MADISON, Wis. - It is kind of strange to think UW's offensive style is now the minority in Big Ten play. With many conference teams switching to various forms of the spread, Wisconsin's physical, grinding rushing attack provides a distinct advantage. Having three running backs such as P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and John Clay does not hurt either.
The following is a question and answer with the man in charge of UW's running backs, coach John Settle.
Three games into the season and P.J. is playing like a lot of people expected, how impressive has he been so far?
Settle: He's been very impressive. I've been pleased with his production, people are now gearing up to stop the run and he's still been able to put up some decent numbers. The thing I like about him, no matter how many yards he gets, he's still running the ball hard. That's the one thing we talked about in the off-season, being able to physically prepare yourself to take a pounding. It gets you a 25-30-carry game to be able to do just that.
Earlier in the season he had some problems dropping the ball, but against Fresno State it didn't seem to be a problem. Were those fumbles just something that happens when you get back into the swing of things?
Settle: More than anything. He's a guy, he's never an issue with ball security. It was just one of those things, a little slump that he went through, a little phase. We addressed it in our individual, in practice, our individual periods. We did some things to make sure that he had the ball properly tucked away. As long as he does that, we'll be fine.
Against Fresno, coach Bret Bielema said it might have been the best game of his career. But when you guys didn't get in on that fourth and goal early in the game, did he kind of take that personally?
Settle: I hope he did. I didn't talk to him about it, I just told him in situations like that, when it's third and short or fourth and short, in that situation, fourth and goal, we got to get it in. It was something that maybe if he was in on third down, we'd have scored, but Fresno State, give them credit. They had a good call on and they stopped the play. More than anything, I like the way that he came back and the way he ran the ball the rest of the game.
So far into the season, have you been satisfied with the distribution the running backs have gotten?
Settle: In the Fresno game, I probably could have done more with John Clay. I put him in, I didn't keep a rep count and P.J. was real lopsided. He had a lot of reps in that game. I probably could have helped him by giving John more reps early on. That's something that I'm going to be watching , aware of the rest of the season.
Was that kind of a heat of the moment thing, you saw P.J. out there grinding and you didn't want to take away anything he had going?
Settle: Pretty much. He was in the flow of the game
he was being very productive, running hard, making people miss. So, yeah, when you see a player in the zone, they call it, you hate to take him out of the game. But, I think we could have helped him. Plus, John Clay, who's coming into his own, only got three reps that game and he could have really helped us be physical which is what our attitude going into that game.
I know John and P.J. were banged up a little bit over the last week, did the bye come at a good time?
Settle: Oh yeah, it came at a great time. They thought that was a physical game, just wait. But, that's the benefit of having three, four good tailbacks. Guys that can go in and relieve the other guys and hopefully it saves your players for the long haul by doing that and that's what my goal is the rest of the way.
Looking at Michigan, they have the leading rush defense in the Big Ten, how big of a challenge will this be for you guys as running backs?
Settle: It's going to be the toughest one of 08. They are definitely the best defense we'll see in the first four games. They're big, big guys that move well. The front seven is as good as anybody that I've seen even going back to last year. So it's going to be a great challenge for us, the guys are pretty focused right now. They come in at the start of last week, they've seen the film, they don't believe they're 1-2, that is on the board. They know that Michigan is a very fine football team and very capable of giving us everything we can handle.
Do the running backs take it upon themselves and say, 'Hey, we've had three pretty good games, let's go out there against Big Ten opponents and really prove ourselves.?'
Settle: That's kind of the approach. It's one thing to say it, it's another thing to go out and prove it and that's what we're working towards. We have a mindset, the guys are dedicated to working towards going out and proving they can run the ball against anybody in the country. This is going to be a great test for them early in the season to see if they can do just that. But with P.J. playing the way he is, then Zach and John, two fullbacks, we got a good chance. So we're going to come out and lineup and play. They'll be ready come Saturday.
Historically, whenever UW plays at Michigan, the record hasn't been all that great. I know this team really hasn't had a whole lot to do with that, but they usually slow the run game down no matter how much momentum UW has. Is that the type of thing that can become mental? Do you see it with this team?
Settle: I don't think this team is really concerned about it. We went up there two years ago and some of the guys wasn't even on the trip. Last year, they came here and we played well. We're just focused on the 08 season. We're not worried about the past. This is our opportunity to go out and write another chapter in the story for the 08 season and that's what we're focused on.
What have you seen from Michigan in particular that will make it difficult to run against?
Settle: They're big guys that can run. Like I said, their front seven, they got four down linemen that are very good who if not all four, three of them will be playing on Sundays. They got a great group of linebackers that can run sideline to sideline. They're big so they can come up and be physical in our zone scheme and that type of things. We're going to have to do a good job of getting a hat on a hat. They could pose match-up problems on the edges and those types of things. Everybody has to know what he has to do and we got to be ready to go out and execute it.
So far this season there hasn't been a whole lot of outside rushing, is that something we could see more of coming into the Big Ten season?
Settle: I'm not the coordinator (laughing), but no, we're going to do what we do. We like to run the ball inside and we got those big linemen up front that like coming together and zoning people out of there and it's worked well for us in the past. So that's what we're going to hang our hat on.
Finally, another player that had a big rivalry game and played really well was your son, Leighton Settle. How impressive was that performance against Madison East?
Settle: I'll tell you what, he's playing very well right now. I've always said he's special, he has the chance to be very special. The only thing that is going to stop him is him. He's got to take care of his academics and do those things and if he does, he may have the opportunity to go anywhere in the country. It's a big win for (Madison) West, and I'm glad that he's able to enjoy some success both individually and as a team.
Do you give him some little pointers along the way?
Settle: No, the mom does that. (Laughing)
Is that the easy way out?
Settle: Yeah, pretty much. (Laughing)
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