MADISON - The weird week that was for Wisconsin football is finally coming to a close with the Badgers preparing for their home opener against Western Illinois.
From question marks regarding whether junior tailback Melvin Gordon was or wasn’t healthy, to the disclosure of injury and the circus surrounding backup quarterback Joel Stave’s throwing issues, all the problems have raised the question whether or not everything was becoming a distraction.
“Absolutely not, nope, none,” UW coach Gary Andersen said after Thursday’s practice.
After Wisconsin’s loss to LSU in the season opener, media was questioning why Gordon didn’t receive more carries in the second half, only to have Andersen shy away from a straight answer during his post game press conference. During Andersen’s Monday press conference, he announced, somewhat reluctantly, that Gordon suffered a hip flexor and didn’t want to subject his start to a long-term injury.
A day later Andersen released a statement saying that quarterback Joel Stave was out indefinitely while he recovered from lingering shoulder pain, only to recant that statement hours later by saying the word “injured” was a bad choice of words. Stave came out and said he could play if he needed to but didn’t like how the football was coming out of his hands.
Although Andersen has taken criticism about how he handled the beginning of the week, he hasn’t had time to think about it.
“When situations go down I always just try and look back at myself,” Andersen said. “I’m always going to try and take care of kids, and I know I use those terms a lot, but that’s what I’m going to try to do. If sometimes I don’t come out not looking great in those situations then I really can’t control that … It’s unfortunate the way some of it came out…But I feel good about the kids understand that I have their back and I really truly believe that.”
With all the distractions from this week, it’s hard to know if it’s Andersen or the players who are more ready to get back on the field.
“If they want to get back out there more than me, that be pretty hard to do,” Andersen said. “They’re excited, they’re hungry, we’re excited to come home. You only get to do this seven times a year to play in Camp Randall. You guys know what special experience it is and our kids look forward to it, as we do as a coaching staff. I’d like to say me but I can’t crawl inside of them and say how excited they are, but they seem to be fired up.”
Austin Ramesh gets Chance
With all the injuries that have piled up in the days following the opener, the one that can’t go unnoticed was starting fullback Derek Watt being out till November following foot surgery.
Not only is Watt out, but his backup - redshirt junior Derek Straus – is out as he is still recovers from his collarbone injury. Those two injuries mean former Northland Pines three-star athlete Austin Ramesh will be making his first career start against Western Illinois Saturday.
“Austin’s going to play,” Andersen said. “It’s Austin’s opportunity to show what he can do.”
In addition to his role at fullback, Watt was going to be used as the H-back in certain formations. With him being out, Andersen said the Badgers will use more “13” and “12” personnel, playing some three tight end and two tight end sets.
As expected, Gordon will be ready to go and will likely start against the Leathernecks. After running for 140 yards in the opener, Gordon should be able to build off of his numbers after Andersen said his junior tailback had another good week of practice.
“I’m on the defensive side most of the time, (but) he seems great to me, so I couldn’t say if Coach Brown has limited him or not,” Andersen said. “He’s looked good from what I’ve seen, he’s been in the crossover drills and he’s done some good things.”
Even with Watt and starting nose guard Warren Herring having to sit out for the foreseeable future, Andersen feels good about senior defensive end Konrad Zagzebski, who was carted off the field in the first quarter against LSU and could possibly play Saturday.
Sophomore wide receiver Robert Wheelwright, who didn’t travel with the team to Houston, practiced all week and should play, giving the wide receiver corps another potential target for McEvoy in the passing game.
Have the Wisconsin players hung their heads this week?
“We’ve obviously focused on the good and we’ve focused on the not so good and the bad and we’ve worked like crazy to put ourselves in a position to get better at it. Like I said, I like exactly where we are the biggest thing is our mentality it has been great all week it’s business like but they’re having fun and have smiles on their face.”
Extra Points: With Herring possibly being out till Big Ten play it may mean that Jeremy Patterson will have to burn his redshirt year. According to Andersen, Patterson is excited about the possibility of playing but Andersen feels like a redshirt year may benefit Patterson. Andersen did say the plan isn’t necessarily to play Patterson this weekend. Currently true freshman Conor Sheehy sits behind Arthur Goldberg as the backup nose guard. Sheehy did see playing time against LSU recording one tackle…Stave was able to throw the football around a little bit Thursday. Andersen said it was good to see Stave out there with a smile on his face and having fun with his teammates.