BIG TEN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: NEBRASKA v WISCONSIN
November 30, 2012Richmond High School
COACH BIELEMA: I'm very excited to be back here in Indianapolis. I'm excited and give credit to Nebraska and Coach Pelini and everything that they've accomplished this year to get here as well.
I've been an admirer of the way they play, the effort, and the way they've been able to closeout some games to get back here. I have a lot of respect. I'd also like to thank the Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany, his staff, and everybody that touches us from the way we've been planning to come here, to the media events, to the hotel, to the stadium itself. The staff is unbelievable.
All of the thing that's our kids are going to be able to do during their 48 hours here in Indianapolis is second to none. It's a first?class organization from top to bottom, and you really feel special being here.
So excited for us to get back here. We are a little bit like we've been here, done that. We've seen this facility. We've seen the layout of the stadium and obviously a new locker room. We're excited to be in a home team and be in the Colts locker room.
As far as my team, we're a little bit healthier, we've got Jared Abbrederis who will be with us full go, as well as Chris Borland who hasn't been back with us the last two weeks. I know he's excited to get out here. And a couple of other guys that are just a little healthier than they've been the last two weeks. So we're hitting it primetime. And we're excited to get going. So with that, we'll open it up for some questions.
Q. Given what he's been through since he's been here, on the first day of fall practice, you said Curt Phillips would be quarterbacking the game that might send you to the Rose Bowl, how would you have reacted to that?
I knew that Curt from the spring wasn't quite a hundred percent. But from the reports I had heard during the summer, he was back to himself and throwing the ball and executing everything that a quarterback needs to do. It was a very tough competition between him, Danny and Joel. Obviously we went with Joel. I said at the time to our media that we have three quarterbacks that we can win with. I didn't know it was actually going to happen. So that part I wasn't planning on.
I think the number one thing you can tell about Curt, and I'm sure you get this when you interview our players, he has a great deal of respect from everybody in our locker room, players and coaches just because of the perseverance and the way he competes. Nobody loves the game or enjoys the game more than Curt Phillips and it really shows in his play.
Q. More on Curt, you guys said had you the attitude of been there, done that. But last year, Curt watched this game from his couch at home. Talking about playing in the Dome, and the sound, and it being the first time for him?
COACH BIELEMA: Yeah, absolutely. Curt, like you said, he didn't even make the trip. He was recovering from his third surgery at that point. We stressed to our players all week long about the guy that had been here, the environment. It was very important to be here. And we wanted our kids to experience the stadium itself. Just a little tidbit, Jim Sorgi, who was a back?up quarterback here to Peyton for a long time, told us about the one end zone with the suites down there. He said on Sundays when all of those people are wearing Colts jerseys, it looks like 50 people are playing defense against you in the end zone. And Russell looked at that last year during pregame warm?ups and made a special effort there.
So little things that Curt has made aware. He was excited. He's a Manning fan growing up, so we put him in his locker. What used to be his locker we were told. Gave him his own spot there. He was like a king bee sitting in there today. It was fun seeing that, and our kids are rolling with it and having a little fun.
Q. Sometimes you can use the whole underdog chip on the shoulder, do?they?belong thing to your advantage. How has the team embraced that so far this week?
COACH BIELEMA: Do you think I'm using that?
Q. I don't know if you are or not?
COACH BIELEMA: I think that going back to Sunday, we hadn't talked much. The only time we talked about Indianapolis was preseason goals we wanted to get here. The week of the Indiana game, because of the way the schedule was laid out, we knew if we won that game, we'd be back here.
So I did use it that week, then we put it to bed for two weeks. We were about playing Ohio State and Penn State, and didn't bring up Indianapolis till this week. On Sunday I told them you're going to get this question. You prepare our kids for what the media's going to ask and their family and friends are going to ask them. I told them, if we had won all five of the games we lost, we'd still be playing Nebraska for an opportunity to win a Big Ten Championship.
How we got here doesn't matter. I thought our kids have been kind of answering that question all week. Now that we're here, I can't speak on behalf of Nebraska, but we don't care how we got here, we just want to play the person we're playing, Nebraska, and we'll be ready to roll.
Q. I know you guys didn't hold anything back in trying to beat Ohio State and Penn State. But what advantages do you have over Nebraska knowing that you knew three weeks ago that you had one game to get to the Rose Bowl.
COACH BIELEMA: Just advanced planning. I remember last year don't do anything, don't get your cart ahead of the horse type of guy. And the Big Ten Conference wants things done far in advance. So to have that advantage, and I knew our roster and knew what times we wanted, that was the only thing. As far as playing in the game, I would say Nebraska has an advantage, because they get to play a day earlier. So they had an extra day of preparation.
The one continuum that we all have in life that nobody can change is time. You can't buy it. You can't try to create it. We all have equal amount of time, and for them to get an extra day of prep to me would be an advantage on them having the challenge. Our guys all week, how are we going to make up that day? Are we going to practice better? Are you going to put in more overtime to get them into film and study a little bit more, and that part's real.
Q. You keep talking about the been here, done that. Do you think that's an advantage for you guys heading into this game seeing you played in back?to?back Rose Bowls?
COACH BIELEMA: The Rose Bowl won't have a factor. I'm talking here in Indy. It's such a great facility and environment, and all that goes into it last year at kickoff. It was a loud, loud, loud environment. Everybody is asking about the crowd size. I know everybody, a lot of people are going to be in red and white adidas, I know that much. As far as the venue itself, it's an advantage that our kids have been a part of already, yeah.
Q. With a guy like Taylor Martinez who can get it done with his legs, too, how important is it to have Borland back in the middle, and how important is it for him to be on the sidelines and watching the last two games?
COACH BIELEMA: I do know this, all due respect to Taylor, just to have our middle linebacker back in our scheme helps us out. He's the guy in the middle. He's the quarterback, your defense, he makes a lot of the calls, all the communications. He's a guy that we all know can make a lot of plays, and he gives you an advantage that is truly one of the?? I've been a linebacker coach my whole career, he's one of the best I've ever been around.
In Taylor Martinez, the one thing that's been apparent not only this year, but the growth of our first game to where we are is his ability to be smart with the football. He makes a lot of really good throws. He's a player that they've designed some concepts schematically that the receivers are doing a nice job of finding an open area for him. He can deliver it. He's throwing the ball so much more efficiently, so it's a tremendous task that we face.
Q. Some of your players have used the term eraser game. Is that something you endorse or have encouraged in the last couple of weeks?
COACH BIELEMA: The one thing we stress to our kids this week is respect, because we haven't been able to finish those games in a positive way, it can be washed away with one opportunity this Saturday. You win this, you get an opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl. Gives you an opportunity to go to that game again. Yeah, I don't think I've ever used the word eraser, but I understand where they're coming from.
Q. Following up on that, how much having won this game and playing in other big games does this game define a program's season by winning it, especially in your program where you can win three straight Big Ten titles?
COACH BIELEMA: Not a lot of people write about runner ups. That's the part that our guys have to embrace. It's a chance to become a champion. It's a one?game playoff, however you want to phrase it. Our guys know what's on the agenda. I think I really noticed it in Tuesday's practice just the way they came out and went at our workday on Tuesday that these were a group of guys that are going to be ready to roll.
Q. You used the three peat title mentality or motivation all the way back in August. How do you maintain that level of intensity and continue that motivation throughout the entire season considering the ups and downs you've had?
COACH BIELEMA: Well, I think even going back to January, our first team meeting, which was the Tuesday after Martin Luther King Day, we have a team meeting and lay out where we're at, where we're going. I said at that time if anybody's goal is anything less than to get back to Indianapolis, you're in the wrong room. Our guys knew that we try to play for championships and put ourselves at a high level. To come full circle and get back here is very fulfilling. But we didn't come back here to play in it, we came back here to win it.
Q. Have you seen a nothing to lose mentality at all from your team this week?
COACH BIELEMA: Not really. I don't think we ever think like that. I don't know if I'm missing the question. I think we're going to do our deal. We're going to try to execute the task. Execute it to plan, and play our best football. I really stressed to the guys last night for us to play this game, we've got to stick to our plan, we've got to be able to execute it, and we've got to play critical at critical points. Our great players have got to play great.
Q. Two Montee Ball questions. So much went wrong for him in the off?season or early season. Did he ever question whether he made the right decision to come back at all?
COACH BIELEMA: I'm sure sitting alone in his room at times you're human. You're going to go back to these thoughts. But he never let it show publicly. I never saw that side of him. I think that one of the things that I stressed to him and I know his parents do an even better job than I could give is just letting him and reminding him that sometimes you've got to go through some things in life to become better and they're not really pleasant all the time. So take those setbacks. He's championed them individually and it's obviously put him in the position he's at today to be one of the premier players in college football, not only in our conference, but throughout the country.
Q. Was there a turning point for him this season? Was it tied in with your offensive line?
COACH BIELEMA: For me, there was a play in the Purdue game in the second half. Everybody had billed that game and the people in the media, you guys had kind of billed that as the showdown of the Leaders Division and all that jazz. We knew it was just the next game on our schedule. It was a little too early to talk about Indianapolis.
But it was a game that we were a little in control of, and we came out the second half. He hit an off?tackle play to the left. He did a patented sidestep jump cut and accelerated away from the rest. At that point, I saw something that I knew there were a couple of kids on the sideline, Montee is back and that part was really real for us.
Q. You've had a tremendous amount of staff turnover in the last few years. But you find yourself making a run at three in a row here. You got rid of an offensive line coach a couple of games into the season. What's been the main stay other than head coach Bret Bielema?
COACH BIELEMA: I think the University of Wisconsin, when I first got here, I walked into a staff room. I was the youngest in the room. Thanks to the media I was the highest paid in the room, and I became very aware of how important a staff is.
Then my next year when I was named the head coach, and I'm working with a bunch of coaches that didn't know if they were going to stay aboard or move on, how it was going to factor in. But we still managed to find ourselves back into a January 1st Bowl game. I believe we won nine games that year. That was the ingredients for dysfunctional. I think that Coach did a great job teaching me to hold the line and great thinking and how much success you can have.
To come full circle as a head coach, I believe I've hired almost 25 coaches over the last seven years. I think I've gotten better at it each time. I made a mistake, and I had to correct that situation as fast as I could to move forward. I'm probably even more confident now that if I hadn't changed as fast as I could have, we'd never be here today.
Unfortunately that was a very difficult time that we had to work ourselves through. I'm thankful we did, and now we found ourselves here.
Q. Your players have been resilient through the tough losses. Is there any concern that there is a limit to how much this group of kids can withstand should they get in another close game?
COACH BIELEMA: I agree. It's something that as coaches we've talked about, we address. I think it's very important for us to not brow beat our guys. You have to coach them. You have to be hard on them, but on the same account you can't lose them.
We did some things in practice that curtailed that, but also just physically backed off them a little bit, to make sure you weren't taxing them, because everybody is human. You have a breaking point that's there. And not with this group. I know I'm the only one here that gets to be around them 24/7. I've been in their living rooms. I've seen the parents that they come from. I know their own personal adversities, and that part has really, believe it or not, has never concerned me.
I mean, I get it. I think about it, but it never really concerned me, and these guys have reinforced that every week.
Q. Does Nebraska's speed concern you even more indoors?
COACH BIELEMA: Across the board offensively, defensively, on special teams, it's very, very clear that they're probably one of the fastest teams in not thee fastest from A to Z that we've played this year. I tried to get them and put in a longer turf out there, but nobody bought into it. So we're going to play on the fast track out there.
But we've got some speed too. We've got some guys that can run. I think our guys are gassed up and ready to play. Nobody asks you how fast you are when you make a tackle. We've got guys that are ready to lineup and play football and see who wins.
Q. A big picture question. You know the Big Ten better than most. You're kind of a veteran coach in the league now. What do you think the identity of this league is right at this moment? What does it hang its hat on from a football perspective? How far away is it from maybe the SEC and the Big 12 if at all?
COACH BIELEMA: It's very hard for me to comment. I've never been in the SEC. I've played them a few times. But I can just talk about what I think of the Big Ten. I think from top to bottom you have good coaching. You have programs that are going to take some rises and sometimes will take some falls. But you're going to have a competitive conference that puts out a good product. I'm kind of an old school guy that hangs on to the idea of doing things right and not having kids that make headlines for anything other than what they do on the football field and maybe some great things that they do away from the field. Hopefully we represent that. I know Jim Delany talks about that all the time. That's still important to me.
Believe me, including myself, I'd love to have five other teams in the Big Ten ranked in the top 20. But it hasn't been our year. It's been a year of ups and downs. Every time we seem to make a step forward, we get knocked back a little bit.
The great thing, for whatever reason, we've got an opportunity to play on the biggest scale there is tomorrow night. The last game of championship weekend. You're going to see some great football all weekend long, starting today, and tonight with the Pac?12 Championship game. So it's going to be something that with the culmination of championship weekend, we're excited to be here.
Q. Last year you avenged a loss, early season loss. You have a chance to do the same thing. Is there any added sense of revenge heading into this game?
COACH BIELEMA: I get it. And I've gotten that question all week. I'm being totally honest in the fact that last year that Michigan State game was a very odd ending with the Hail Mary and the replay in the review booth. They've had to take it upstairs and then came down. I'm still not a hundred percent convinced that that ball crossed the end zone. So there is a lot of that that I want to take another shot at.
Nebraska beat us game 1, hands down beat us. There wasn't any gray area there. There wasn't anybody looking around, hey, what just happened? They beat us. They executed in the fourth quarter and won.
So the spin of this year, I think, is an opportunity to play a team that's beat us. It's not to right a wrong or anything like that. But you have an opportunity now to play a team you've lost to and see where we've come since that.
Q. You've had 11 wins in the past two years. Where does this team rank if they win tomorrow?
COACH BIELEMA: I've told them last night and I mean this a hundred percent. I don't know if I've ever enjoyed and hurt as much in one year coaching a team as this group. They give me everything they've got. They've been champions off the field. They've done so many things that the media or general fan base never sees that makes you so happy to be associated with them. So I've grown a lot as a coach. I've had to replace six coaches on this staff. In reality, seven in a way. As the head coach, I know in year seven, I'm better than I was in year one. We've had a lot of success. So I'm excited. I'm really excited to play this game and play in our Bowl game. I have 27 juniors. I believe 12 of them are probably going to be draft worthy. I'm very excited about the chemistry of the group that's going to be coming back next year.
Q. How happy are you that Borland's back and what type of a difference maker is he?
COACH BIELEMA: He makes you a really good head coach in a short amount of time. When 44 puts his jersey on, we were doing what was supposed to be a half?speed kicking drill on Thursday. And number 44 decided to go full speed, and was very disruptive, shall we say. He just brings?? really good players make players in the huddle better around them. And 44's that kind of guy.
Q. Along the same lines of the 11?win team. You've coached seven win teams before too. Does this feel like a 7?5 team given all the weirdness you've had?
COACH BIELEMA: It doesn't. It's been devastating. I kind of remind myself that we're a really good football team. I know this, it's the best 7?5 team I've ever been a part of. I don't know if that's a great thing to say or not, but it's the truth. These guys don't have a loser mentality or anything that's negative. They're just a very, very resilient, positive group of young men that have bonded together in a way that's gotten them to this point. We've said it before, and I really believe this, in life it's not what's behind you. It's not what's in front of you. It's what's within you. This group really believes in that, and I think that's what keeps us together.
Q. You had a little bit of a technique switch as far as blocking on the offensive line when you go back to Bart Miller. How much does the off?season respect him?
COACH BIELEMA: I can only go off what a head coach sees on film, and it was evident. I made a coaching change on Sunday, and saw it in Tuesday's practice. It was literally overnight. But it didn't change overnight, but I could see the beginning phases.
A lot of time what I see as a head coach, you may not see until three or four weeks down the road. The kids have gotten better. They've played stronger. This is a big game. They're going to challenge their offensive line for them to play well in a big game, against a good defense. That's what will be critical to our success tomorrow.
But I think the kids, just because they call you Coach, doesn't mean they always believe it in their minds. When they talk to Coach Miller and interact with him, you can see the respect is there. He's a tremendous young coach that I'm blessed to have join us as a GA. I now have him as a full?time coach. It's been fun to watch him grow as well.
Q. With the league going to 14 teams and some discussion about realigning divisions, would you like to see Nebraska every year? Do you think Nebraska and Wisconsin ought to be together?
COACH BIELEMA: I get it. It makes a lot of sense. I'll defer that one. I don't want to get suspended before our game tomorrow night. I'll leave that up to the league office and my AD. It's been fun. I go back seven years ago and I remember watching into a head coach's meeting. You've got Lloyd Carr. You've got Jim Tressel. You've got Joe Paterno. You've got Kirk Ferentz. Joe Tiller was in there. Just guys that I just was in awe of. I'm just kind of happy they let me in. We're sitting there and they talk about playing in a conference championship game. I can't give you exact quote that's were in there, but to say the room was embracing a championship game would not be an adequate or fair statement.
But Ron Zook was in there. And Ron and I both experienced a championship game when I was at Kansas State and of course him in the SEC. We ironically beat Oklahoma who was number one when I was at Kansas State. So it was the best thing that ever happened in my coaching career. So I had a very vivid memory of that game. I thought last year the culmination of being in the first one was awesome. But the exposure that our program has gotten, I mean, the year before we were in the Rose Bowl.
But this game a year ago set our program apart in recruiting national perception and everything in a way that I had never experienced so quickly.
We're on the right track. We have two new kids on the block. And we're excited to have them with us. Where it goes, you know, they're not taking any poles from coaches, I know that, but it's a fun time to be in the league.
Q. Getting back to the whole been here, done that. Besides the facility and the stadium, do you think all the big?game atmospheres you guys have played in in the last two or three years is going to benefit your guys heading into tomorrow?
COACH BIELEMA: I hope so. It is different. You walk into that pro locker room, and it's bigger. I've got a head coach's office in there. I could bring 15 of my buddies and we could have a heck of a good time. There is more room in there than you could ever think of.
So it's different. It's embraced?? I told our kids all along, embrace it. Take this opportunity. You get to be on the biggest scale. I believe there are six championship games this weekend, and we're one of those six. Our kids really love these type of atmospheres and these platforms to showcase their skills.
Q. When you named Curt your starter, you said the team would rally around him and they did. Do you still feel the same way for your team, or is there a different rallying point for tomorrow's game?
COACH BIELEMA: I believe so. I believe the guys want to give Curt a win. He played well at Indiana, but weren't able to give the finishing touches at Ohio State and Penn State game. So not so much, and I don't think Curt's singled out now, and obviously Curt would be a byproduct of that.
I do know because of the way Curt has played, he's gotten a lot of respect, not that he didn't have it to begin with, but some of the shots he's made, some of the decisions he's made from a coaching point of view has been outstanding.
But the mistakes that quarterbacks make, he's a fifth-year quarterback, and you've got to go through some of those things. You've got to make a bad decision, say the wrong call. You've got to snap the ball a little bit early and cause an issue. So all of those things he's worked through and gotten better every week.