Oct. 1, 2007
COACH DANTONIO: Wisconsin game: I think that basically we went up there mentally prepared. I thought that the message was that we needed to have some proof in terms of what we were going to be able to accomplish. This was going to be a big statement game, a measuring stick for us; just in terms could we compete against the top teams in the conference in an away environment that I've always thought was very difficult to play in.
From that perspective, I guess the positives we took away from that would be that we were prepared mentally. We went up there with the challenge in mind. I thought we were focused. I thought we played very well emotionally in a game that went up and down and around, back and forth. We were down by 10; we fought back; and we continued to play.
You know, it just gives me, another illustration that football's a game of inches. You play one technique well, you're successful. You play another one not so well, you're not successful. You're in your gap, you're successful. Not, not. Misread something, something as small as a guy running down on the kickoff, not setting the edge, allows a big kick return. I mean, it was a game of inches, and we need to continue to understand that.
I think we fought back. We stayed together. I think we kept our composure. I think those are the positives.
On the negative side of the coin, I guess I would say that we lost or composure on three separate occasions on defense, and I thought that hurt us, especially when we lose a player (like Chris L. Rucker), a freshman who is a great young man, who's never been maybe in that situation before. He strikes back and they're both ejected from the game, so now we're down another corner.
We had two personal fouls I think in the big drive towards the end of the game, their last big drive. (Wisconsin) Only got a field goal out of it, but where we could have gotten off the field, two personal fouls, and they were fouls. I guess when you look back, those decisions hurt us.
But, again, those are good kids. It's not like we're playing with a bunch of thugs out there. Guys make mistakes, especially in the heat of the battle. You play from there.
I thought offensively we had a lot of great plays out there. I thought our staff did a great job preparing (for the game). (Wisconsin) They were a very physical team, especially up front offensively and defensively. We did a great job of preparation. You've got some outstanding plays by Javon Ringer and Devin Thomas and also by Jehuu Caulcrick. Brian Hoyer made some great throws, on the money throws. Kellen Davis makes a great catch, plays very well, blocking very effectively on the edge a lot of times. Mark Dell made some plays, so he's coming into his own a little bit.
I thought our offensive line did a nice job, Joel Nitchman especially, who is a guy that really on Wednesday went out and couldn't even practice on Thursday, so we were down three offensive linemen. He comes back on Friday, gets cleared, and then plays on Saturday. I mean, Wednesday mid-practice, he's out.
But all in all, we scored 34 points and offensively, I thought we played well enough to win. We had one turnover on a sack. We've got to protect our quarterback a couple more times, but give Wisconsin credit, too. Give them credit.
Defensively, great offensive line by Wisconsin. Hey, they do a great job conceptually, putting a lot of people at the point of attack. They're certainly very big on the offensive line to go along with a big running back. I thought we hung in there.
But, like I said, techniques hurt us a little bit, especially in the back end. That's frustrating at times. When the ball breaks out, it should be a 6 yard gain, but it busts for 29 because of a leverage issue. That's something we can control and need to control.
But our guys kept playing, kept playing throughout. We got off the field at the end of the game there where we had to come back and get the ball back for the offense. I thought that was key. We went three plays and out, got the ball back with two minutes, and made another drive down there again.
Special teams, we had one kickoff return called back because of a hold. Tough call there, I think. But we go out to the 50, and then we had a kickoff return go against us when they ran a counter play, it creased us back, got back down to the 31-yard line. That's the only touchdown they scored in the second half. Other than that, I think our special teams played pretty well. But, again, we've got to make the play there to put us over the edge.
So I guess when you leave Wisconsin, I feel like we competed, but there's about 20 instances there in the course of the game where if we make a couple plays, we're going to win the game, so good job but not good enough. We're not looking for pats on the back, but it's frustrating when you lose.
We had a lot of students come to the bus when we got back (to campus), and I just want to recognize that fact. It was very uncommon, but they were there, and we really appreciate their support.
We did not win the game, and we're not looking for emotional wins. We need to respond against Northwestern. I think it's a pivotal game. In the past when we've had a game like this, whether it was when we were here in '99, we were 7 0, lost to Purdue, came back at Wisconsin and lost by a landslide. When we were here in '97, I think we were 5 0, lost to Northwestern, then came back and lost another game to Purdue when we were up by 11.
Again, I think this is a pivotal game. Last year, you lose to Notre Dame, come back and lose to Illinois. Two years ago, Homecoming, Northwestern comes here and plays very well and beats us. Last year, Northwestern is up, we come back and beat them. There are a lot of little story lines there, I think, for us to respond to.
Northwestern had a tough game at Ohio State but responded very well against Michigan and played very, very well. They had four turnovers in the fourth quarter, I believe, but played very well and had a chance to win that football game. You look at them against the other teams, and they're going to spread you out, and they're going to play well. They're a well coached football team, and they're going to emphasize toughness. It's a program that's getting better.
Without question, we need to respond by staying together and focused on the future. We can't dwell on what's happened. I wish we had a couple plays over. I wish we could have called a couple different plays, defenses, whatever, but we have to focus on what's in front of us, not what's behind us, and deal with it. We're still a 4 1 football team. We're where we need to be right now. We just need to move it forward.
With that I'll open it up.
Q. Clarification on Chris L. Rucker's availability for Saturday.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he's available to play the full game, based on how I read the rule book.
Q. You had said to us in the spring that when you're dealing with personal fouls, you deal with playing time. Otis Wiley's or Kellen Davis' situation, like that first offense, a little bit more leeway there?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I didn't know about the one with Kellen (Davis) during the game. I really didn't see it maybe the way they saw it. Otis, it was completely across the field, so I couldn't see where it happened. Again, that was one I did not see until the film.
But there's a lot of smacking going on, a lot of guys getting hit out there. I think it's sometimes a response. The thing that we have to understand is it's got to be a measured response. The bottom line is those penalties hurt us. We weren't able to keep them out of the end zone in that case.
I think the biggest play on that drive was third-and-14, the rough on the quarterback, which gives them a little push. When you're 260 pounds, giving a little push to a guy that size. On the flipside, I think Wisconsin played a great game. I think their quarterback is a gamer. He made plays out of nothing numerous times. We probably could have sacked him maybe five, six times, but he got out of it.
I think their running back was excellent. P.J. Hill is an excellent running back. No. 9, Travis Beckum had sort of been held in check (this season), but he came out and made big catches. A guy that almost had a 1,000 yards receiving last year that according to them had an off year thus far, but he exploded (against us). They made some plays.
(Kyle) Jefferson made some nice plays. He's a true freshman that caught a deep post for a touchdown. I think (Chris L.) Rucker had him covered, undercut him at the last minute and sort of tripped.
Q. You mentioned the secondary's play. Given the fact that you're a little dinged up back there, now you're going against a spread team, what challenge does that present to you this week?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think on the plus side of things, when Rucker went out, T.J. Williams came in and I thought he played very well for a guy that practiced really one and a half days in the secondary. He played every snap in the second half and had a pick. He almost had another one (interception) for a touchdown, so I think we'll be okay. We'll get Rucker back.
(Ashton) Henderson did not play, but he's getting ready as well. Nehemiah Warrick had time at corner at some points in the spring, so he's very capable of playing at corner. We'll have enough guys at that position to respond I think.
Q. Last offensive sequence, the slant pass on third down, after watching the film, did you have any different evaluation of that play in terms of the interference? On the fourth down, after they covered the swing pass, what was the next option for Brian on that play?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, on the third down play, I think it was about 1:27 or something like that on the clock and the ball's right on the money, maybe an inch high. I thought the defensive back made a nice play on the ball. I think it could go either way probably, but I don't think it was anything flagrant. Probably the call was correct: the defensive back made a nice play on the ball.
On the last one, we had had a lot of success with that play. We probably went to the well one too many times there, but they had not covered it even the series before that when Javon (Ringer) caught the short one, which became a 6 yard loss. If Brian (Hoyer) puts a little touch on it, because they didn't peel the guy, Javon's good for another 30 yard gain.
Again, I think in the heat of the moment, you're trying to make calls within 25, 30 seconds. We certainly made a lot of great calls in the game. Hey, I'd like to have a couple back and say, what would we do over? Offensively, defensively and special teams. But we can't dwell on that. We have to move it forward. That's just the way it's going to go I guess this week.
Q. You brought up three or four instances in the past in that one statement about how we've let this grow into something worse in the past. How much will you sell that with your team this week about not letting it snowball, stopping the bleeding right now?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we talked about that last night. We've always talk about it. I have no problem if our guys play hard, play with emotion. If you looked at our sideline, there was emotion on our sideline. If you see how we fought back, we fought back. There's no doubt in my mind about that.
If we don't win the game, we don't win the game. It is a game of inches. They've got good players, too. They're the ninth rated team playing at home. I'm very proud of the way our players performed, with the focus they went up there with, the intent and the attitude. We went up there with the intent to prove we could play with anybody in this conference. It still remains to be seen. We're not 5-0, but very few teams are 5-0 right now, too. We need to get back on track, worry about what we can control, and what we can control is the future, not the past.
Q. You used Travis Key a lot. Did you like what you saw from him? How important does he become this Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: Travis Key has been playing very, very well. When Nehemiah Warrick was out for the Pitt game, Travis played very well and had a big pick. He had another big interception (against Wisconsin). Again, you talk about a game of inches, so if he plants his foot in the ground and gets up the near sideline as opposed to going to the opposite sideline, it's a touchdown. But these are decisions that are made in split seconds.
But Travis will figure well into this game plan. We have three safeties that I feel are starting safeties, with Nehemiah Warrick, Otis Wiley and then Travis Key. We really rotated Travis and Otis throughout much of the game. We played a lot of nickel situations as well. He'll play a lot of snaps for us (against Northwestern). He's had a very good year thus far.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I have an update. It's updated.
Q. Would you like to elaborate?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't really want to, no. I just feel like things are best left in our little confines. You guys figure it out as we go. But both those guys could possibly be available now or later.
Q. You've talked since you got here about the players taking ownership. After the game, after the team prayer, Travis Key called everybody back to the 50 and talked about last year. Talk about how they're progressing in terms of taking ownership, your feelings on that?
COACH DANTONIO: I've always felt like our football team has had a very strong mindset in terms of what they want to accomplish, and that has not changed. I like where our players are in terms of their mental preparation. I still think that we're growing. We need to have a culture more maybe of watching film during the week. But we have to develop that culture more in terms of on your own. That's something we've talked about.
But I like where our players are. When they come to work, they work. They come to practice and work hard. They work hard in the weight room. We're doing whatever we can do. Our players' attitudes are very positive right now. It's not a finger pointing type thing, so that's a positive to me.
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