MADISON — The No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers have three games left in their regular season, but have put themselves in position to head to Indianapolis for a Big Ten Championship g=Game berth.
This UW squad isn’t one for looking ahead.
“They’ve done a good job of kind of locking in on the task of the week,” head coach Paul Chryst said on Monday, “and looking forward to doing that and finding areas— there’s plenty of them—that we gotta keep working to improve, get better.”
Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) takes on an Illinois team rebuilding under former NFL head coach Lovie Smith.
“I’ve always thought Illinois, every time we’ve played against them, they’ve got a ton of talented players,” Chryst said. “I’m seeing on film now, the coaching and still a lot of talent. I’m sure he’s having a huge impact on them, but I think it’s a really talented team. I know they’re well coached, and it’ll be a challenge for us.”
Here are the highlights from Chryst’s press conference:
On Wisconsin’s running game and where it stands after the Michigan game: “I think we’re improving in some areas. I think the line has gotten better. I think that the tight ends, fullbacks have done some good things. I think the backs are getting better. I would not say we have arrived yet. It’s not where we want it to be, but I think it’s been a big part of the last few games and given us a chance to do some things offensively.”
On Andrew Endicott and where he is mentally: “I think last weekend was probably pretty good for him in the sense that he came out and missed an early one and then kept coming back at it. I think he’s working through it, right? And yet, I think he seemed good. Didn’t seem to panic on the first miss, and knew the odds of him getting another opportunity were going to be pretty big and that was what he should focus on, and I thought he did that.”
On handling it as a coach and a team to encourage a player that is struggling: “Yeah, I think you should do that with all of your players. I think it would be really bad of us as coaches if we put a guy out there that didn’t care and was going to try to screw it up. Therefore, if you know they’re doing all that they can, I think your job as a coach is to try to help them. I think that more than just words of encouragement, ‘Hey, hang in there,’ give him some specifics. In his case, the footwork or the timing of it. Sometimes when you try to do something, you rush it. That happened, shoot it happened to Bart on one of the passes. He threw it real quick, and you just got to slow it down. So if you give him something to focus on that’s tangible, and also encourage him—and part of encouragement is knowing they’re going to get another opportunity. Getting back to Andrew, I think he’s working through it and doing the right things as far as working through it.”
How would you describe your team’s margin for error? “Small. I think we’ve played good teams. Against good teams, you’re going to have a smaller margin or error. I think that’s where I was energized with last week. You can could even say the special teams. The specialists, Anthony and P.J. particularly, had some really big plays where we were able to flip the field. Right now, we’ve not been an explosive offense. Right now, we’re not putting a ton of points on the board. That means it puts more pressure on the defense and then special teams, and if we can flip the field. That’s also what makes it fun is that we need everyone, all units and all guys, to contribute on those—because you can look back on a lot of our games and say these four, five, six plays make the difference.”
What makes UW so good at avoiding penalties? “I think that our coaches coach and want to coach within the rules. Our players understand it, and I think that’s something that if we can continue to be that, it’ll be good. I think it’s awareness to what the rules are, and coaching it, and players taking that coaching.”
On Conor Sheehy’s performance at nose tackle: “He’s really good. I think the d-line in general has been such a foundational piece of our defense. Certainly don’t have the numbers that maybe the linebackers get, but they are a big part of it. Actually, Conor was as productive as any d-linemen we’ve had in the last game. I think, if you say one play that maybe changed the game for us, he and Garret Dooley were in on that. It’s a group that’s unselfish, they work and I think they’re talented. Our d-line has been an important part of our defense.”
On Illinois quarterback Jeff George, Jr.: “Jeff George, Sr.’s a good player, and certainly Junior is, when you watch him on film, he’s doing some really good things. I think time will tell on that one, but they came through in the clutch. They needed to have a drive, and it was a clutch drive and certainly it’s more than just a quarterback, but he looks good to me on film.”
On Jazz Peavy’s punt return and pointing to it, which was then blown dead as a fair catch—did he do what he was taught to do? “Yes and what he was taught to do was legal.”
The explanation for it was... Chryst smirked and said, “That...it doesn’t matter because it’s legal.”
Chryst smirked again, laughed, then said “It’s time,” to laughter from the media.