The Wisconsin Badgers (7-2, 4-1) have mixed and matched their offensive line combinations due to injuries in this 2015 season.
Injuries to center Dan Voltz, left guard Ray Ball and a string of others throughout the season after left at least five different sets of starters early in the season. There's been much criticism about their performance through nine games amidst the expectations generations of Badgers' offensive lines have set before them, but Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst noted during Monday's weekly press conference that those expectations should be based upon the current stable of linemen -- not upon precedent.
"It's just how do they be the best they can be, and how do they -- and how do we -- help them get better," Chryst said.
"I've liked their approach, and I think there are areas where we're getting better, and there are areas where we've got to get -- where we can keep working. And you just look at some of the base fundamentals; we've got to get better, and that's fun. I think it's good when a player knows how he can improve, and then you have ways to help them."
The offense for Wisconsin came into the game last Saturday against Purdue gaining only 152.8 yards on the ground, 88th in the nation. The Badgers, with the addition of junior running back Corey Clement to the lineup against the Scarlet Knights, racked up 209 yards rushing. Clement, returning to the field after missing seven games with a sports hernia injury, ran for 115 yards on 11 carries with three touchdowns.
Can the addition of a back of Clement's magnitude make the offensive line look better?
Chryst admitted a back can make the team better, especially when it comes to the opposing defense scheming against the offense, but it's still up to the linemen to make their blocks.
"It's not making them look any better," Chryst said. "You may get more production, and there's some -- a good back can get more production than what the play is blocked for. Doesn't necessarily make it look that much prettier for the O-linemen."
Here's the rest of the transcript from Chryst's press conference:
Paul Chryst Weekly News Conference
Nov. 2, 2015
CHRYST: Well, proud of the kids and the effort they have been putting forth, really, all year, and it was a good win Saturday. Looking forward to, again, another different challenge and having a good week of preparation for it.
Again, I thought we had some guys step up. Certainly it was good to get Corey (Clement) back in and get him going. I thought Jack Cichy did a heck of a job moving over. I think that's what it's going to take, at this point -- at this point in the year, everyone is dealing with different areas where guys have got to step up, plug in. I thought our O-line did a nice job. I give Michael Deiter a lot of credit, and I thought it's been fun to see Beau Benzschawel learn and grow, and Micah (Kapoi) jumped in there, so we've got three young guys that are doing some good things, and Tyler (Marz) has done a nice job of helping that group, along with Walker (Williams).
I think we're playing a really talented team in Maryland, and got to have a great week of preparation for it.
QUESTION: Last two weeks you've talked about the job your coverage units have done against some good return guys. Maryland has someone probably as good as anybody in the league. What are some of the keys from the ball placement by the punter or kicker to guys getting down there that have to be in place to control a good return guy?
CHRYST: Yeah, I feel like the last two weeks have been -- to get you prepared for this. Arguably the best in the country, statistically he is, but what we're seeing, and I think it's all those. It's your kickoff -- kickoff is different than punt in that you don't have to protect first, but then it's ball placement, it's leveraging the football, it's getting in there. One area we've got to get better at this week in, it's finishing the tackles on our kickoff coverage unit.
But we are going to be challenged in a big way this week, and our guys -- we've had guys up already yesterday, some today, but they'll see it all week. That's going to be a big part of this game is those coverage units.
I think we've done well in some areas, but there's specifics that we've got to get better at, and we need to address those and clean them up, because I think this is maybe to date the biggest challenge we have.
QUESTION: Have you ever been part of a team that played 10 straight games before they had a bye week, and are there any extra physical or mental challenges that you have to overcome when you do that?
CHRYST: Yes, I have been part of it, and I think we knew that the bye was coming at this point when the schedule came out, and there's a lot of players that don't know any different.
It's like anything, you deal with it and go and try to have a plan for it. I think we had thought going into it, beginning of the year -- and you're always adjusting each week to specifics -- but I think our kids have handled it well, and I know they will be excited to come today and begin this week, and looking forward to going out to Maryland and playing there.
We don't spend a lot -- we spend a lot of time addressing them and having to play them, but other than that, then it's implementing and going forward.
QUESTION: Paul, do you go into this week handling and monitoring Corey the same way you did last week? How much did Saturday answer questions for you about where he is physically and confident level-wise?
CHRYST: You know, I didn't feel like it was ever about my confidence or Coach Settle's or anyone else's, other than where Corey was and where his body was.
He was over yesterday and felt good, and so I think that he's now -- he's had workdays, and then how do you come back from those workdays? I think you've got to let the body guide you, and I feel good with what we've been doing and how we've approached it and what he's done, and need to just continue to do that and make sure we -- whatever we've got to do that day, to make it the best day. That's with all of our players.
Corey is going to get a lot of attention, and rightfully so, I understand that, but it's no different than any other player on our team -- where are you at and what are you coming off of -- and making sure we adjust so that. I think our job as coaches is to get them ready to play.
There is a physical component of work that entails getting them ready to play, and then there's also a plan to make sure that -- especially some of our guys that have had a lot of reps, getting them ready is also by reducing some of the workload. So Corey will be just like all the other ones. We will handle it, and it's kind of an individual basis, but it permeates throughout the team, so you don't feel like you're doing something that's not right or special or anything.
QUESTION: You mentioned the job the offensive line has done this season. How has that group been able to come together, especially considering all the expectations that are always placed on the offensive line here.
CHRYST: I think one of the ways they're coming together is they're -- anytime you go through something as a group, that has the ability or presents the opportunity to come together. And there are expectations because of what's happened here previously, but I think all that really matters is the expectations for the current group, and that's specific. So I don't think this group or any group should worry about that. It's just how do they be the best they can be, and how do they -- and how do we -- help them get better.
I've liked their approach, and I think there are areas where we're getting better, and there are areas where we've got to get -- where we can keep working. And you just look at some of the base fundamentals; we've got to get better, and that's fun. I think it's good when a player knows how he can improve, and then you have ways to help them.
I think any competitive player appreciates that and enjoys that process, but they're going through it together, talking about the young ones, and it's not like Walker has played so much football that he's not going through that, and Tyler is maybe in a little bit different area or category, but, you know, Tyler has been around. When he was a young guy there were some old guys that were helping show him the way, so it's time to return that favor.
QUESTION: We can see whether a center misses a block is fit up on a guy, but what about communication for a guy like Deiter? I mean, how difficult of a transition is that to go from guard to center, in terms of communication, and to be a young guy to have to get everything set for that unit?
CHRYST: I think it's like a lot of this. You can tell a story or make it seem to be all this, or you can narrow it down, and we as coaches would never put anything on -- I would hope that we would never put something on -- someone that couldn't handle it. That's where I've been impressed and appreciate is that Deiter is just kind of into it. He studies it, it's important to him, he wants to be right and all that, and, therefore, you feel like you are helping him grow, and there is a natural progression, instead of dumping everything on him.
So I think you're cognizant of it, but I think he's done a great job. I think his makeup of who he is as a guy enables him to be able to handle it and not be where it becomes an anchor, because I think there are a lot of -- I think it's really important. And someone has to do it, and he's doing it. I think those are some of the qualities that you really appreciate in guys that are willing to step out of their comfort zone -- which he wasn't at one point -- but now I think he's gaining confidence through doing it, and he is more comfortable.
QUESTION: There are scenarios in football where a quarterback can make a receiver look good or vice versa and a running back can make a line look good and vice versa. Does Corey have the ability to make that line look good? Does he have that skill to -- whatever that skill is?
CHRYST: Corey is definitely very talented. It's funny when you -- and I get exactly the question, but what we see is what we see. You know what I mean? It's not making them look any better. You may get more production, and there's some -- a good back can get more production than what the play is blocked for. Doesn't necessarily make it look that much prettier for the O-linemen.
You know what I mean? But it's absolutely a good (question) -- and I thought the way you asked it was great because it's true. A quarterback can make a receiver look good, an inside D tackle can make a linebacker look really good. That's the beauty of the game, is that you need everyone and, yet, we've been lucky around here. When you are around talented football players, they can make the whole group look better.
I think Corey is -- he has those talents that can make the team better. Certainly the offense, specifically the O-linemen or whatnot, I think, he can. A good back can change the types of coverages you're seeing in the back end to help receivers, just like a good passing game or a good receiver can draw double coverage that helps out the running backs, so I think it all kind of fits together.
QUESTION: Coach, Joe Ferguson saw his probably most extended time of the year. What did you like what you got out of him on Saturday?
CHRYST: I thought Joe made some plays. When they were going with their heavier personnel, he was in, and they were in enough, and the action came his way, and I thought he did a really nice job of stepping up and tackling the one contested throw down the field, and so I thought he was ready. You never know in that position he's in, is he going to be in for two or three snaps, or is it going to be more than that? And I thought that he contributed to his one-eleventh of the defense, and that was pretty good to see.
QUESTION: I remember last week you said last week that Austin Traylor was going to get some X-rays and maybe you would find out more about his progress. Did you guys find anything new about how he's doing?
CHRYST: He's making progress, so that's good. I don't know what that means as far as when he'll be cleared to practice and then ready to go, but he's able to do a little bit more, and I know he's got a little bit of energy in his step because of it.
QUESTION: I know it's early in the week but do you have any idea on the status of Goldberg on the defensive line?
CHRYST: Right now, he should start practicing, do a little bit more, but don't know what that means going forward. You know what I mean? But he will do more, and it will start with just coming out and joining practice.
QUESTION: Seems like we ask you a version of this question every week but is there something that you guys do specifically on defense or something with how you and Coach Aranda harp on philosophically that allows you to succeed without -- not miss much of a beat, when you are plugging new players in and through the injury issue?
CHRYST: There is no magic. We've always talked, a long time -- the magic is there is no magic.
Once you understand that and knowing it's fundamental, I think that you can have a good defense or a good offense if you've got a good sound scheme and if you've got players that understand it, and then you've got good players executing that. Then I think you have a chance to have success.
Defensively, I think we're playing at a really good level right now, and yet I am encouraged. You go around the table, and what are the areas this week that we can improve upon, and it's a real list. We can get better. I think Dave, certainly, coordinating it leads it, but our defensive staff -- and I think our kids -- they're all in it, and in it the right way and for each other, and it's a group that wants to get better.
I think they appreciate what everyone's doing to enable us to have the success that we've had to this point, but there is an edge to keep getting better, and I think that's what's most impressive about the group. But there is nothing magic -- I think it's basics.