Well we had a shootout with Minnesota, very similar to a number of the games that we have had in the past. It was really a good college football game, unfortunately came up a little short, losing by field goal at the end. Minnesota played an excellent game and they did what they had to do to make plays down the stretch and win
This week we have a much improved Michigan State team coming in. John L. (Smith) and his staff have done a tremendous job of really selling their program, what they are all about and obviously you have as a first-year coach, having their kids bought in to what they are doing. So again we have an excellent team coming in this weekend.
Coach, I was wondering if you could talk about when you took over Wisconsin back in 1990 and the challenges that you had in turning the program around?
Well, you know, I think when we came in '90 Wisconsin had gone to a total of five Bowl games in the history of the school—it was either five or six, I'm really not sure; really had not had much success. I think the first thing you have to do as far as building the program is to convince the players that are in your program that they can win and that they can compete in this league. And that's a hurdle, and that's your first hurdle.
You also have to sell your program. New players have to buy in and the transition, what you are all about, fits. And it took us a few years to get the quality of recruits in that we needed to get our program going. Those are some of the issues, some of the main issues to get things turned around.
Are you surprised at all that John L. Smith has had such success in his first year at Michigan State?
You know what, I think he would be the first one to tell you when you inherit a quarterback that is a veteran and that is as talented as they have, and that really fit the scheme that they have, and I don't think anybody has ever questioned the material that always has seemed to have been there at Michigan State.
The thing that impresses me is just what a great job they have done in winning over their players, the players buying into the program and that quickly.
You have not won since you beat Ohio State. Can you talk about some of the factors that have really hindered your ball club over the last month.
We have lost two ballgames with a field goal in the last play, or the next-to-last play of the game to Minnesota and Purdue, two very good football teams. I think we have been a little inconsistent. We didn't play very well at Northwestern. We have had injuries to our quarterback. Our top tailback, Anthony Davis, hasn't played very much. When you lose your key people it really affects your football team. We certainly have had our share of injuries. But for the most part—two of the games we played we lost right at the buzzer by two excellent football teams.
This was a year where you expected to compete for the title. Has it been difficult at all to keep the guys up from week-to-week and especially now with that carrot gone?
Our guys are competing. I think they have competed hard. That is part of athletics. I get that question in my press conference. You win a big game: ‘how to you keep your players up?' You lose a game: ‘How do you keep your players up? How do you keep motivating?' I think you have to understand these are Big Ten athletes. That is what athletes do, they compete week-to-week. They compete because there is a game, because it is important. This is a team that is Bowl eligible, they're trying to win some more games to maybe move to a better Bowl. You just keep changing your goals and the things you are trying to accomplish.
With Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber, the guys (the Gophers) are using mostly at tailback now. Is there really a discernible difference stylistically between those two? Or is there an odd situation where there is no change of pace, it is pretty much the same guy?
They have different styles. It appears to me that Barber may be a little faster, but both of them are strong runners. I'm very impressed with the strength that Maroney shows for being a true freshman. But really when you play against them you really don't notice which one is in there. They are both very effective obviously.
Have you looked at the Bowl situation yet and is there any goal that you have set as far as the Bowls go?
Not really. What we try to do is concentrate on the game that we are playing that week and try not to prepare the best we can and not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Barry you said last week you really like your freshmen class and obviously there is some benefit to the experience, guys like Joe Thomas and Ernest Mason and Roderick Rogers and Johnny White are getting that will help that next year. But given their limited playing time can you talk about the pros and cons of using those guys as freshmen? Do you think the reward you get is worth the year of eligibility?
In Joe Thomas' case, Joe has been a valuable part of our offense. As far as the other guys, you know, it is six one, half-dozen of the other. Probably four years from now we are saying, ‘for what we got out of them, for as much as they played, we would probably exchange that freshman year for a fifth year. Just felt like we needed them to be a part of the offense, be involved and that type of thing. Once you make that decision you have to stick with it. But when they are not playing regular, I think normally at they end of their career everyone is kicking themselves that you didn't save a year.
Is that a tough call at the time because you don't know how much exactly that you are going to need them? Are there a lot of times that you do kick yourself?
I think once you make the decision you don't worry about it anymore. With some of these cases, we can go back to Wendell Bryant. He really didn't want to play as a true freshman. He made the key sack and probably was the best linemen on the field in the Rose Bowl his freshman year and he wouldn't have been there his fifth year. He played four years for us and almost left after three. So there are a lot of factors but once you make a decision you don't look back—you just move forward.
Given Owen Daniels transition to receiver was Saturday's game the kind of performance that you think that he needed?
Obviously it was a breakout game for him. I thought that he would be more effective and be effective like that early on. We made that decision. We experimented with him last year in Bowl preparation, in Bowl practice and I really liked what I saw. He really took to the position very well. He is a very bright young man. I think Having played quarterback he understood the position. We use him as a tight end and we'll also flex him, use him out wide. So the position was easier for him to learn than maybe someone else. He is a very good athlete and it was nice to see him have that type of game. I think his future at that position is very bright.
Has the transition been tougher or has coming back from injury been more difficult?
You know what, not much has been said about that, about him coming off of that injury. He had the same surgery that Lee did. He had it just prior to the Bowl game last year and that was his second knee injury. He rehabbed it, did a tremendous job of bringing it around. Really, when we got into two-a-days this year it didn't seem to bother him at all. He just did a tremendous job of rehabbing and making that adjustment. So I don't think that was near the adjustment as it was just changing positions.