First off, Happy New Year from everyone at B5Q. Hope you all have had a chance to enjoy last evening safely.
We’re now one day away from the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers taking on the undefeated, No. 15 Western Michigan Broncos in the Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Early on New Year’s morning just over 24 hours from the game, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst and Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck met with media for their press conference.
Here are the highlights from their meeting with reporters. Please note all transcriptions are courtesy of CollegePressBox.com.
Chryst on if Wisconsin can take away anything from both teams’ games against Northwestern, Illinois and Akron this season:
“I think you can draw something from every game you see or you try to take something away from it, and, certainly, when you have a like opponent, you've got an idea. We played Northwestern later in the year and Illinois. So you've got a little feel for who they were and personnel maybe a little bit.
“I think you try to take all the things from the season that you can get, but we're a different team. Western Michigan is a different team. You have got to go out and play it. So I think you try to take as much as you can, but you got to be careful of putting too much stock in it.”
Chryst on what Western Michigan has done to earn Wisconsin’s attention:
“First, we had an opportunity when we were preparing for—we were just talking about like opponents. So you get to see them on film, and you appreciate it's a number thing. It's all together. You jump out, talent, and then you see that it's well-coached, the way they play, play hard.
“And then as you start to prepare for them for a game, you're watching everything and you just dive into them. And I think it's a number of—it's all of the above.
“I think P.J. and their coaches have done a tremendous job of you see kids that are really talented playing with confidence, and they've got schemes that challenge you, whether it's offensively, defensively, special teams. And, yet, the players are executing. They understand it. And then I think you infer a little bit when you have—it's hard to win games, period.”
“Then to be able to go a season undefeated, you think there's something special there. I don't know what it is, right? I'm watching it on film, and I think that's what it's all encompassing, is what grabs your attention. You just want your players to see it and grab their attention. And whether it's the athletic ability, whether it's the schemes, whether it's the execution level, that's what makes it a challenge. But you look forward to those challenges.”
Fleck and Chryst on how important bowl wins are to the public perceptions of the MAC and Big Ten:
Fleck: “I think bowl wins in general are very important, but I think I speak for Coach Chryst as well—I don't want to put words in his mouth—but we can only control what we can control.
“I'm in charge of the Western Michigan football team. He's in charge of University of Wisconsin. Other than that we can't control much. And that's what we want to be able to handle. Our players understand how important this is, not only for Western Michigan but representing the Group of 5 and also the Mid-American Conference, which we don't sit there and look at the records. There's a lot of close games. There's a lot of losses. There's a lot of wins. There's a lot of coulda-woulda-shoulda's. There's a lot of missed field goals, blocked field goals, turnovers in very crucial times—but, again, that's why you play the game. That's football, and, again, our job is Western Michigan University, and that's all we're focused on.
Chryst: I have the same, very similar feeling as P.J. does. And I think it's -- what it really is for us is it's this team. And we're proud to be part of the Big Ten. And, yet, all you can put your energy in and focus on is the things that you can control, or at least have an influence on. Whether it's players, coaches, our responsibility, our challenge is to finish this year the best we can. That's where we've got to focus. At the end of all these bowl games, you can have conversations and write and read and whatever you want. But all that matters is what we do. Because that's all we're really in charge of doing and in control of doing.
Fleck on Wisconsin’s defense after addressing players’ confidence in feeling they can beat UW:
“When you look at Wisconsin, it's the best team we've played all year by far. I don't like to make comparisons. But when we played Ohio State's defense last year, that was the best defense we've played in the four years I've been there. Very similar type defense. And when you compare them to last year when we played a Michigan State-type offense, very similar in a lot of ways. They can hurt you in a ton of ways, in a ton of areas, and including special teams. They're deadly in offense, defense, and special teams. They're loaded in a lot of positions, and they play incredibly hard for this guy to my left. They play incredibly hard.
“They blitz—the most impressive thing about Coach Chryst's team in my opinion is the way they blitz. It's not just the blitz schemes. Everybody has blitz schemes. It's how they blitz. They don't care if there's anybody in their way, they're going to go through it. It's amazing. That was the first thing our running back saw on film is, wow, they really bring it.
Chryst on the time-of-possession battle and how to keep Western Michigan’s offense off the field:
“First of all, I think time of possession is a by-product of good football. We've never gone into a game trying to just win time of possession. It's a team stat, right? Your offense is getting first downs or holding on to the football. Your defense is getting the opponent off the field. To me it's a by-product.
“You're game planning to try to give your players the best chance to have success. But I think it's a by-product of good football in general. If you have good special teams, the opponent can be playing in a longer field. There's not one stat that -- I think the one stat, if you were to take it, is what jumped off to me is about Western Michigan is the turnover take-away ratio. I mean, that's a huge stat.
“You look at football games in general, big swing there. I think that's the one, if you're going to say what's the one statistic that will matter most, but even then -- I've gone into games and there's never been a coach that says you can't turn the ball over. Because what if you do on the first drive. You're just going to sack the bats and go home? You've got to keep playing. But you game plan for everything. Try to give yourself, your kids a chance to play the game. And then you've got to go out and play it. And you've got to make plays, and that's the fun part about it.”
Fleck on Wisconsin’s rushing attack:
“I don't know if that's the big white elephant in the room, that we're a little bit undersized compared to Wisconsin's up-front offensive line. But I'll say to you one thing that they really do well on offense -- this is going to sound like rocket science -- they use all three downs perfectly. They set up the third and one, the third and two where that's the time of possession comes in, where Coach Chryst is talking about really good football. They manage first and second down really well to set up, if they do get the third down, very manageable third downs where they convert consistently. I think the third-down conversion ratio with really good football, that's a tie when it ties together.
“But, for us, we understand what our disadvantages are and what our advantages are. I think we've always understood that with our football team. We're very real with our football team. We know who we are. We know what we do, and we know how to do it. But we're going to have to be quicker, faster, smarter. We're going to have to be able to use our disadvantages to our advantage somehow, some way. And that's the challenge of the game plan. And that's what you spend four weeks on deciding how you're going to be able to get pressure on the quarterback and be able to stop a running game that's one of the best in the country. And especially when there's a physical mismatch maybe up front.”
Chryst on Western Michigan’s offense:
“Yeah, you said it right there. I mean, it's a well-balanced offense. And any time you overcommit, you can expose yourself. And especially when they're good enough to take advantage of that. And that's the challenge. And you have to play good team defense. Every kid has got to do his assignment. And then once the ball declares, you've got to fly to it. But that's -- you know it. You said in your question. That's the challenge that Western Michigan presents our defense.
Fleck on playing for Northern Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium in 2002:
“I remember Camp Randall, one of the most historic, greatest college football venues of all time. In the fourth quarter, I remember our football team jumping around, jumping up and down. We're doing exactly what the crowd is doing, and I'm sitting there thinking we're the opponent. It's that exciting.
“Growing up a Chicagoland kid, I was always a fan of the Big Ten and always have been a fan of the Big Ten and especially up at University of Wisconsin. I actually thought I was actually going to go there, and I thought I was good enough to walk on their basketball team.
But it's a very special place, Madison, and when you go to Camp Randall, it's a very unique experience. Like I said, one of the greatest college football venues in the country and one of the greatest college game-day experiences in the country. And especially for a Midwest young man growing up around that area, getting a chance to be in there and have the family in Wisconsin.”