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October 24, 2011MADISON - During return trips after a game on the road, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema normally finds solace in the comfort of his headphones.
Saturday night, after the most shocking and abrupt loss of his head-coaching career, Bielema decided to step aside from the norm for a minute. What he heard, or didn't hear in this case, was deafening.
"I popped them off a couple different times expecting to hear some noise," Bielema told reporters during his Monday press conference. "I didn't hear anything."
Wisconsin, now ranked No. 15 in the B.C.S. standings, lost it's national title hopes when Keith Nichol snuck the tip of the football across the goal line following a 44-yard 'Hail Mary' to end Saturday night's game.
In what ultimately reverberated throughout the UW football program like an unexpected punch to the midsection would for a common passerby, Wisconsin had, and still has, the daunting task of bouncing back.
At least in Bielema's mind the lack of sound during the bus ride back to campus from the airport is a good indicator.
"I think the kids really absorbed the defeat Saturday night," he said. "Sunday we went through the film and saw a lot of things that we need to clean up."
Both Bielema and his assistant coaches apparently met with that realization a bit of furor. Desperately trying to rationalize what they had just endured on the football field, the head coach and his assistants needed to recuperate just as much as the players did.
"I know I walked into my house at 2:30 a.m.," Bielema said of Saturday night. "I couldn't sleep. I just really felt we needed to clear everybody out. So last night I cleared everybody out of the offices at 10:00 p.m. and just said, 'Hey, let's go home and regroup and come back Monday.'
"It's been a good day so far."
Bielema also said that most of his assistant coaches don't normally leave until two or three in the morning because they are so focused on installing the gameplan for the upcoming opponent.
It's apparent Saturday's loss forced a change from the norm.
Immediately after Saturday's loss Bielema was adamant about his decision to call timeout in the final minute of the game. Though Michigan State had picked up 12 yards on a second and 20 play, Bielema decided it was in his team's best interest to call timeout with hopes of getting off the field with enough time to win the game in regulation.
Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but even knowing what he knows now, Bielema remained confident that he made the right decision.
"We have the No. 1 offense in the country and a quarterback who I've seen through four, maybe even five of our first games score at end of a half willingly and seamlessly," Bielema said. "Philip Welch had hit a 50-plus yarder going that direction in pregame warm-ups.
"If there was any way we could get the ball back I wanted to do that."
So, though it's neither here nor there anymore, what was Bielema planning on doing has MSU failed to convert that third and eight play with what would have been less than 30 seconds to play.
"We were probably going to go with a field return with Jared Abbrederis," Bielema said. "Or a block that we had gotten very close on."
Also for what it's worth, UW's senior quarterback Russell Wilson agreed with his head coaches decision-making.
"If we got the ball back I truly believe we were going to win the game," Wilson said. "It didn't happen. Coach Bielema obviously believes that and he called some timeouts. That's a good thing. He trusts our offense. Our defense was doing a great job of stopping them.
"They just came up with a couple of big plays at the end. It just didn't work out."
Though fans of UW and several local media outlets have called that decision making logic into question, especially when it looked as though Michigan State was about to settle for overtime, Bielema insisted that his called was met with agreeance on more than once occasion.
"I did an interview with Kirk Herbstreit earlier today," Bielema said. "He couldn't believe that people were questioning. From his point of view he saw where we were going with it.
"From a national perspective there wasn't any doubt with what was going to be been done and that's what I did."
Bielema seemed a bit surprised by the way his team came out of the Michigan State game from a health standpoint. Knowing how physical it was, he was a bit caught off guard by the lack of injuries when briefed by his team of doctors.
Only Patrick Butrym, who had an ankle issue entering the game, and Dezmen Southward seemed to have any sort of lingering injuries following the game. Bielema expects both of them back for Ohio State.
"Butrym was a little bit gimpy," Bielema said. "But he's back 100 percent. Southward couldn't play because he wasn't cleared at the end of the game. He had a shoulder issue. I think we'll take it easy on him during the beginning of this week, but he should be back out there."
Freshman wide receiver Fred Willis, who missed Saturday's game with an ankle issue, is also making strides in his recovery.
"I know they ran him yesterday," Bielema said. "I don't know if we'll practice him on Tuesday, but my guess is he'll be there later in the week."
Junior defensive end David Gilbert, who broke his foot during Nebraska prep, has always held out hope for a return against Ohio State. He's scheduled to undergo further testing Monday afternoon to see how that foot has recovered.
"He seems to think if they give him the okay he's going to play in this game," Bielema said. "I think that would be very optimistic. I think it's realistic for him to come back not this week, but next week or the week after that.
Bielema on what he told his players during Sunday meetings:
"I said you should never get used to this feeling. I said this feeling should hurt, it should be in your mind and it's something we need to shake out and get rid of Sunday night. If you ever accept it or it becomes common for you or if you think it's something you can live it then it is going to start happening more than you ever want it to."
The following is Bielema's audio file.
The following is Wilson's audio file from Monday afternoon.