MADISON — The No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers travel down to Evanston, a place they haven’t had much success in in the past 16 years, to face the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday (11 a.m., ABC).
UW (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has not won at Ryan Field since the 1999 season. With the Badgers’ quest to stay in the Big Ten West race, they need to win against a Wildcats squad that valiantly fought for four quarters against No. 6 Ohio State in Columbus in their 24-20 win.
“Every place is different,” head coach Paul Chryst said on Monday, when answering why Ryan Field has been such a difficult place to play in for Wisconsin in recent memory.
“The games that I’ve been a part of down there, you can point to what happened between the lines. You want to win, you got to do certain things inside of it. Every stadium’s different, and I think that’s what’s kind of cool about going on the road. It’s another experience and no one place is like the other. I’m looking forward to it, and I know our kids are going to look forward to another opportunity.”
Here are the highlights from Chryst’s press conference:
On outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar and rotating in players at the position: “I think everyone of us would like to do it. I think there are some positions — and last year, case in point, T.J. [Watt] was one of those guys. I think that Zack Baun, what he did in camp, and Garret Dooley, what he did in spring ball and camp, allowed ‘Tibs’ to do it again. I think there are some other positions where maybe you have that luxury. Certainly something that ‘Tibs’ believes in and has had the ability to do that. I think everyone is on board with, if the guys can help ya, you want them to play.”
On Northwestern improving: “I think offensively, they’ve got a really good scheme. I think the quarterback [Clayton Thorson] is continuing to get better. They got a really talented running back [Justin Jackson] and I think they got good receivers, one of the leading receivers [Austin Carr] in the conference. Each year, I think you find out who you are or where you’re a little different, and I think they’ve just kept getting better.
Defensively, I think they’ve got a lot of pieces that make it a good defense. I’ve always had a lot of respect for [defensive coordinator and former Wisconsin assistant] Mike Hankwitz, and how he coaches. I think they’re playing confident and think they’re playing their best football.
On NU making big plays in the passing game: “I think they do a good job of how they design it and go. It looks to me more like you’re going to that one guy [Carr], but he’s always a part of the options. That keeps you from having to necessarily force it in there, but it looks to me in that design he’s going to be one of the lead options, so depending upon how you defend it, he’ll be a part of it.”
On college football playoff rankings: “I think they matter to a lot of people, and there’s a lot of attention with it. I think for our team or any team, what it really matters is what you do that week and all the discussion, none of that matters, doesn’t help you play the game. You got to play your season out, and at the end of that season, you earn the right to play another game and what type of game you’re playing in depends on what you do. There’s a lot of interest in college football, and that’s great, but I think as far as when you’re in it and playing -- our kids today need to focus on having a great Monday and then really having a great week.”
On team not worried about listening to “outside stuff” and getting caught up in it, and knowing if this team is like that: “I don’t know if you ever know. I think what you want to do is continue to share knowledge and help guide them in such a way that they can make the most of out of this opportunity -- whether it’s the season, opportunity called a season. Opportunity called a college career, whatever that may be. I like coaching the kids here because they are smart and they do have their own opinions. And yet, I believe in it so I want to share it with them. In the end, we all have to make a choice, and that’s where you see a group that is into the moment, I’m thankful for that.”
Timetable on sophomore nose guard Olive Sagapolu (right arm): “No specific timetable. We knew when he first was out, we knew it would be a little bit of time. But we’ll just see how it goes.”
Areas where defensive end Alec James has improved to make an impact this year: “I remember talking with Alec in the spring. It’s the natural evolution of an individual that from when he first went in, he didn’t want to be the guy to screwed up. Then you make a play, and ‘I can do this,’ and your confidence builds. Now, I think he’s playing the game. He’s got good self-confidence. He’s got a understanding of how offenses are attacking our defenses and how linemen are blocking him, what schemes. I think he’s evolving as a football player, and it’s been fun to see.”
On inside linebacker and Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week Ryan Connelly and what stuck out: “He made a lot of really good football players, some in key moments. I thought both he and Leon did a nice job. I think you give credit to those two, and I give credit to the guys around him to allow them to make those plays. We were talking about Alec [James], and Conor [Sheehy]. Garrett Rand did some good things, and Chikwe [Obasih] -- It’s team defense. It put themselves in position and made plays.
I thought [defensive coordinator] Justin [Wilcox] — Coach has done a good job of scheming for all of our players. It was neat to see guys getting an opportunity and make the most of it, which I thought both Ryan and Leon did.”
On Hankwitz’ defenses: “Working with him, going against him, it’s always a really sound, fundamentally sound defense. Kids know what to do, and I can say this firsthand, they’re taught how to do it. They’ve got answers. He does a good job, if something is a strength, he’s got an answer — he can go to it without compromising another part of the defense. He doesn’t necessarily overreact. He’s just a guy that loves the game of football and coaches his players in the right way.”
On redshirt freshman right tackle David Edwards’ first start: “I thought he did some really good things. He played some — this was the most extensive action. With that, he was good. You didn’t see a big drop off as the game went on. Thought he was challenged and battled in those challenges. I think from that, it’s one of those young guys that are getting this significant experience, maybe his chance to grow this late in the season can be a little bit bigger from someone that’s played a lot more. I thought he did some good things.”
On left tackle Ryan Ramczyk and how he’s playing: “It’s been fun to see him play this year. Early, I think there was some getting used to whether it was because he hadn’t — he played in practice last year — but playing in games. Certainly, it’s a different level, but I think he’s taken each week and kind of embraced the challenges that each week brings. Along with that comes confidence. It’s been fun to see him progress through the year and I think he’s playing good football.”
Is Alex Hornibrook still the starting quarterback? “Yeah.”
Northwestern’s pass offense: “One, they can run the ball well so that always helps, so you can’t focus on one part or the other. I think they’ve got the scheme is such that they will spread you out. I think they have good receivers — not just the wide receivers — guys that can come out of the backfield or they make you defend the whole field and can hurt you if you don’t. The quarterback, seems to me like he’s getting more and more comfortable with the offense and what they’re trying to do. Think we’re talking about it before, he’s gotta guy you feel really good going to.”