By TOM LEA
MADISON – Local reporters surrounded Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada following Tuesday’s practice, just two days after the first-year Badger assistant learned Mike Markuson was fired.
The following is a transcript of his meeting with the press.
What was it like the first day today; obviously there have been some changes?
Canada: It was great. The kids worked hard. They came out with a lot of emotion. They had a bad taste in their mouth from Saturday. I thought they played with some good energy and some good passion. I thought some guys were trying to lead. I was really pleased with the way we practiced today.
Bret had said the when he made the move that he came to you guys, the rest of the offensive assistants, and said, ‘Okay, I’m going to need to lean on you guys a little bit more.' What do you think that entails?
Canada: We work together pretty good as we go forward. We’re going to continue to find ways to win football games. We’re got to score more points and we’ve got to play better on offense. As I said Sunday when I spoke to you, that responsibility falls directly on the me and I’ll take it. We’ll divide things as we need to and make it work as we have to. It’s got to be better. That’s what we have to do, regardless of any other situation.
Have you had a comparable experience like this? Early in the season, a crisis like this if that’s what you’d call it?
Canada: No. I’ve never been through anything like this before. Certainly it’s a unique situation. You just have to plan for what you plan and plan for the unexpected. Understand life, that’s what we’re trying to teach these guys. We’re going to drive forward and make the best of a difficult situation as you would in life. There are a lot of things that come your way. We’ve got to play better, period.
Would you call this a crisis?
Canada: Crisis is a big word. I’m certainly not minimizing it. That’s a man, a guy that has a family and you feel for that. I’m not minimizing that, but I think that’s a big word when you look at everything in the world. I’m not minimizing it. It’s certainly a situation that is difficult for him. I feel for that. Obviously Bret made a decision and felt that it was the best thing for us to move forward. Bret is responsible for this program and what we do and how we perform. You move on it that way. I wouldn’t use that word.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect for the players and coaches? You mentioned what’s difficult for Mike. What about for you guys?
Canada: That’s the only part. Our job is very structured. Our schedule is what it is. You move forward, you do your job, our players play and our coaches coach. I don’t think there is anything in that regard. It’s a change, but you’ve just got to adapt to it and move on. We’ve got a capable guy in Bart, who has been here, who understands terminology, is a good line technician, a guy that has been around our players and one that does a great job with them. You look through that; I think that’s what’s going to help move forward with them. We’re all just doing our job and realizing the product must be much better than it was on Saturday in the game.
When Bret pulled you aside to give you this news did your jaw drop a little bit? Did you have any inkling that this was coming down the way?
Canada: No. I didn’t, but obviously Bret and I talked. Those conversations are held between Bret and I. I was certainly disappointed in the way we played. That was really my focus Sunday and all I was really thinking about to be honest.
How would you characterize the reaction you’ve seen from the players Monday and Tuesday in practice?
Canada: I think the players, Sunday, had a chance to take it in. Today they came out and practiced extremely well. I’m really proud of the way they practiced today and the effort they put forward. They understand we’ve got to play better. We have great kids who work very hard year round who understand they didn’t play well enough Saturday in a lot of different areas. You could make this or that, but the bottom line is it’s not close enough to what we expect from our offense and the way we’re going to play.
Is it accurate to say they’re facing a difficult task in Utah State, at least from what I can see, really likes to mix up their fronts?
Canada: We’re playing a great opponent, a team that just had a tremendous win and played Auburn extremely tough last year. You go right down…they’re a very good football program who got a great win last week over their rival who they hadn’t beat for however many years. They’re a very aggressive defense, a very skilled defense. They’re really fast. It will be a challenge for any offense.
Do they mix their fronts and bring pressure…
Canada: They’re very creative in what they do coverage wise, scheme up front, blitz and all those things. They do a great job.
People around here seem to underestimate that program. I don’t think people around here have a clue about how good Utah State seems to be.
Canada: All I can control is what we look at as an offense. We have great respect for them. Obviously we watched them on film and know what they just did. Looking back at last years tape we watched the way they went to Auburn and played them. That’s another BCS program they played very, very well. Again, they just beat Utah there on Friday night. They’re a very, very good football program.
Whenever you have — my word — crisis, people tend to react by doing more, trying to fill the gaps and stuff like that. How do you not do that personally?
Canada: You’ve got to try to do what you say to the players. Our motto a little bit is, ‘Do your job.’ Sometimes you try to do too much. In football, 11 men have to move in the same direction at the same time for things to be effective. You have to do your job. No more, no less. One of the things I say a lot to them and it’s something a lot of coaches have said over time. I would say, to answer your question, we have to do our job. Our job may change a little bit in certain situations, but the bottom line is you have to do your job and get a better result. I take full accountability for that.
It’s often been said by the coaches about playing ‘Wisconsin football from an offensive standpoint.’ Do think from a game plan, obviously not from an execution standpoint, but from a game plan and a play calling standpoint that’s been the case through the first-two games or is there a get back to that…
Canada: I think the first game when you look at it we had time of possession almost 40 minutes. We ran the football a lot. We didn’t have some explosions there that we wanted, but we certainly did. Saturday, we got off track. We got down a couple of scores and time got into the game a little bit. Some of the things that weren’t going well certainly factored into those things. In the first half we ran the ball 13 times. By all means, I’m not shirking it or trying to dodge your question. The bottom line is we have to play better. We have to call better plays, block better, throw it, run it and catch it. All those things. We’ve got to play better and that’s what we’ll do.
Do you expect to see a noticeable difference on the offensive line or is that a difficult thing in a seven-day stretch?
Canada: I certainly hope it’s noticeably different, regardless of anything to do with that. They have to play much better than they’ve played and they’re well aware of that. I expect a big difference.
Bret mentioned on Monday that he was hoping to create a spark. Is there any way of knowing that that’s happened or is it something you just won’t know until Saturday?
Canada: Like I said, I saw great energy today and I was happy with the way they practiced. It’s a bottom line business. The business is playing on Saturday’s. We’ve got to go out and perform when it counts because every day matters. Saturday’s count and we’ve got to play better on those days.