The No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 5-1) conclude their 2015 home schedule with an important divisional game against No. 20 Northwestern (8-2, 4-2) on Saturday afternoon. Many seniors who have been pivotal to the Badgers' success during the season -- including wide receiver Alex Erickson, defensive backs Michael Caputo, Darius Hillary and Tanner McEvoy, outside linebacker Joe Schobert, and quarterback Joel Stave -- will play their final home game in front of 80,000-plus fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
Head coach Paul Chryst spoke with the media on Monday afternoon after the Badgers' bye week. He gave updates to injured players -- including those of redshirt senior tight end Austin Traylor (up in the air for the game but sounds like he'll practice this week), junior running back Corey Clement (expected to fully practice) and junior wide receiver Robert Wheelwright (not expected to practice/play) -- along with answering questions about those seniors mentioned earlier and how they've contributed to the success of this year's team.
Here's the full transcript:
Paul Chryst Weekly News Conference
Nov. 16, 2015
CHRYST: I thought it was a productive bye week for us, got a couple of days of good practice. It was fun being with the team. The guys had the weekend, and we were able to see a lot of them -- some of them left town and got back yesterday. Certainly looking forward to getting this week going with preparations for a good Northwestern team.
This week is always big when you talk about seniors and their last opportunity to play here at Camp Randall. I think it's special for all players as they finish their career, and for that matter for their families, and, yet, I think Camp Randall is a pretty neat place to play. For this group of seniors and what they have done, collectively, and I think individually, it's worth celebrating, and I'll tell the kids this: They need to enjoy every bit of it, and the best way to remember this game is by playing well. They will do that. That's one thing that this group has, is a focus about this team and being the best we can. Big week. Looking forward to it.
QUESTION: Paul, last week Austin Traylor was enthusiastic about his chances of playing. Do you feel as good about that, that he will return? And also is Corey's situation still tied to the surgery or will the hand injury have any effect on his ability to play?
CHRYST: Austin, I think he was able to do everything last week. I shouldn't say ‘everything.' He was limited a little bit in the hitting, but he did a lot. So I think it's how it goes this week. I know he is excited, and we're excited to have him back in practice. It was fun just getting him and having him run around.
Corey's (status) will be nothing with the hand. I think it's just whether -- where his legs are with the whole deal.
QUESTION: There have been a number of seniors contribute in meaningful ways, but what will you remember most about Caputo and what he has done for this defense?
CHRYST: I feel fortunate that with -- Mike was here when he was a freshman, and he's certainly contributed a ton to the defense, to the teams that he's been a part of. That's where you are appreciative, I'm appreciative as a coach to be around this group. I didn't know Joe Schobert before this year, and Darius (Hillary) I did know, but there's groups where you're just proud of the way that they went through it and who they've matured into being.
Getting back to the question about Mike, there is no doubt he's been a part of really good defenses here at Wisconsin. But the greatest thing is who he's been as a teammate and what other guys that he's played with think of him. I think that's -- that might be the greatest complement, is just the respect that he has. I think he earned it, but he also earned it by giving of himself. I think there's a guy that's -- and I think a lot of the players would fall into this category -- they gave it their all. That's pretty big-time.
QUESTION: Paul, how would you assess the way Beau Benzschawel has played as a freshman, getting thrown into the fire of Big Ten play after his injury?
CHRYST: I think Beau has done some very good things. I know Beau has a chance to be a good player. I think he certainly had good moments, and he's had moments that he's -- hasn't been maybe as good as he wanted to, but he's learning from them. I love his approach, I love the way he plays. I think it's been good for him. He's been good for this team. I think he can still get better and has the ability and the knowledge and the want to get better, and that's encouraging.
QUESTION: Paul, obviously Joe Schobert has garnered a lot of attention, but from game one through game 10, what kind of arc has (Vince) Biegel been on the other side, from your eyes?
CHRYST: I think Vince has been playing well. I think when you talk about Schobs and Vince, I like the fact that we're trying to set a pretty high bar for them. You expect those two to play well, and I think they have been. We need them to play well to finish this out. I think Schobs has probably garnered more attention, but I don't think that is because Vince is not playing up to, like I said before, what I think is a high standard. I think he's been doing that. I love the energy that he gives this team. He will do anything for this team. You know, that was one of my favorite plays, was the fake punt. Not because of -- I mean, it was a good result, that makes you like it -- but the way those guys approached it, and they owned it.
They love playing for each other on that. I bring that up because when you talk about Vince and what's his level, I can still see his reaction in his face after that play. It's not about Schobs went into the record book, he was the back on record, but all those guys owned it, and that was pretty cool.
QUESTION: Is there any chance Rob Wheelwright can play that week?
CHRYST: Probably not.
QUESTION: And do you expect Corey to participate fully in practice this week?
CHRYST: I do.
QUESTION: Paul, what kind of bowl implications with two teams ranked like this? What kind of bowl implications are there? What do you think is at stake?
CHRYST: Both teams have earned the right by the way we have both been playing. It's two 8-2 teams. There has to be some bowl implications. I don't really know what they are.
It's not as clear as it maybe used to be. There is not the first-place bowl, second-place bowl, third-place bowl. But I think that you will look back, and it will be very specific, this game is going to have -- all the games do -- but as you get closer this is going to, I think, play a big part in determining where we go.
I say that not really knowing -- I kind of like that. I think as a team, you play the season, and then you earn the right, whatever that season was, you've earned that right to go where you should go.
I always thought that you earned the right to play another game. We have earned that. There is an outside chance that you could earn a right for two more games. We don't know, but the only thing you can focus on is what you're involved in and you can control. The best way to do that is just by focusing on each day. I think we will look back at this game, and I think it will be -- I don't want to say ‘big' implications -- but very concrete implications.
QUESTION: I don't know how much of a chance you have had to watch Northwestern's defense at this point, their linebacker, Walker, gets a lot of the credit, but I'm just wondering what you've seen from their defensive end, 94, Lowry. How does he affect the game? He had 6 TFLs against Nebraska a few weeks ago?
CHRYST: I think they're playing -- you guys know this, too -- they're playing really well on defense. I enjoyed the time that I was able to spend working with Mike Hankwitz here, and I think the world of him as a football coach and as a person. I think there is no doubt they're playing well on defense. You mentioned some of their guys, but I think the strength is that they've got a very good scheme, and I think their players know it. I think they've got good players.
So good players and a good scheme, and I think they're playing with confidence. It's going to be a challenge for us. That's also an opportunity for us.
QUESTION: How about as a whole team? This isn't a team that traditionally is looked at as a power house in the Big Ten, but really they're kind of playing that way?
CHRYST: Yeah. You've got two teams, same record and last year, you know, our players played that game and got beat, and the games that I've been involved with it, I don't think that we as a team or players or coaches kind of worry about -- or not -- but to give credence to what you asked, how you phrased the question, got a ton of respect for them. They've been a good team for a long stretch. You throw on the tape, and you see it, and we've got to have a great week of preparation and it's going to be a heck of a game, I think, for us.
QUESTION: Back to bowl destinations, or chances, for a bit -- reporters want early kickoffs, fans like warm temperatures. What about a head coach? Is it as simple as, give us the best matchup possible, I don't care what state the bowl is in, for you?
CHRYST: I've always felt really fortunate to be a part of them, and I think a lot of it is because you have to earn your way to it. I was lucky, my first bowl game was here; we went to the Alamo Bowl. Coach Alvarez, he's great in bowls and bowl preparation and the experience for the kids. All those other things, I don't really -- I care, but it doesn't affect me.
QUESTION: Having been around as a head coach and coordinator for so many senior days, what's the key or the challenge, for the players, especially to deal with the emotions and the focus on the game as well?
CHRYST: I don't know if it's right but I believe the best way to approach it is to embrace it all. There should be emotion, and yet I think it's also -- it's an interesting way that we do it, and it's before the game. But I think you've just got to be in the moment and embrace the moments, and you've got a couple of different ones going on. Pregame, get ready for the game, then you got the, you see your families and there is a moment to -- you can reflect later. I think it's understanding what you're doing there. And I think for a player it's saying ‘thank you' to your family, kind of marks it. It's certainly important to us as a program and to the fans to acknowledge and appreciate all that they have done, and then you get to go play.
I still think the best thing you can do as a player is focus on the game, because that's the memory. That's really what it's all about. And you can reflect -- heck, you can reflect for 50 years, 60 years, whatever that is. You've got time to do that later. But you've got to be in the moment. Enjoy it, but I think the beautiful thing is it's still all about the game.
QUESTION: Can you talk about Darius Hillary? You talked about the versatility, he had to go back and forth on some spots, and just his impact since you came back?
CHRYST: I've loved being around Darius and seeing how he's grown as a player and as a person. He means a ton to this team, and the number of different ways that he contributes in the different packages, and where he's playing, and I think just how he's handled himself through the season and the role that he's played with other DBs and other receivers, and just teammates.
I think the world of Darius, and it's been fun. Very thankful to be a part of his senior year.
QUESTION: Paul, what have you enjoyed the most about working with Joel this season?
CHRYST: The everyday grind, and fortunately I get to keep doing it for a while. I think it's just the day-in and day-out I enjoy the most.
QUESTION: Follow-up on Joel. He joked about what he thinks his legacy will be here and what fans think it would be might it two different things. What, in your opinion, having seen him as a youngster and now seeing the records, the numbers, whatever he's put up here, his legacy will be on this program as a quarterback?
CHRYST: Well, I think that he's earned the right to have that discussion. Really, what's it matter? He's still got games to play. Wouldn't even start the discussion with him. At the end, people can say what they want to say. I think the players that have played with him, I think that would probably be what matters most to him. I don't think that would be something that he would (just) feel good about, I think it's something that he would be really proud of.