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Wisconsin will take the field against old friend Bret Bielema on Saturday as he continues his first year as head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini.
The biggest story entering the contest any other year would be the head coaching matchup of old colleagues. This season, though, Wisconsin’s 1-3 start has been the focus as the team needs to turn things around quickly if it wants any shot at competing in the Big Ten Championship.
Nevertheless, a lot is still being made this week of the on-field reunion and Bielema’s time at Wisconsin. One thing the Illinois head coach repeated during his game-week press conference, though, is how his time with the Badgers has nothing to do with his preparation for Saturday’s game.
Here is everything the Illinois head coach said about Wisconsin this week:
On the Wisconsin program
“As far as Wisconsin, obviously a team in — them and Northwestern have shared the Big Ten West title the last five years. Either one of those two programs have represented the Big Ten West. It’s a game on the forefront of our guys’ minds just because of who it is. Not necessarily because of my past, but because of the way it’s represented in the Big Ten West title and the way it’s been carried out.”
On Wisconsin and his preparation for the week
“I’ve got a lot of respect for everything Paul [Chryst] has done. Obviously, he and I have known each other for a long time and several players in that program. I know I’m going to get the question, but this game is about the University of Illinois football versus the University of Wisconsin football. And that’s what it’s about, that’s what’s been driven. My preparation for any game is the exact same. I get the question, but the attitude I carried into the Nebraska preparation, to the next week against UTSA and then to Virginia, to Maryland, to Purdue and then last week against Charlotte and this week against Wisconsin has been the exact same. I’m not going to do any more or less, I’m just not wired that way. And that’s the way I teach our players and coaches to go about it.”
On similarities between Wisconsin then and now
“I get the question. Paul [Chryst] and I were together for six of my seven years there [at Wisconsin]. We definitely had a lot of common thoughts and ideas. Joe Rudolph the offensive coordinator was my tight ends coach. Mickey Turner the tight ends coach was the first kid I ever recruited out of Missouri…There are some easy comparisons but a lot is different in their schemes and mechanics. Up front there are definitely some things that are a little bit different. The basic core value of run-play action, they’re very explosive, they have some dynamic players on the outside. They’re very, very well-coached up front. Obviously, their quarterback has done some very good things. I would say they’re very similar to where we’ve been, but there are also a lot of unique, new things that pop out when you study the film closely.”
On Wisconsin's rush defense
“Statistics are great, they’re a great thing to reference, but a lot times there’s a lot of outside factors that roll into it. [Wisconsin is] very, very stout, they’ve very good against the run…But the key ingredient is what worked Saturday [vs. Charlotte]. What we did on Saturday is what our offense is going to be greatly dedicated to this week.”
On if beating Wisconsin can be a defining game in the culture he's trying to build
“It’s a Big Ten game. We’ve won one game in the Big Ten, they’ve won none. I don’t know if anybody’s quantifying it as [a big-time game]. Every game is a big game when you’re in the infancy of a program…I’m excited because it’s a Big Ten game, a Big Ten West opponent that is a really good football team and has been able to sustain success for a long time…I’ve defined Wisconsin and others in the Big Ten West as models of what we’re trying to get to.”
On his thoughts about his time in Madison and the achievements that came both personally and professionally
“Well personally, I got married…I said this one time jokingly, ‘there’s two important people I met in Vegas: one being my wife and I actually met Paul Chryst in Vegas on a recruiting trip.’ He was actually working at Oregon State and Coach Alvarez introduced us because he knew what was going to happen in the future, and I didn’t. Met a lot of great relationships, I could go on and on…I told our guys on Sunday, just as much as I talk to them about how their past is important to me because it defines who you are, all of that is behind me. None of that applies to any moment and any preparation mode this week whatsoever. And it’s easy for me to say that because I live it and I do it, but it’s hard for the outside world to understand that. But it really has zero impact on the game this week with our preparation or our performance.”