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November 19, 2012

Bret Bielema

THE MODERATOR:  Wisconsin will play their regular season finale on Saturday at Penn state.  Game will kick off at 2:30pm Central.  It will be televised by ESPN2.  Our Head Coach Bret Bielema is here.
COACH BIELEMA:  Thanks, Brian.
Didn't give out MVPs after a loss.  After watching the film, there were a lot of guys that might have played, couple seniors that might have played their best games of their careers.  Really felt that our guys for the entire game, four quarters and beyond, strained, fought, tried as much as they could do, obviously came up short.  Very tough one to swallow.
Gave them Sunday to get a jump start on Penn State.  We have today off, and then we'll jump into tomorrow's practice.  I think it's important for us.  We know we're at the end of a 12‑game stretch here where they've battled their all.  They've gotten to a 7‑4 mark, and those four losses have been very, very difficult, very hard fought games that just a break here or there could be the other direction.
So I think the mental fatigue, as well as the physical fatigue, is real.  As a head coach, we've got to be really smart about what we ask guys to do this week, especially with the Thanksgiving week and all the scheduling things that that brings.
About Penn State, very good football team.  Probably very easy to see that they've gotten better every week‑‑ offense, defense, special teams.  I think their coaches get more and more familiar with what they can bring to the table, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  So a tremendous challenge for us.
Injury‑wise, Robbie Havenstein had an MRI, kind of confirmed what the doctors thought, mild MCL sprain.  Hope to get him back midpoint of this week.  Chris Borland, just saw him this morning up in the offices.  He's feeling very, very well.  He'll get in the pool and do some more running today.  Hopefully see where he can for tomorrow afternoon's practice.
With that, open up for questions.

Q.  Bret, how emotional do you think it will be for Penn State, given all they've been through in the last home game?  And then you talked about how much you guys have invested the last three games.  Do you worry about matching that emotion?
COACH BIELEMA:  I think you never want to comment on another team's status, but Penn State, it's going to be their senior day, but it's the last game for everybody.  They know they're not doing anything beyond this weekend, so it's an emotional push, very, very strong.  Great stadium, great fan base.  So it will be a very, very tough venue.
Our guys have had a lot invested in every game this year.  And the part I've kind of said all along is they're a very resilient group, and they showed me that Saturday when they lost out on the fourth down conversion and be able to get it back in the end zone in 1:33.  So it's a group I know will bounce back.

Q.  Are there any plans to limit guys just with this game?  You guys are already going to the Big Ten Championship game.  Are there any plans?
COACH BIELEMA:  No.  If a guy is healthy coming into this game, obviously depending on how the ebb and flow of this game goes, but no plans to hold anybody back.

Q.  I know Curt is a fifth year senior and he started two games, but is he in some ways like a freshman quarterback who's not yet seeing things quickly enough, getting the ball out as quickly as he'd like, and still not comfortable with everything he's seeing in the heat of the game?
COACH BIELEMA:  I think so, Jeff.  It was the second start, senior day.  It was at home, probably the biggest game of the year this year.  I think I said it on Saturday.  He's going through the things that a first year quarterback, whether it's‑‑ I think he has some advantages because he is a fifth year senior, but it's still what you go through as a first year starter.
There's just certain things that you‑‑ whether it be varying the snap count, whether it be taking a call from the sideline, whether it be an adjustment at the line of scrimmage, whether it be seeing a receiver open and having the confidence to actually throw it.  So I think there are those things.  And, Curt, I think, would admittedly say so.

Q.  There's a stat on here that says the last eight losses from this team have been by a touchdown or less.  So much is made in sports about being clutch in those situations.  What do you think has prevented this team from winning those games that could go either way?
COACH BIELEMA:  I think, if you want to do due diligence, check the ones that we've won by a touchdown or less because there's been a lot of those too.  It's a little bit of a double‑edged sword.
I think there's opportunities where we're taken advantages of some things down the stretch and been able to win games.  On the other side, if you don't take advantage of maybe a touchdown throw here, a tackle here, that what's gives you a loss.  So it's a little bit of both.

Q.  Bret, when you came here as defensive coordinator, you always talked about putting stress on a quarterback physically and mentally.  I'm just curious what you guys were able to do with Braxton Miller, who said after the game, I don't know what they did, but they did it very well.  Are there any similarities between what you guys did against Kyle Orton in '04 when you went down there?  I thought you guys did a four‑two back then.  Probably different, but it appeared the success was similar.
COACH BIELEMA:  Going into the week, the preparation our defensive coaches laid out, the plan they laid out, I thought it used our personnel very, very well.  Obviously, with Chris, we knew during the course of the week, it was going to be nip and tuck to get him back out there, and if it was, didn't know how long it would be.  So they made the decision to go with the nickel package.
Again, because of the quarterback Braxton is, you couldn't bring the all‑out pressure, the physical pressure, but you needed to keep him restrained and in the pocket and keep him from creating plays.
So two different games, but I can see the similarities, what you're talking about, and I do believe there was a mental and a physical pressure that we wanted to apply to number 5 all day.

Q.  I know the focus this week is Penn State, but I was hoping to get your thoughts on possible Big Ten expansion.  Have you heard anything about it?
COACH BIELEMA:  I just was informed on the way over.

Q.  Do you think that's‑‑ is it strange when you hear a Maryland or a Rutgers could enter the Big Ten?  What's your take on that?
COACH BIELEMA:  You know what, I play the schedule they put in front of us.  I do understand, I think there's a tremendous value in the East Coast markets.  I understand television and all that stuff.  It's way beyond what a head coach thinks about.
I think that on the East Coast, when we are recruiting out there‑‑ probably more so Rutgers than Maryland right now, at least football‑wise.  We do go against Rutgers quite a bit in recruiting when we're in New Jersey, New York, even in‑‑ on the eastern side of the country in Florida as well.  We go against Rutgers quite a bit.  So that part must be real.
I'm excited.  Every time the commissioner and the athletic directors have come up with a plan, that's been very, very positive.  I'm assuming this will be as well.

Q.  Back to the defense for a second, Bret.  That third down package with the six guys and the two‑point stance, it seems like Charlie and Chris have been pretty creative with that, and they've been able to tweak it week to week with some different looks.  Have you been pretty pleased with what you got out of that?
COACH BIELEMA:  I have.  There's an element to it, when those guys are in that position, that they could be rushing or dropping.  They're very athletic.  I think they're taking advantage of our skill sets there.  Some guys that ‑‑ we probably have a little bit more of those in between guys.  We're not real big up front, but we have a lot of guys that can run and create some plays with their feet as well as rushing the passer.
So it has been nice.  It definitely has kept the quarterback‑‑ I believe OSU used two time‑outs on third down situations where obviously they didn't know what was going on.  So the key is to keep it going.

Q.  Bret, just by looking at the stats, it looks like Penn State is pretty well balanced offensively, about 150 yards rushing, gain 270 through the air.  It looks like Matt McGloin is going to figure some things out too.
COACH BIELEMA:  Yes, if you take a player from last year to this year, but more importantly, from first game to this game, where we're in right now, he really, I think, understands the role that he has as the quarterback in that system.  He makes some decisions at the line of scrimmage.  I think he's even made some false keys and reads to kind of mess with some DBs during the course of it.
He's obviously very intelligent, very competitive kid.  You saw him react the way he did in that Nebraska game.  He's a guy that wants to win every game, every snap, and you can see why the kids play hard around him.

Q.  Bret, I don't know if it's a function because they've had struggles at kicker or not, but they're very aggressive on fourth down.  I think they've converted more than you guys have attempted this year.  Does that change your defensive preparation at all or put more stress on a defense in the game itself?
COACH BIELEMA:  Absolutely.  You've got to train your kids.  It was kind of the exact opposite, but when teams started‑‑ like I remember the first time we went against Mike Leach at Texas Tech, who went for it a lot on fourth.  You have to change your thinking because you just‑‑ normally kids think, third down stop, I'm off the field.  So you have to practice that during the week.
I don't want to speak for Coach O'Brien, but obviously they had some field goal issues early on, and that allows him to probably make the decisions easier to go for it.  And it's a package.  In your defensive call sheet, the fourth down calls used to be like two or three lines, but now you've got to prepare for everything they've given you on fourth down.

Q.  You talked a lot about your team's resiliency.  How impressed have you been with Penn State's resiliency, given the last year they've had, how well they've played this year?
COACH BIELEMA:  Obviously, very impressed with the way they've handled it since the time of these stories started popping up and obviously the sanctions and kids playing incredibly hard.  A really good group of seniors.  They have bought into what Coach is preaching, and more importantly, what they're coaching.  That's the part that‑‑
I think we're playing stronger as the year goes on‑‑ it doesn't sound right to say it after a loss, but you took a team that is undefeated and ranked in the top five in the AP poll and played them at their full strength.  We were down several players, and we took them to an overtime game.  I thought we probably played our best game and didn't get the win, but you got to‑‑ you can't just let that kind of be lost in the shuffle.
Our kids played well, just as they have.  They've really played better as the year goes on.

Q.  With another tough team coming up on the schedule this week, what are you hoping to see from your guys?  Since this is the last time you'll see them on the field before the Big Ten title.
COACH BIELEMA:  It's just another step in the process.  I hope to see them all improve.  There was guys that took a step forward last week.  Our four DBs probably played the best game they've played all year.  They kind of put that on film, and now the challenge is to do it again.
Our guys have risen to that challenge.  I've just got to make sure I handle them the right way during the course of this week to get us to the position to be in on Saturday.
Sounds like weather may be a factor on Saturday as well.  You're in a different stadium.  If it's cold, windy, snowy, rainy, whatever it is, there's a certain element there you've got to prepare for.

Q.  Back to expansion for a second.  Do you have any thoughts on division alignment, what you would like to see?  And what does this do to scheduling in the future too?
COACH BIELEMA:  We already signed a contract to play them down the road here for a back to back.  I think it was in '19 and '20 or '20/'21.  So that will be taken care of now.
Obviously, with Maryland in today and if another team joins soon thereafter, I don't know if you just drop one in both divisions.  I know, because of the sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State this year, there's been talk of that.
Like I said, when the divisions were made, I really like where we're at just from a standpoint we've traditionally recruited more east than west, so that part is intriguing to me.  It draws that much more attention.  But it's probably a decision they're not going to poll the coaches on.  I'm pretty sure that's going to be the case.

Q.  It seemed like Arneson got more snaps on Saturday?  Is that just a product of getting healthy too?  What have you seen out of him?
COACH BIELEMA:  He's steadily gotten better.  I think his knee has given him issue there.  Wasn't playing at the level that he wanted to play at and really had improved steadily, I would say, since about games five or six.  I know Eddie made a conscious effort to get him involved in more plays two weeks ago, and then this week was the biggest jump that we'd taken.
I think Ped still had the most amount of reps and played extremely well.  I think it flipped this time.  Actually, Arnie got more snaps than Woz.  Not a lot, but a couple more.

Q.  With the mental fatigue, how do you treat them differently?  Is it shorter practices?  What do you do different?
COACH BIELEMA:  Yeah, that's probably one‑‑ one of the things that our guys know is we practice very, very hard and very, very physical and maximize the amount of time‑‑ I don't want to waste time on the field.  There's a set limit that you can be on the field timewise by NCAA rules, and we don't ever really get close to that maximum.
We definitely work while we're out there, but I think this week I have to be smart about, A, lessening the amount of contact we have, and, B, the amount of time we're on the field.  There will be a certain amount of time during the week when we go good on good.  I don't know how much that's going to help us now.  We've just got to get ourselves ready to play Penn State and get ourselves in a position on Saturday to be at full strength.

Q.  Both teams have health questions at linebacker, but when healthy, do you think these are the two best linebacker groups in the Big Ten?
COACH BIELEMA:  I'm going to say that this week because I can't make anybody else mad.
I have a tremendous amount of respect.  Around the league, I think Bullough at Michigan State is a really good player.  But I think three guys across the board‑‑ and I appreciate linebacker play, coached them my whole life.  It's pretty hard to take these six linebackers, when Montee's healthy, those are pretty intense players.
Not just from my voice, when we're on the sidelines before the game talking with other coaches, they've been very complimentary about our three players all year long.  I think one of the things that was lost in the game is how well Ethan Armstrong played at the mike linebacker position for repping that for five days is pretty insane.
A lot of credit to his coaches, but also a lot of credit to Ethan to do that.  It's a shame if Montee can't play, but I have a lot of respect for all those linebackers in the blue and white as well.

Q.  Not to keep hammering the realignment thing, but apparently the Maryland president said that Rutgers and Maryland are coming to your division and Illinois will move out to the Legends.  If that does come to fruition, with two eastern schools in your division the way you like to recruit, is that acceptable?  Would you like something like that?
COACH BIELEMA:  Yeah, I think if that's the way it planned out, Jeff, it would obviously help us on the East Coast recruiting.  I haven't heard anything to that effect.  Again, I just coach the ones in front of us.
It's a fun time.  It gets everybody involved and engaged, and the reason we pursued a game with Maryland is because it was an attractive offer for us in recruiting, to be quite honest, to allow kids to go back home and play.
Right now our only true East Coast game is Penn State, and obviously that would give us two more opportunities to sell it.

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