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THE MODERATOR: Following the off weekend, the football team hosts Northwestern Saturday at 2:30 on ABC. Coach Andersen is here. We'll have opening comments and then take questions.
COACH ANDERSEN: It's good to be back. I know the kids were excited to get to meeting this morning. They had a good few days off and hopefully had a good weekend.
We'll get out this week, quick review of how we go through the bye week, coming after bye week into game week, I suppose. We're just one day ahead. Monday's a Tuesday, Tuesday's a Wednesday, Wednesday's a Thursday, and Thursday is a little bit of a hybrid Friday, if you will. So we're trying to gain a day and obviously getting ourselves in position to go out and practice today.
So injuries should be pretty well up to speed. Kenzel is back. Melvin seems to be in good shape. So feel good about those kids being back for the most part. I guess, from that standpoint, the bye came at a good time. I'm excited to get prep going again here for Northwestern. Northwestern is a very talented team. They showed that not just last Saturday night but all year long. This is a mature team. They play mature. They play hard. They play fast. They're well-schooled. They expect to win. It's very obvious in the way they carry themselves through last year's tape, through this year's tape.
On defense, they force a bunch of turnovers, and the plays continue from last year into this year as well. With a high expectation level. They run the ball well and play with good technique, and they understand the scheme very well, defense and offense. They have two very talented quarterbacks, some guys that make the offense go and run at a high level.
Again, it's not just one kid, it's four, five, or six special players, and the rest of the support cast does a very, very nice job for them. It's a good football team. There is no question. No one can watch them and say, that's just an okay team. They're a very talented team, coached very well, and they appear to love the game of football. It's great. Two good teams are going to face off, and look forward to Saturday.
Q. Dave Aranda, since he got here, has talked about the desire to force turnovers, and right now nobody is doing that as well, at least in the league, as Northwestern. What have you seen on tape from them that's allowed them to force the turnovers so often?
COACH ANDERSEN: Again, go back to last year, and it's really a continuation. They're opportunistic when the ball's on the ground. They're opportunistic when the ball's in the air, and they make plays. Picked balls turn into pick-offs and something that happened in the Ohio State. Someone gets his hand in the air, and they pick it off.
A lot of teams, a lot of people sit back and say they are lucky with some opportunities. I disagree wholeheartededly. I think they're prepared. They take advantage of opportunity when the ball's on the ground and went up in the air. This is very important to them.
Something they work on. You can see that on film also with the Ohio State game and trying to rip that ball out early. I know Braxton was carrying the ball earlier in the game, and it just stuck in my head the kid trying to rip the ball out of Braxton's arm as he went down, and it almost got out. They're making plays. They're well-coached and schooled up on doing that, and it's important to them.
Q. You mentioned Kenzel will be back this week. What do you hope he can provide, whether it's handling kick returns or slot receiver duties or both?
COACH ANDERSEN: Expectation is he'll do exactly what he was doing before he left. He'll play wide receiver and be involved heavily in the return game and kickoffs and punts and get him right back where he was. I feel good about Kenzel. I know he's very excited to get back.
Q. Coach, in their particular two-quarterback system, what kind of challenges does that provide when you're trying to prepare for these particular two guys?
COACH ANDERSEN: Well, I like Ohio State as much as the offense may change slightly when one young man is in there and the other one is in there playing, and they're more skewed option in certain situations or certain scenarios. But they're both proven winners. They're both talented. They've both done a nice job.
I think the challenge this week is to sit back and really study the film. Does it change? Is it drastic? Is it the normal fan's eye staring at the offense. It may not seem like a drastic difference, but I believe there's enough tweaks in there to where you can at least be mindful of who's in the game, and it can matter as far as your defensive calls as you move forward.
But they're both winners. They've both done a nice job.
Q. Gary, the flip side of that turnover question is you guys forcing turnovers as well. I know you shoot for three a game. Where do you think you're at with that? I can't believe anyone could emphasize it any more than you guys have. Where do you think you're at?
COACH ANDERSEN: Yeah, I agree with you. I've been through this before where you work like crazy to get turnovers and it's a point of emphasis, and it doesn't come your way as much as you want it to, and then it kind of flip-flops. I've been through seasons where it never flip-flops. We'd like to get more turnovers. The I don't think anybody's going to say, yeah, we're right where we want to be in terms of getting the number of turnovers we want. We definitely want to get more.
It's practiced. The kids emphasize it it at practice. You can put it on tape, and the tape never lies.
There's kids trying to get after the ball. We've had some opportunity in games where a pick may be there, the ball may be on the ground, and, again, it's not -- we don't end up with it.
We're going to continue to emphasize it, keep working on it, and hopefully it swings our way. Turnovers are something we need to be better at in order to be a great defense.
Q. Similar to the previous question, with Melvin, Jacob and Kenzel -- normal workload for them?
COACH ANDERSEN: Yeah, all those kids should be back normal workload this week. Expect them to go back 18 periods.
We do shift this time of year and go from 21 periods to 18 periods. I'm a big believer in that after you get more than halfway through the season, making sure you're making practice count, not counting the minutes. You can be out there and make sure it's a proper practice. They'll be with the rest of the young men.
Q. Gary, I know you haven't been around for some of these close losses this team has suffered, but some of these players have. Do you see any sign of a mental block or anything like that?
COACH ANDERSEN: No, I don't. It's tough because those kids compete. I think about that stuff because you continually get asked and fly across the country to go recruit and have a lot of time on the plane thinking about things. I thought about that. I go back to the same thing. Good teams are involved in close games. How many good teams this past Saturday played entirely contested games whether they won or lost that game.
It's a good football team, and they've been involved in some close football games. I do. I think it's affecting them? No. Do I think it's important to them? Yes. Do I think it's something they have in the back of their mind but not in a negative way, hey, if we're going to be a great team, we've got to win these close games, and we talk about that.
I don't see it having a negative effect. These kids will plow through it, and they'll work hard all season regardless of wins and losses.
Q. Gary, you were asked about the Ohio State game and the importance of it, and you said, it's not a championship game. Do you have any concerns, given the results of that and given that Ohio State looks to be a favorite to win the division now, that your guys will sag emotionally this week? Or are you confident they'll ignore that?
COACH ANDERSEN: I don't think so. Especially you look back, I mean, they were going through that last year, and they were battling every week, and the Big Ten's very competitive. They fought and won some last year. They fought and lost some last year. We're right in there. Last year the big, obviously, with being where they were in the conference, these kids have been in those games where they had to win a close game and they lost a close game, and they went back and forth last year in the conference. I know that you can say Ohio State wasn't in it and Penn State wasn't in it last year. I understand that, and I get Ohio State's undefeated, but I think these kids are worried about themselves and they're not chasing anybody, which, again, is a credit to them.
At the end, it will all work out. We're all going to be where we may be at the end of the year. I don't think there's anything in their mindset saying, well, now we can't go win the championship. I don't think we feel like that.
Q. Obviously, there's no textbook as to how to win those close games, but in your opinion, what is the biggest key of coming out on top in some of those close games?
COACH ANDERSEN: Making the play. At the end, that's simply put, maybe too simply put, but it's being in the moment and making a play, and when I say that, that play can take place in the first quarter, the second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter, overtime. You don't know when it is, but there's going to be four or five opportunities. We talked long and hard about the Ohio State game, all of us did, as far as opportunities we had.
Well, look at another closely contested game. The end score against Ohio State-Northwestern wasn't 30-40. We all know it was a one possession game, and it came right down to the wire, and how many opportunities did Northwestern have to possibly get it done. How many chances did Ohio State have to turn around and get it done? At the end, they made one more play than Northwestern did. You just talk about it. You work. You execute your practice like crazy and get your kids prepared. You go out in the moment, and hopefully you make those plays. In the end, it's still a funny shaped ball that bounces weird ways sometimes.
Q. Gary, I don't know how much research you've had a chance to do, if you've been inclined to do. Northwestern-Wisconsin have had a lot of rivalry going back to the '90s, a lot of close games, blowouts, overtime games. Do you see this as a big rivalry, and how do you see it going forward being in the same division a year from now?
COACH ANDERSEN: Right now I see every team in the Big Ten as a rivalry for us. I know there's more games, and I have great respect for rivalries that are out there. It just seems like every week we're talking about something. The games in the past, how tightly contested they've been. They've gone back and forth. This guy got the better of that guy in the past.
To me, that's just tradition. It's conference. That's what the Big Ten is. It's hard-nosed tough football, that people fight every week to win games. They beat each other up usually at the end of the year, and that's where everybody kind of sits. I don't think this year is going to be any different.
I got a lot of respect for watching Northwestern on film. I really don't know what's happened in the past, but I know what's happened in the present, which is today and working forward toward Saturday. This is a good football team we're playing, and they've shown that for the last 2012 season, obviously, and '13 it's showed its head too.
Q. Is rot ever something you're concerned about as a group coming off a bye week?
COACH ANDERSEN: I probably worry about everything. If I put down a list of the things I worry about, it would probably be pretty long. But it's -- I don't feel that way. I feel like we'll walk out and have a great practice today. What you hope is they come back, and they've got a little more juice, a little more energy, they're rejuvenated, there's a focus point.
If you sit back and look how many practices there are left, it's basically mid-20s before this team gets in the position to head for a ball game or practice for a bowl game, but you do that basically in a week of camp. This team isn't going to be together much longer.
I always harp on that, and I sound like a broken record, but I'll never stop doing that because these kids need to Cherish those moments. If we're rusty today, we don't have a chance to do anything special this season, but I don't expect them to do more than that.
Q. You mentioned in your expose you were able to add new wrinkles or focus on different things that you wouldn't be able to if you weren't a day ahead, I guess?
COACH ANDERSEN: The key for me in the bowl week preparation is to evaluate ourselves as coaches, and we do that, evaluate the team as a whole, and try to make sure that we're using the kids the best we can to help them win football games.
And that's important, and I guess that comes with different structure and different ideas and different philosophies that you look at and you may not have time to evaluate during a normal game week. So we look at we're going to have to create more turnovers on defense. What does that mean? There's a couple of tweaks possibly in the scheme. We can't give up the big play on defense. We're young on the back end, but youth is not an excuse. It does not matter. We've got to get better. We can't let people get behind us. We've got to get better on third downs on defense overall. We've got to get better on third downs overall, and I'm not talking about third and seven plus.
Do we need to change the scheme on offense? Yes, it does. We need to make sure we're using the proper percent until on both sides of the ball when we're at full strength.
That may cause a little bit of a tweak in some of the schemes that we use. We need to pass protect better. All the little things that pop up, some of them are bigger than others, but all those things signed a tweak in the scheme. Something major you'll be able to sit, just by the normal fans, I say, wow, it's a lot different than it was two weeks ago, no. But there is some different tweaks. So I would agree with what you were saying.
Q. When pedestrianer son couldn't play last week, it looked like an opportunity for Arneson. Did what he showed you look like he could be involved in the throwing game from here on out?
COACH ANDERSEN: Yes. He's becoming a good practice player too. There's no such thing as a gamer. A gamer is a person who practices hard. But I'm fired up about the way he's practiced, and Sam continually gets better. It's important to him. Made some big plays, and I think he'll continue to. Hopefully, he's better now that Pedestrian's back. They can work together a little bit more.
Q. Gary, what time did you send out the so-called care packages to the former players here?
COACH ANDERSEN: Well, I think it's important for those NFL players and really all the ex-players to be involved as much as we can. Obviously, I can't send a care package out to every guy that's played here. I would if I could, but we can't get that done.
So it's something that we can just sit back and say, hey, we're thinking about you. We're with you. I hope they enjoy it, and I hope it's something they wear in those NFL locker rooms that they're proud of. They wear it around their communities. You know I'm a Badger. They remember where they came from. It's a good thing for those kids to have.
I want them back here. I really do. I want them in front of our kids. I want them to spend time with them.
Whether it's by position group, offense or defense, or whether it's with the whole team. I can't wait to shake all their hands. I've got a great deal of respect for those guys. I know very few of them, but I'm excited about getting to know them and let them know that ultimately this is their program, they built it, and I'm here to be the coach now, but I want them involved in the program as much as I can. So that's the reasons.
Q. Getting back to Northwestern's ability to force turnovers, when you evaluated how your team has performed so far, are you comfortable with the way they protected the ball. I'm talking more about fundamentals, like Joel in the pocket, maybe when he gets out with the running backs and receivers.
COACH ANDERSEN: Yes, very impressed especially with the running backs, the way they hold the ball tight. When they're in practice, you can see how important it is to running backs and the offense as a whole. Start with a stretch, and those kids stretch with the ball in their hands or at least warm up in their pre-stretch conditioning as far as warming up with the ball in their hands. They've done a good job there. I really think we have. You're going to have turnovers when you play almost half the season, but doing a good job there. They've got to continue.
Q. Gary, you mentioned Northwestern's effective use of two quarterbacks. What are some of the challenges in doing that? They really make it look seamless running with either guy that's in there.
COACH ANDERSEN: Well, they do. Obviously, practice is scheduled the right way for them. Fitz does a good job with the whole program. He's got good people around them. I don't know exactly how they break it up, probably by structure within the offensive calls, I would imagine. It works. The key thing is both kids believe in it, and that's what matters most at the end. It's not probably what the coaches are doing. Something magical is the fact that those two kids work well together. They both respect each other, and they make the offense work, I'd say very similar to the relationship that Melvin and James have at the tailback position. They both believe in each other, and they're unselfish guys.
COACH ANDERSEN: Again, it goes back to practice. Kyle has done the best in practice by far. If he need one more kick in the game right now, we'd be saying he's done a pretty good job. He did miss one in the Ohio State game, and that's not where we want to be. We're just kind of working ourselves through that.
Kyle right now is still the kicker. We'll see what happens. Just -- never mind. I won't say it. Let's keep going. We're good.