with the maneuver to move Ryan out to tackle and move Zac Matthias into guard.  But Dallas could be an option for us this coming Saturday. 
Ricky Wagner, don't know if he'll be with us this week.  I know he'll try to get back out there.  It's a guy that obviously wants to be out there in the worst way.  This is a senior and actually his birthday this coming Sunday.  I know it's a special time for him and is obviously trying to help us win every game that we can.  Don't know the status of him as of right now. 
With that, open up for questions.

Q.  Bret, you mentioned the special teams issue specifically about the first two kickoff returns.  In your opinion, were the issues with either the hang time or the placement of the kicks, or was it strictly an issue of coverage guys not being where they should be and doing what they should have done? 
COACH BIELEMA:  Obviously, we'd love to always have a kick go longer, deeper, and with more hang time.  The real issue got down into coverage.  Both of those were field returns that went back away from where the area that we kicked.  Lack of execution by certain players, but obviously something schematically that we really needed to scrutinize which we did on Sunday.  That unit had been pretty good. 
If anything, they were being a bit too aggressive.  Guys were getting down there and weren't reading some proper keys that were coming back across through the field.  Hats off to Purdue.  They really did a nice job of executing those two originally.

Q.  Bret, did you ever get the sense in the first couple months of the season here that Montee was down on himself or just disappointed that things hadn't gone the way that everybody maybe thought they should have gone? 
COACH BIELEMA:  Not really.  That's a popular angle that people from the outside world will take just because they don't know who Montee is, don't know what he's about.  Never saw anything different in his preparation.  I'm sure he's going to tell you that he's pressed harder and worked harder and all that. 
A lot of what you saw out of Montee is a direct result of what's going on in front of him.  The holes are there.  The people are making blocks.  He's reading.  But he had a number of yards on Saturday that were there, but then he earned a lot of those yards too, broke some tackles, step through some things, made some people miss.  I just think he's really found that groove and really getting to where he wants to be.

Q.  In the past, you've leaned on the coaches to give that speech about the history of the ax and the rivalry.  With so much turnover on the staff, where do you turn for that speech this year? 
COACH BIELEMA:  It's up to two guys for me right now.  Both have expressed an interest.  I'll let you know tomorrow or Thursday where it's going.  I know that there's a lot that goes into it.  Anybody that's played here has a certain perspective that they really always like to bring out of it. 
I've done it in the past.  Coach has done it in the past.  I also know, if we were undefeated last year, we would probably stick with the same plan.

Q.  Montee said after the Purdue win that he really needed that tight performance.  Is he the type player that you or Coach Hammock have to talk up if he's not performing at the level of the expectations that he had coming in this season? 
COACH BIELEMA:  Well, as a head coach, you always talk to your players.  So I don't really say that I said anything in particular going into the Purdue game.  I did make a big --  made quite a few references during the course of the week the way we closed the Illinois game.  I thought it wasn't so much the Purdue game.  It was the close of the Illinois.  Him and Coach Hammock have a lot of conversations. 
Montee did something during the course of the week last week that changed up just a little bit of his approach, and then you definitely saw it on Saturday.  And the good news is we're seven games in, and we got five more guaranteed games left, and it's going to be fun to watch him grow.

Q.  Borland said after the game, Ethan Armstrong might be the toughest guy on the team, which is saying something.  Are you amazed that he's talking about playing this week, and what is it about him that can do this? 
COACH BIELEMA:  You know, Tommy is just incredibly resilient.  I think, A, he's a very, very gifted football player.  Chris and Mike take away a lot of the limelight.  Ethan is as good athlete as those two guys and probably just as fast.  Plays in a position where he can't get involved in as many tackles.  A lot of times he's detached by nature, just by the way we line him up, so he isn't involved as much. 
Yeah, he's a guy that’s had both shoulders operated on, a hip, broke his finger, I believe, week three.  He made a challenge to me right away.  I came over to him on the sideline and grabbed him.  He's from my neck of the woods.  He's a former walk on, so I've always had a special interest in his well being.  And he said to me, he goes, Coach, I'm going to --    made something to the effect he's going to bump Costigan out of the title of toughest guy on the team.  That was a point that he kind of made reference to. 
So it will be interesting to see it play out.

Q.  Bret, obviously, the numbers the last few games have been different offensively than they were early.  Is it as simple with just the change the offensive line situation that that has been the catalyst for everything else going on offensively, or is there more to it? 
COACH BIELEMA:  If you could say it's been the catalyst? My vocabulary is not as good as yours, but, yea, it's the driving force.  I also think there's a lot of other good players playing well around him. 
I don't mean to minimize.  I'm very excited the way our offensive line is playing.  Give Coach Miller a lot of credit for that and doing where we’re at.  On the flip side, just had our two tight ends, who I think are really good tight ends, play their best game.  Abby's done an exceptional job of creating a culture of blocking in that wide receiving room, along with Coach Azzanni, and those guys are straining and competing. It became pretty evident for the people that were there that the second half there weren’t going to be a lot of balls getting completed or thrown around. We knew what we needed to do.  Yes, the offense line churns it or maybe starts that ball in the right direction, but when all those other guys are playing well around them, including Joel Stave.  Joel completed some play action passes in that game early, the one down to Abby on the left side down there and a couple other things.  You got James White involved. 
All of those guys factor in and allow Montee to have a little bit more success.

Q.  Minnesota obviously got off to a hot start this season.  How much better is that team this year when you look at them compared to even a year ago or two years ago? 
COACH BIELEMA:  There's no doubt in my mind.  Coach Kill is a guy -- he’s a phenomenal football coach.  You knew they were going to be better from where they were a year ago.  I didn't watch those first couple games as the season started.  You’re so wrapped up in your own. But you can flip on the film and see the improvement. 
Obviously, the quarterback is a critical key ¬Ė critical part of their offense, who's in there, what they're trying to get done.¬† But you can definitely see offense, defense, and special teams all have improved.

Q.  Back to the offense, Bret.  It seems like from the outside that Matt Canada's personality hasn't changed at all, his demeanor.  How has he been through that slow start now with the offense rolling? 
COACH BIELEMA:  Matt's Matt.  One of the reasons I was intrigued to hire him is he's a pretty even keeled guy.  He doesn't let things get him too high, doesn't get things too low.  Probably reminds you of another guy that used to be in the same position.  That jumped out to me right away. 
I think, as he has more and more success here, you'll see that true part of him come out, very creative, and it's not creative with a bunch of highlighters and glitter.  It's about doing things that make sense.  Kids that I think buy into, hey, this guy knows what he's talking about, he's brought some new concepts that have been good for us to work through. 
Any time you've got a freshman quarterback, he is our offensive coordinator, but he's our quarterbacks coach too.  To see that group and hold that together, to me is very impressive, and I give a lot of credit to Matt Canada.

Q.  Bret, I think you mentioned after the game that, after your guys took Gordon out after that fumble, that Thomas said, we need to get him back in eventually.  I'm assuming is that because they wanted to get him back to experience some success after what happened with that fumble? 
COACH BIELEMA:  Just get him back to help us win.  Yeah, Jeff, I kind of made a decision with the two kicking game situation, with the kick return and punt return, to go with some guys that had secured the football a little bit, but it's two weeks in a row where Melvin had lost it. 
We had a little developmental practice yesterday.  We got probably 30, 35 reps of guys that are kind of like our third stringers, second and third stringers, guys in -- and I walked in and told coach Hammock last night if we can get twenty-five to play the way he did Sunday afternoon, we got something really special.  He was playing with an attitude running very aggressively, had the high tuck on the ball.  Melvin's going to be a good player.

Q.  It’s sometimes difficult for fans to see the improvement of someone that plays the position at fullback, but how much improvement have you seen in these couple months from Derek especially, considering how he's a starter and hadn't played the position before? 
COACH BIELEMA:  Well, it's been fun because, A, he's a very intriguing and engaging kid.  He wants to please you as a coach.  It's not amazing to me, just the amount of strides he takes in a short amount of time.  I go back.  I think I made reference, in that Illinois game, he was whacking some guys.  He'll hit you high.  He'll hit you low, hit you inside out.  He'll chop you.  And you could really see some of the guys starting to react to him just coming at them. 
And then last week, he'll be the first to admit he made a couple of critical errors on Saturday, but he also made some outstanding plays that you just really can't live through them until you experience them on the field.  It's really been fun. 
I actually grabbed him yesterday.  Brady Ewing is coming back this week as well.  Brady hit me up that he's coming in town, and I know he -- I said something to Derek, and he said, yeah, he texts me quite a bit.  So they apparently go back and forth.  It will be fun to have Brady around him because I know they'll have that little common bond.

Q.  Sounds like Jerry Kill is back to work as normal this week.  Do you have any perspective as a head coach what it must be like to deal with a medical condition on top of the demands of the job and what he's going through? 
COACH BIELEMA:  Jerry is an extremely dedicated.  I saw the one quote yesterday, he said, what do you want me to do, sit around and wait?  I think it was from last time.  I remember when he was head coach at Northern Illinois when I was the head coach here, and when he had an episode, I shot him a text -- actually, I called his secretary and gave her a little grief because I knew he probably isn't the most cooperative patient in the world. 
My guess is he's doing whatever his wife tells him to do and half of what the doctor tells him to do.  We'll see his best effort on Saturday, I know that.  I obviously have never been in that situation, that scenario thankfully, but I have a lot of respect for what he is.

Q.  You mentioned Gordon's performance in the developmental practice.  Do you think, because he's the third guy in terms of touches and he knows how good he is, that maybe sometimes he'll try to press and do too much out on the field.  I don't know if it's led to the fumbles or not. 
COACH BIELEMA:  I would say it might be the other way, Jeff.  We're trying to get him to get to that level.  Not to flip the question on you, but Montee and James perform the way they do in the game because of the way they practice.  And Melvin, I think he realizes he has as much ability as those two, but he doesn't practice like those two. 
That's the point we've been trying to drive home with him.¬† It's been pointed out to him, and he'll be the first to admit it.¬† He's young.¬† He's a redshirt freshman, and he's going to get better.¬† The good news is, because those guys are in front of him and they do have examples, I wanted him to ¬Ė I thought Thomas brought up a great point.¬† I was kind of leery about practicing with the developmental.¬† Thomas said, I want him to know there's a difference between his preparation and what James and Montee do.¬†
So it was a great coaching point by Thomas yesterday, where a head coach learned from his assistant, and hopefully we'll all benefit.

Q.  How difficult is preparing for the two quarterbacks that Minnesota has?  Is the fact that you had to do it with Purdue for multiple quarterbacks make it any easier this week? 
COACH BIELEMA:  Purdue is a little bit different because, even though they are different quarterbacks, the plan was kind of the same with what they -- they all have different things, and one is a little bit more of a runner than the other two. 
In dealing with Minnesota's situation, there is a different approach to their offense when one guy's at quarterback.  The challenging part gets to be when Marquis is in there and they're in there together, and he's maybe lined up as a wide receiver.  I know he obviously aggravated an injury Saturday, but when Greg gets going downhill now, he's a load.  He's 250 pounds of lean, mean fighting machine coming at you. 
Their running backs do a nice job.  I thought the quarterback, the other quarterback does a nice job when he's on rhythm and has done some really good things.  It's a challenge for us.

Q.  Not to say that it was easy at times last year, or even maybe the last two years, but you guys blew people out fairly well early in the season.  This has been different.  I know there's a lot of games left.  But in some ways is the turnaround you guys are in the middle of a little more satisfying because of the struggles you went through earlier?  Just for the team, the players, the coaches? 
COACH BIELEMA:  I think any time the truly successful men in life are defined more by their failures than they are by their successes.  If you have any bit of sense of pride in making sure you do things right. When you have some setbacks and other people begin to question you or doubt you. 
We have a tendency to stick to what we do best, and it ends up being triumphant.  We're not where we need to be, but to see the rewards of some changes we made and to see the way our kids are playing is very, very rewarding.  It's almost like now we have this attitude of let's just go out and prove what we have that much more. 
We maybe had a sense of ownership in something that we really didn't have or belong to.  I'm very happy.  It's been a really fun year for me.  At times it's very frustrating.  But it's kind of like Saturday to give up that last touchdown score just sent me into a tizzy.  But on the same account, it might be one of the best things that could happen to us. To maybe make those twos understand how much better they've got to play and prepare.  So it’s a constant flow of ups and downs probably.

Q.  You mentioned Southward improving when Sheldon went down.  How is that showing up?  Has he been more vocal?  What kind of ways have you seen it? 
COACH BIELEMA:¬† Two things, Tom.¬† He went through a week where we didn't even know if he was going to play.¬† He wasn't going to be denied.¬† From Monday to Thursday he said, ¬Ďcoach I'm going to be there¬í, and he did end up being out there.¬† Just that strong willed nature really showed up.¬†
And just his preparation.  Dez is a guy he’s always -- not a mean spirit in his body.  He's very polite, very courteous, very well mannered, he’s a very good student, over achiever in a lot of different ways.  But he just finally figured out what it meant to lead, to take those corners, make the right calls, understand what a split could mean to a play, understand how his depth is important, and extremely athletic. 
I saw two plays on Saturday.  There was a play where a kickoff return kind of got bottled up and got expanded out and he just quickly covered it down.  And then there was running back delayed screen.  I'm sure everybody in the stadium -- well, Badgers fans in the stadium kind of held their breath, and he just exploded on it.  He's probably pound for pound our best athlete on the football team.

Q.  With all of the stats you guys put up offensively, did you think you were able to open things up more against Purdue, or was it the same type of game plan, just everything was working? 
COACH BIELEMA:  I think it was executed.  There's obviously new plays in every plan.  I thought Matt and all the guys --  the one thing I like about what's going offensively is there's a lot of contributions there by everybody.  I think Canada leans heavily on Eddie Faulkner and Thomas Hammock about the run game and what's going on there, and obviously Coach Miller. 
When the plan fits well together and works well together, and one area starts clicking, it usually opens up another.  Some of those arounds, the play action pass game, and then Montee, you start loosening people up, and all of a sudden those safeties don't know whether -- they're not coming in there quite as aggressively.  They aren't as aggressive on their wraps.  An 8 yard play turns into a 60 yard play.  A little bit of everything going on.

Q.  The home winning streak being what it is, how much do you guys talk about that and the importance of protecting? 
COACH BIELEMA:  1-0.  I don't mean to… 

Q.  Not at all, though? 
COACH BIELEMA:  No.  We talk about how we take care of things at the house.  We really do.  I don't know what our number is at.  Is it 20 now?  Ryan just debriefed me.  I'm aware of numbers.  As a head coach, I'm immersed in those things.  I'm going to be talking to a recruit tonight, and I'm going to be bragging on it. 
But when we’re dealing with players and our kids, they really don’t --  you can take it for what it's worth, they don't mention anything but the game in front of us.  I’ll make reference to Saturday.  Everybody last week wanted to take us to this Leaders Division showdown and battle royale and everybody wants to throw out championship belts.  What we did is focus on playing an away game, wining in an environment that we haven't been able to do, and that's why I think we had success. 
This next week, we're going to talk about it's the ax game, it's a rivalry, it's about Minnesota.  We're going to talk about playing at home in front of our crowd.  But the only number we want is the one at the end with a "W."

Q.  [ Inaudible ]. 
COACH BIELEMA:  Jamie, I don't mean to be disrespectful.  We want to win this Saturday.  The 21 games, if it comes, is a byproduct of winning.  We're not into streaks.  We're not into anything more.  I think it's an easy way to keep it simple.  It's just an easy response that's true.  That's just how I'm wired, and I think our kids are the exact same.

Q.  Bret, do you still expect Dippel to be back this week? 
COACH BIELEMA:  I sure do.  I would be shocked if Dippel is not there.  He was doing everything he could.  I know I told him Wednesday that we would make a final decision Thursday morning, and he shot me a text Thursday morning how well he was moving and feeling. 
The thing that we kind of sat him down, and Tyler is so aggressive.  I get it.  He's coming off his best game.  He just had his best game.  But the thing we were talking to him about is, what's the short term gain versus long term gain?  We need him to close out these next five regular season games and need him in the worst way. 
If he re aggravated the thing    he probably could have played and done something, but if he got hit in the right way, that's probably the area I've grown the most in as a coach.  You urge kids if you want them to play with some pain, but we've got to be smart about what we're doing and where we're going. 
The same thing this weekend with Ricky Wagner.¬† If he says to me Friday, hey, coach, I can go.¬† But if it¬ís not quite there we won't ¬Ė we don¬ít want to put that kid in that spot.¬†
THE MODERATOR:  Anything else for Coach?  Thanks, Coach. 

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