Badgers Turn Attention to UTEP
COACH BIELEMA: Had a chance to look at the film on Sunday. Defensively gave an MVP to Devin Smith. Devin really rebounded well from a Oregon State game, challenged him during the course of the week.
Thought he played a good game. Some other guys of note, David Gilbert, we really were happy with him. I know he had a couple of plays he wish he could have taken back.
But just played his tail off, was invested in the game during the course of the week. Was fun to watch him grow as a player over the last couple of weeks.
Mike Taylor played extremely well. Obviously to have 15 tackles, be involved in as many plays as he was was really inspiring. So was Ethan Armstrong. Couple of the DBs had nice games. I thought Michael Trotter coming in for the first time, couple of plays obviously we gotta get corrected.
But was really pleased with his preparation and his progress out there on the field. And Dez Southward gutted it up and played extremely well.
So excited about those guys defensively. Our offense scout MVP was Ray Ball, did a nice job of simulating Utah State during the course of the week. Has done a great job in fall camp, really on the verge of maybe helping us from the line of scrimmage.
Offensively we didn’t give an MVP. Some guys did some really good things. There were improvement on that side of the ball but just nothing that we feel we could win with on a consistent basis and Big Ten play.
We have to just keep getting better there. Our defense scout MVP was Josh Harrison. And special teams gave an MVP to Kenzel Doe, a guy that obviously changed the momentum of the game. Single‑handedly that was on a punt save return. There was some help from our defensive personnel overall. Just Kenzel caught the ball on the fly, made a couple nice cuts, great finish to the play, energized the whole crowd, swung that momentum back to our sideline and had a huge impact on the game.
So injury‑wise, nothing really changed from the game to where we are today.
Pat Muldoon was one you weren’t aware of. He actually broke his hand, had surgery on it last week, was trying to make every deal with me to get back on the field. Doctors won’t let him play this week. Hopefully next week maybe there’s a chance of it. But he’s casted and clubbed up. So he won’t be with us this week.
Couple other guys got out there and did a nice job. Brendan Kelly did it during the course of the week, and was happy with a lot of things Brendan did as well.
So with that, open it up for any questions? I know this, UTEP is playing good football. Opened up, had a close game with Oklahoma. Definitely showed they can play on the field with anybody.
I thought the game with Ole’ Miss swung back and forth momentum and obviously last week capitalized early and often. They’re a very quick starting, if you look at the stats in the first quarter, very one‑sided, very explosive team out of the gate. In all three phases they’ve been productive. So got a tremendous challenge from the first snap on Saturday.
Q. On the depth chart, you have Danny and Joel listed as co‑starters. Where does that stand and how do you determine that during the week and what’s all going to play into‑‑
COACH BIELEMA: We’ll make that decision, as the week goes along. Have a game plan in mind with the coaches. We actually meet today at 2:00 when we’ll sit down and formulate it. Tonight I’ll sit down with the offense and go through tomorrow’s practice and planning. We sat down, visited with all the QBs yesterday.
I said when that decision was made we had three guys we felt could win football games. That hasn’t changed. The first two weeks, if anything had happened with Danny, you know like in the middle of a series, either by injury or by just a situation that came up, a loss of a helmet, we had to plan that. That’s a different thing you have to think about now.
It probably would have been Curt just because of a hostile environment in Oregon State and also the first game against UNI. But halftime just feeling where we were at we, we wanted to give Joel a shot. And didn’t do anything to think that he can’t continue to get better as well.
I think Danny, I told him on Sunday that the number one reason he got the job to begin with was because of the way he took care of the football. Some of the things I said on Saturday are really true. So where we’re going to be on this coming Saturday will really be how we handle the week and make sure we put the right guy in there.
Q. Obviously, Bret, you had a quarterback competition in camp. Is there a downside to throwing it open to another competition now?
COACH BIELEMA: It’s not really a competition. I think we have a plan we’ll move forward with as coaches. It isn’t a thing we’re sitting and waiting and wasting time on.
It’s a decision that was pretty clean. I think the decision to go with Joel in the second half took about five seconds when I finally was with my coaches face to face on Saturday and went with it and ran and obviously to get a win. Now did we play well in all phases, no, on offense, but there’s definitely some indications that things were moving in the right direction from where we were a week ago to this past Saturday.
Q. You mentioned Joel’s play in the second half. But Matt said yesterday that you guys didn’t ask him to do too much given the circumstances.
COACH BIELEMA: Correct.
Q. How do you get an accurate picture of what he can do in a game setting this week in practice?
COACH BIELEMA: Obviously whoever the starter is gets the majority of the reps. I think second half we were in a tight ballgame. Even the way the offense took the field the first time was different than maybe we had envisioned it.
It was a short punt. We get the ball on the plus 50. Really liked where we were sitting and then we played behind the chains right away with a penalty, which was the case more than not. And that’s obviously a tough spot to put a guy in. And then when the field flipped in the fourth quarter, it just seems like we were always playing out of our end zone or our backs up. And we were trying to get first downs by running the football. It wasn’t a realistic picture of what maybe Joel’s strengths are.
Q. What would you detail even though you haven’t seen him in a game, what his strengths are?
COACH BIELEMA: I think any of the quarterbacks‑‑ I actually sat and visited with them on Sunday‑‑ would admit that Joel has the best arm out of all of them, strength‑wise, ability to throw the football. He’s got great composure.
I think the one thing you can count on with Joel is what you called and what you expect to play to see and the reactions you would have to get from a quarterback, whether it’s pre‑snap reads, whether it’s reads within the play.
Joel’s pretty educated. Now, obviously he’s only got one half under his belt as a quarterback that’s out there on the field. So that’s the part that’s the unknown.
Q. One of your former quarterbacks, Russell Wilson, won his first game in the NFL yesterday. Just want to get your perspective on what you think his one year at Wisconsin did to prepare him for the NFL?
COACH BIELEMA: Russell was‑‑ he’s going to have a lot of success in life. I think one of things he always talks about was playing in a pro‑style offense. It’s a huge one for him.
I think he was around a lot of really good players. I think he’s surrounded at Seattle from what he tells me and the limited exposure I had, I shot him a text. I didn’t even know he won his game.
It was probably somewhere around 10:30last night when I found out he won. So I shot him a text. And I finally started to lay down to go to sleep, he shot me one late last night. You get nervous when you get a text after midnight.
He just had something positive to say: Hey, Coach, it was awesome, thanks, keep the focus, be perfect. Just the typical Russell stuff. Not surprising.
I did see the highlight where he threw that first one, that seam route to the right, stood tall in the pocket and hit it high and made a great play. Saw a play later on when he took off on a scramble.
I recruited the Tate kid, saw him lay that guy out. And Russell set him up. Fun to see all your guys have success. I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me now. And JJ did some great things, obviously in what he’s doing, and I believe we have 28 players now on NFL rosters. It’s just really amazing to see so many of our former players out there. Wish we had a couple of them back. But it’s fun. Happy for them.
Q. What’s Jared’s status at this point? And considering the struggles in the passing game, the last two games, is he the most important piece to the offense?
COACH BIELEMA: Two‑part question. First what’s the status. Status is what it was last week, when you’re dealing with a concussion, it’s a day‑by‑day thing. He has to pass his impact and all the other things that the doctors look for.
If he’s back, obviously he brings a lot of experience. A lot of game situations. There’s some plays on Saturday that receivers were in situations that those would be Abby’s throws and obviously we didn’t capitalize them, didn’t catch them.
There were some positives I thought Saturday, for Reggie Love to make that first down catch or third down catch, they gave us a first down was huge. Kenzel to make the play on the punt return. You wish he would have come up with that third and five grab. But for us to throw it’s not on the quarterback. We have to have some guys that can catch it.
And some other guys, we had Ped. He had a passing game that went off his hands. We have to do a better job catching the football and trying to step into Abby’s role.
Q. Over the past few weeks with regard to the offense and you and some of the players used the phrase: We need to be who we are, play Wisconsin football. Where’s that line or distinction being who you are and taking what the defense gives you?
COACH BIELEMA: First and foremost, we can’t put ourselves behind the chains without even playing the games. We had five procedure penalties. We can’t have that. We had two holding calls. We can’t have that. That’s probably Wisconsin football more than anything.
And then obviously how we execute at the line of scrimmage, there was so many times where things were blocked up cleanly and an opportunity and it goes around the room.
I think our guys, probably 14 guys played significant roles offensively on Saturday. Two of them being quarterbacks. But I think we had 22 guys take reps. But they kind of traded turns.
One time it was our left tackle for a critical touchdown play. One time was our left guard on a flinch. One time it was our center on a holding call.
At one time it was our right guard losing a block across his face. And at one time it was our right tackle unable to keep pad level where we needed to be. At one point it was our tight end with a holding call.
Another time was another tight end with a dropped third down conversion. So it kind of‑‑ not to evade the question‑‑ it’s a little bit of everything in one given time. And it’s one guy here, all different times. And 11 guys on offense gotta play well together, otherwise we’re not going to have success.
Q. Braden talked after the game about Mike Taylor’s problems covering that wheel route. Is that a fundamental flaw in the defense or is it more like a simple adjustment?
COACH BIELEMA: If it was just one call, Tom, I would say it’s on them. But is it a difficult assignment? Yes. It’s one he’s clued in. You’ve got to have your eyes and awareness on that. On that one in particular in Saturday there was a corner crash with it, so you can’t really compare it to the other ones that’s happened.
Q. Given the way this season has started offensively with Montee missing camp, being rusty, the instability on the offensive line to change their, Abbrederis’s injuries, quarterbacks, have you seen or have we seen what Canada can do as a coordinator, or is that yet to come once the pieces are more in place and more stable?
COACH BIELEMA: I think the thing that I took the most out of Sunday after watching the film, Saturday you sit back and you watch on the sidelines and you see the results.
And as the head coach you gotta kinda have to be ahead of the chains. On third down I’m trying to get organized with the punt in case there isn’t success.
I don’t get a real take until Sunday. The thing to me there was definite improvement. I know if we had not as a collective group offensively had transition last week, we wouldn’t have had success on Saturday. I’m pretty sure of that.
I think everybody that’s involved on that side of the ball, players included, would tell you that. I think Matt, anytime you have transition of one of your assistants that you’ve been with since February, transitions out, that’s a huge obstacle to overcome.
And I think in addition to last week not having Abby, maybe having Montee, he’d be the first to tell you I think he was‑‑ I couldn’t be more proud of Montee Ball, for him to have two games the way he’s had to grind it out, with the number of plays he had, he was right on the verge of breaking it free, and he’s been the trooper. He’s not had one negative comment.
A side note, I was pretty proud of Montee. As far as with Matt, I think Matt had success everywhere he’s going, with moving the football, being balance run pass. I think obviously a lot’s been noted about his background coming back to this. But he broke his teeth in a pro‑style offense. So I felt comfortable with that. I sit with him every day. I think his finest hours are yet to come for us at the University of Wisconsin, obviously.
Q. How has Zac Matthias been at right guard, and looks like Kyle Costigan has been pushing him?
COACH BIELEMA: I did see that. I didn’t check with anybody else. I see Kyle is coming along. Game one, week one, we made the decision that Zac was probably the guy to go to. He does a lot of really good things. He’s good in pass pro. But he got called for two penalties, and that’s unacceptable.
I mean, not a lot of people are going to write a front page story‑‑ well you might now. But the play of right guard isn’t something that grabs the headlines, but it’s a position that makes a lot of difference for us.
So it’s not just Zac. I mean, we gotta play better up front overall. And the penalties are unexcusable. They’re just not going to be tolerated.
Q. Seems like at the beginning of the season the offense was the main thought process and the defense was just the defense. But statistically these are the guys that are keeping you in the game. Are you surprised by this defense?
COACH BIELEMA: No, I think I was on record saying I thought our defense could be pretty good. I’m excited about the way they’re playing. But on the same account I just see the ability to be even better than what they are.
I know this: They can run. I think they’re athletic. We can’t give up big plays, which means on defense we can’t‑‑ I don’t think we need to take on any unnecessary risks at times.
But on the same account, offensively I think people just like to‑‑ you made reference, the story about the offense ‑‑ that’s just people. People would rather write about offense than defense. They’re a little bit sexier and a little bit better interviews I guess, give out more awards.
Defense‑‑ in the past there’s a phrase and a saying that the defense wins championships. And I think if we can continue to play good defense and put our guys in a position, I’m not saying we’re going to win championships, but I’m saying we’ve got a chance to be good and we have a chance to win this weekend.
Q. What did you see on film with the third and ones, and was there just some missed blocks? What’s going on?
COACH BIELEMA: Again, not trying to give you the same answer, but it was a guy here this play, a guy here that play. The one that was probably more disturbing more than anything was the third and short down on the goal line.
It was really‑‑ I had on the hat everybody’s executing, and we have a guy fall off a routine block and the guy makes the play. It’s hard to block all the guys on the field. I mean, you’re going to have some guys get unblocked.
But that’s hopefully going to be at the second level. It’s very frustrating to have a play call and executed and have everybody blocked out the way it should be and you have a guy you’re counting on to have a plus block and he doesn’t hold it.
So there’s a little bit of everything there. They were doing a lot of things at the front moving guys late, stemming guys, brought an extra “D” linemen in. Kudos to them. They did a nice job of executing some plays against us.
Q. After the game, Danny O’Brien said he was disappointed by getting pulled. But in the same breath he said he’ll cheer like hell for the other guys out there. Which I’m sure you’d like to hear from your quarterback. But he’s also only three games into his career here at Wisconsin. I’m sure the transition for him, unlike what we saw with Russell, is a little bit more difficult?
COACH BIELEMA: It is. And I would say, first and foremost you guys think I’m just saying it, when we decided to recruit Danny O’Brien I knew I was getting a good football player but I knew I was getting a great person. That probably went into it more than anything.
I wanted to make sure I had a kid that was a good fit. There’s a lot of times that exact same scenario, your starting quarterback, you get transitioned out at halftime and the team goes out and wins the game, maybe not in the prettiest fashion, but they win.
I didn’t make‑‑ I did not speak to Danny O’Brien from halftime on. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him after the game because I was caught up in all the media obligations I had. So when you guys got him, not like we sat down, coached him up on anything. He went out and he spoke to you guys.
You can take it for what it’s worth. I don’t make my guys go do interviews. I talk to them in fall camp and say, hey, if you feel comfortable in going, I’d love to have you go. A lot of times if you don’t go, it’s going to come back at you tenfold rather than if you just go and show up.
And he went and said some things that I think were true. I remember distinctly in the fourth quarter where we had a timeout or there was a break in the action on the field and Danny was communicating with Joel as much as anybody out there on the field through Matt on the headset.
That just made me take a step back. Because here Curt and Danny were as engaged with Joel Stave trying to win this football game, and they were into it 110 percent, which is fun as a head coach.
That’s why we got a chance. That’s why we have a chance. We have great kids that pull together and do things in the right way.
I thought it was interesting, Saturday, I got home after all the stuff, I got home like 11:30 or so. And my pops, he’s always watching Big Ten Network. He wants to know what’s going on around the Big Ten.
I always give him grief because I sometimes want to watch other games. He said we should watch‑‑ he and I downstairs in my basement. He said: Pop on the Utah/BYU game, it’s an unbelievable game. Utah was up. I knew the team we just beat, Utah State had just beaten Utah. I was kind of engaged by that.
I knew BYU was a top 25 team. And they come roaring back, the end of that game was so crazy, the way it panned out. And I sat back and realized we just beat Utah State‑‑ everybody’s giving me all these reasons, but they just beat this team Utah the week before and that team just beat a top 20.
Apples and oranges and all that goes into it, we beat a pretty good football team on Saturday. It wasn’t great. But we’ll get better and we’re nowhere close to playing as good of football, but I felt a lot better Saturday night going to bed than I did the week before, that’s for sure.
Q. Your running game has always received a lot of attention from the other defenses you play. Did you sense for the first three games and what you see on tape that it’s getting even more attention?
COACH BIELEMA: I think they’re making us play left‑handed. No doubt. They’ll do whatever they have to do stop the run. And we have to be, A, be able to throw the football and, B, be able to still execute.
Because there are times when the numbers are against us. And I realize that. But that’s when we have to be able to throw the football down the field and be able to take chances and being able to convert some play action passes, but on the same account get the ball on the perimeter a little bit.
Q. With regard to the quarterback situation, you said you had a plan in place this week. Do you hope to tell one of them they’re starting by a certain day, Thursday or Friday?
COACH BIELEMA: They already know. They already know what’s going on. You won’t talk to them, but they know.
Q. What do you hope to see most then this week just limiting turnovers, you said that was a big thing?
COACH BIELEMA: I think ball security is at a premium. We said it all during fall camp. It’s well documented. You guys know when I made the decision, when we made the decision to go with Danny, the biggest driving factor was turnovers.
I think we can do some things during practice. We’ll simulate pass rush around guys trying to knock the ball out as well as just continue to emphasize. It’s one thing to have an incomplete pass. But to have a turnover, that’s a different deal.
I’d much rather have the ball on the ground or out of bounds rather than in the defender’s hands. That’s a big, big point of what we’re doing.
I understand interceptions happen. Tipped ball on a good pass to the “D” lineman breaks up, that’s a different deal. But a throw late across the field and some things like that, we can’t win with that.
Q. We’ve all asked you about the offensive line and all that, but you’ve lost a couple of good blockers in Jake Burn and Brady Ewing, tight end and fullback. I know you like the guys that have replaced them, but has the lack of blocking at those positions contributed to some issues?
COACH BIELEMA: I think it’s fair to say that at all positions, offensive line, tight end, fullback, we haven’t been as effective in some of the same type of blocking.
There’s some players that left the door. Jake Burn was great at the point of attack, big body. Ped and Woz are trying to do the same things.
But to say that they’ve been as consistent in execution, obviously not. I think Derek Watt is a guy, I think that he was about 220. So he dropped a little bit. He’s just not as powerful as Brady right now but he’s a freshman.
As a head coach, I’ve always tried to‑‑ you always try to emphasize the positives. But I think on our roster, we have a roster around 115.
And we have 50 freshmen out of 115. Almost half our team are freshmen. I believe we have 28 juniors. 20 something sophomores and only nine seniors. So we’re a really young team. That’s not just age. That’s also physical development, the way we kind of do things here at Wisconsin.
I know I lost the same number of starters last year to this year. But last year I had a lot of seniors stepping into those roles. This year I’ve got a lot of sophomores and juniors and freshmen, and it’s just a different process.
Q. When you think about switching “O” line coaches last week and a quarterback Saturday, are you personally taking a little different more aggressive approach to decision making especially with so many new coaches on the staff?
COACH BIELEMA: I appreciate where you’re coming from. But I hope that one thing that I’ve learned through going into my seven years and I act differently and maybe in certain situations, but as far as addressing the issues, I hope I haven’t been any different. I think I knew I had a problem with the “O” line transition. There was no doubt in my mind.
And it became that much more reaffirmed by 100percent on Sunday. I felt it on Saturday during the game. But for sure on Sunday.
As far as the quarterback decision, not really‑‑ I think that was aided by us being at home and being in the environment where I could tell Stave, hey, we’re at a break at halftime, you’ve got 20 minutes to compose yourself here. Let’s put yourself in this ballgame and see where you can go.
So probably a lot more timing. It’s a nice thing to write about. But it’s really just kind of staying true to who you are and what you are.
I know as a head coach, if you start reacting, if you start flinching‑‑ the only thing that upset me last week was, quite honestly, your article. I sat here and said this wasn’t a knee‑jerk‑‑ I told you how it played out. I had conversations with Mike during the spring, the summer, the fall, and it wasn’t something that came about overnight.
And it’s the exact opposite of what I said in here was written. So that’s the only part I hold true. The first couple of years I might’ve pulled your legs here a little bit here or there, like saying that John Stock threw a pass and had some fun with you, which I realize I shouldn’t do. But you can be and rest assured what I say in here, unless it’s trying to protect an injury or something that I think could affect the game, the truth is what you’re going to get.
Q. Seemed like the DBs got their hands on a lot of balls, including Cromartie. And I know there was a play at the end scramble situation, but is Cromartie getting close to giving you what you need?
COACH BIELEMA: He’s the guy that, he’s a teaser. He does some really, really good things. He did some really good things Saturday. I was the first to question the touchdown throw. I mean, there was some mutual bumping in there going on.
Cro’s got long arms. He’s played a lot of football for us now. I know he’s engaged. I know he wants to win. He’s become a better student of the game, put in a lot more film time, makes you a good player. I think the role of Antonio Fenelus, he’s been able to help us out there. Coaching‑wise, I think Antonio has been a good influence on him. And Strick as well.
He’s on the verge, does a lot of really good things. The thing he’s got to learn is just like that play right there, he was probably like a half a step away from being in a critical play right there. And unfortunately they got it.
But that play came about because we let the quarterback out, too. So it’s one thing happened. And the result is that. I know over the last couple of years, anytime we have a quarterback who we want to keep bottled up, if we let him outside the pocket, we have issues. And that was a classic example.
Q. You mentioned UTEP taking on Oklahoma at the beginning of the season. Does it provide maybe an extra challenge to take on a team like that that showed no reservations taking on a top tier team already?
COACH BIELEMA: Mike Price is a phenomenal football coach. He had a lot of success obviously at Washington State. Now the transition against UTEP, he knows how to win games. They have an experienced staff. They play very, very hard. I think if you watch UTEP play, offense, defense, special teams, they’re going 100 miles an hour.
They play a lot of people. So that allows them to play fast. I think when you’re playing a team like that, that this is their big game, I mean they had it at Oklahoma. Now they’re going to arrive here on Friday and they’re going to give us their best shot.
Like I said, they’re a fast starting football team. Offensive and special teams have made some big plays in the first quarter. So we gotta make sure we have a fast start. And the good news is we’ve played two ‑‑ three games all four‑quarter games and hopefully that will help us down the stretch here.
Q. After the game, Kenzel said he told Abby jokingly that he was coming for his return job. But he also said as a way of trying to give you a break on the field?
COACH BIELEMA: Absolutely.
Q. Is he at a place where he might be able to do something like that?
COACH BIELEMA: I know you guys got the depth chart. I listed him as the number one punt returner, with Abby coming back into it, if he plays this weekend, I think we’ll want to limit his role in some capacity.
Plus Kenzel has been intriguing to me since I first laid eyes on him during film to watch him in high school camp, to watching him in our practices and stuff.
He’s exciting. He’s got a burst. I think he’s fast. But I think he’s really fast when people are chasing him. Not to be‑‑ there’s just certain players that have that element to them that they have the ability to run faster when people are chasing them.
And I think he’s one of those guys.