Badgers Ready for Big Ten Play

About to begin his second Big Ten season, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen addressed the media Monday about the good and bad from the nonconference season and started looking ahead to the Badgers' road game at Northwestern Saturday afternoon.

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen

It's great to be in the position we're in to win at home. Very good second half. I thought the kids did a great job again dealing with some adversity that faced them which you'll get every weekend every football game. They did it well.

A sequence that was very important was when we were able to obviously cause the fumble and basically run the clock out, run most of the fourth quarter off, score a touchdown. That was big for us. Nineteen plays. Offense did a good job of running the football.

On offense, South Florida had (13) plays, I think it was, in the second half. I've never been around that in my life.

So we had 37 graded plays on the defensive side of the football. So defense should be fresh. So they should be ready to get out to practice today and get a head start and looking forward to Northwestern, looking forward to getting into Big Ten play.

QUESTION: As a former center, you know there can be some exchange issues at times. But I think this is four in four games now but only one you guys have lost one. Has it been a matter of the snap not getting back up there, Tanner may be pulling out early at times or a combination of factors at work?

ANDERSEN: You know, I think communication is very much the key to talking it out and figuring it out. There's not a certain way that Dan's (Voltz) going or a certain play where he's really trying to get out of there when it takes place.

There's been times when we feel like the snap may have been short and Danny May feel that way and Tanner may feel that way and there's other times when Tanner (McEvoy) feels like the ball may have been there and Dan feels like the ball may have been there. So the good thing about that is there's, we're not pointing fingers. The bad thing about it is we haven't solved it completely yet.

And we need to. So those two kids as well as all of us are concerned about it and we're going to continue to work to get it fixed. And doesn't show up in practice, it shows up at seems like a very crucial time in the last game when we were able to get on the ball.

We're working at it, don't have all the answers there but I know with T.J. (Woods) and Andy (Ludwig) and the two young men involved are going to continually focus on it and get it fixed.

QUESTION: I know it's early in the season but right now you've got a defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally and all the major categories, passing, rushing, total defense, points. Is there any part of you that is surprised by that given that you had seven new starters on the front seven or is this sort of what you expected when you went to this 3 4 system in year two?

ANDERSEN: We expect to play great defense. But to be in the position that we're in and the bottom line is points. And 14 some odd points a game is what they're giving up, which is great to see.

I would never say I'm overly surprised. But I'm happy with where they sit at this point. And if they can sustain that and maintain that for 12 regular season games, they will be a special defense. So time will tell, but I like where they are.

I think we can continue to mold and develop the strategies to help the kids in understanding who we are. I think we got even more understanding this last game a little bit of who we were on the defensive side. And we'll continue to tweak a few things to hopefully help us.

But kids understanding handling multiple units has been the most impressive thing to me. Sounds easy, but that's the most difficult.

QUESTION: Gary, last year team I think their quarterback got hurt early in this game, wasn't much of a factor. But I'm sure you have a preference for both guys. Has much changed with their offensive scheme, the way they run it this year with maybe one guy who is more of a pocket guy as opposed to a runner, (Trevor) Siemian?

ANDERSEN: With Siemian, it's not as much the option stuff, it's not as much there. The quarterback run game, really the read zone. He hasn't pulled it a bunch and got himself moving out there. But I do believe if you don't play it correctly that young man will pull it. He's a competitor.

In my opinion, his feeling and his command, understanding of the offense, has grown in a very positive way for offensive for Northwestern and for their offense unit. You really saw it come true in this last game. He does a tremendous job of looking off. His pre-snap awareness in his own mind must be pretty clean and pretty clear, because he has no problem with looking to the right with an understanding what's going on out here in his mind and turning right back and rifling the ball back into that area where his eyes haven't been very long.

That's a sign of a mature quarterback. He's developed and I think the coaches are putting him into positions to be able to use those wide receivers. They have a bunch of wide receivers, rotate a bunch of kids through there, and a bunch of good players.

QUESTION: Melvin (Gordon) said after the game, talking about the need to run angry, play angry. Is someone in charge of that, making him angry before the game on Saturday, and is there a concern about letting emotion be too much for him?

ANDERSEN: I think Melvin will handle Melvin and he continually matures. And if Melvin sees that within his own preparation, that's great. I think it's a good spot for him to be in. As he grows as a player, you know what gets you ready for a game. And it's not a pep talk.

It's preparation. And you get yourself in the moment to play to the best of your abilities. So if Melvin said that, then I think Melvin will only say that if he felt like maybe he learned something as far as getting himself prepared to get into the moment.

I look at the first half, and I don't look at a run saying, man, Melvin is not hitting the hole. I didn't see any of that. I saw a safety for South Florida that was a tremendous tackler in space. I don't know, kid probably, No. 2, probably had 20 tackles on that day I would imagine.

So credit goes to them. And Melvin will be ready to go this week. I really believe that. And when I sat down and met with the leadership committee this morning, I felt good about the kids overall in that leadership committee. And Melvin was in that meeting also. So we're excited to get back to practice today.

QUESTION: You haven't been asked about your cornerbacks very much this year. Sometimes that's a good thing that that position group goes unnoticed. How would you assess (Sojourn) Shelton and Darius (Hillary) and even Devin's (Gaulden) play so far?

ANDERSEN: I would also put Derrick Tindal in that mix. Didn't play last game, but he played a lot in the Bowling Green game. Those four kids have grown and developed. Darius is playing at a high level. He had a championship effort this last game. That's great to see for Darius to be into that group of kids. And he'll get recognized in front of his teammates.

I say we've been steady there. There's definitely room for improvement. If we look at one thing to say we can do better is probably pre-snap awareness and communication. Secondly would be our ability to consistently tackle there.

As far as coverage skills, them understanding the type of player that they're playing against and the preparation that needs to be put into to go against different types of receivers, they've done a nice job there.

That will be challenged this week, because they (Northwestern) have some small wide receivers, very fast, and they have some tall wide receivers who are going to go up, get the ball, cause issues. So they'll have to prepare understanding individuals more so this week than overall scheme.

QUESTION: Can you kind of assess the success you've had when you've had Melvin (Gordon) and Corey (Clement) on the field at the same time and also just how difficult that makes it on the defense when you have both those guys in there?

ANDERSEN: I couldn't tell you exactly. I'm sure Andy (Ludwig) can answer that question exactly for you as far as what's happened when both those kids have been on the field.

If I was a defensive coordinator, it would bother me. I think you're going to continually see a few more snaps of that in the game, especially as we potentially get a little bit more healthy at some of the running back positions moving forward.

But it's tough to deal with one of them, let alone both of them. But hopefully we continue to grow that package a little bit. It's not going to be a staple where we're going to do it 30 times a game, I wouldn't say. But it's going to grow I'm sure as we move forward.

QUESTION: You mentioned after Saturday's game that the passing offense was not good. That's what you said. As you get to October, do you sort of say we need to find a way to mask these deficiencies, or do you really believe these are areas that can be fixed in the season with almost two months left in the regular season?

ANDERSEN: Well, we need to again mold much like I said on the defensive side, we need to mold the offense to be as effective as it can be with the young men that we have. And we're still looking for development. That's coaching. And that's player performance. So we're excited to continue to work with the kids at those positions. We don't want to be pigeonholed as an offense. And we're trying hard not to be, to say this is who we are and where we're going to throw the ball and who we're going to throw the ball to.

So remaining creative and finding new ways and looks to get young men balls is on high alert for us as a staff. And I'm sure it's on high alert for the kids to get on the field. I'd like to see some of the young receivers get in the moment and show us all that they're prepared to take that next step.

And it's hard to stress freshmen because I've said it many times, just because you're physically ready to play at this level, doesn't mean you're one bit prepared to play mentally. As soon as those young men get themselves prepared mentally, I think they'll get some mojo and you'll see us move in the right direction with more people getting involved in the throw game. And I'm looking forward to that.

QUESTION: What are the keys for your offensive linemen to be able to adjust to maybe some things that the defense is doing, especially like one of the guys was talking about, the slanting of the South Florida defensive linemen early to adjust, first of all, if they can in the middle of a series from play to play and once they get to the sideline with T.J. (Woods) and be able to identify what's going on and how to adjust to it?

ANDERSEN: Again, I think first to preface that, the South Florida front was, they're pretty stout kids inside that interior tackle box. They played well. There's some things in the scheme that we would sit back and say can we tweak them.

They did a very nice job of giving you no pre-snap awareness of the direction they were headed, which in turn forces you to stay, what we often say, on a track look or assuming. You can't assume where the guy's going to go because as soon as you do he goes the other way and we have an issue.

We had some issues with that in the game, not really going the wrong way, but just the slant caught us, and their guy made a nice play. And we haven't really faced that. And a player that can do that physically was impressive. And we can tweak the scheme. Because I'm sure we're going to see a little bit of those things again, especially with the power play as we move forward.

Communication on the sidelines I think is good. The kids are smart. The information that they give back to T.J. is very good. And in turn the information that goes back to Andy Ludwig is very good.

They're smart kids. They don't try to make things up on the sidelines. If they're seeing something, they communicate about it. We get it to T.J. and Coach (Jeff) Genyk and to Thomas (Brown) and the running backs and try to make the adjustments that we can.

But to sit here and say that it's not a little bit disheartening that we had a couple of little behind the line scrimmage plays in that setting was a little tough. So we'll study that as coaches. Are we getting schemed? Do they see something pre-snap on us? Did they just make a great play? Those are the things we're looking at.

QUESTION: Had to replace a couple of productive a couple reliable tight ends in Patterson and Wozniak. Judging by the amount of times you're still using multiple tight end sets, I'm guessing you're pleased with the young guys. How happy are you with guys like (Austin) Traylor and (Eric) Steffes and (Troy) Fumagalli and their development?

ANDERSEN: I believe that Austin had his best game. Austin Traylor was physical. He moved the line of scrimmage, was fairly consistent in his run blocking. And played his best game from what I saw in this last game, which was good to see. And when I say that, there was a lot of slants coming into his face very quickly in this game from a defensive end. And he had to handle that. And thought he did a nice job.

Steffes is continually growing into the offense, and he finds his role when he gets in. And he's done a very adequate job and continually growing in that area.

And Troy has grown in blocking. Blocked better this game. Had more reps this game. I believe the number was 17, if I remember off the top of my head, the reps that Troy had in this game. Made a big play in that last drive to catch the ball there on the third down and keep the drive alive on a contested ball. So I'm happy with the direction that they're moving.

QUESTION: Northwestern obviously had a tough start to the year, but seeing what they did on Saturday, what sort of effect will that have on your team this week?

ANDERSEN: You know, studied all the games, I've looked at all the games. And NIU played very, very well against Northwestern, did some great things and made some big time plays. And the ability for them to bounce back, they've shown that they're a resilient team, Northwestern is. They're tough minded. They had a setback, but they ground right through the setback and won games.

And they had a very, very impressive game this last week. They played well in all three phases and executed as a team at a very high level. They were able to run the ball. They were able to throw the ball. They got big plays when they needed it from the offense and the defense. The special teams was very solid.

So if that doesn't catch your eye and understand that this is a very, very good football team, then you don't understand football very well. Especially with what I've only learned in one year in the Big Ten: you had better have yourself ready every single week because it's going to be competitive and it's going to be physical and your opponent is very well coached.

QUESTION: You mentioned this briefly after the game Saturday about when asked about the passing game, you said what concerns you most is that when you throw it early, it's not as effective as you like, and I think the numbers really bear that out. Other than giving a guy high percentage throws, like layups, if you want to refer to them, what can you do to get any quarterback in rhythm earlier?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, that's if I knew the answer to that, we would try our best. The one thing you did see in the Bowling Green game, I'm pretty sure we threw the ball I know we threw it early. I think we threw it the first play. There's some opportunities to get Tanner involved in high percentage throws hopefully early on, and that's something that we'll look at and we'll see. We tried to do that early in this last game. And we didn't complete the one into the flat to Melvin, which comes to mind.

So it's just something that we need to continually look at and see how we can go. Second half we're seven of nine throwing the ball and do some good things, and Tanner did make some very nice plays. The corner blitz play he made where he threw it to Alex (Erickson) there on the sideline for a first down, that's a big time play from a quarterback stepping up on a guy coming off the edge. There's a lot of good things to see, but there's things we need to do to get better.

So however we're going to help them. And, again, I'm not an offensive guru or a quarterback guru, but our staff is working hard at it and so is Tanner to get early success and sustain drives and don't shoot ourselves in the foot with maybe it's a holding call, maybe it's a procedure, maybe it's a fumbled snap or whatever it may be, to find a way to sustain and maintain early and get ourselves rolling down the field and hopefully get a score.

QUESTION: Last year against BYU, leading into the BYU game, several coaches said it felt more like a conference game for them than some of the Big Ten games last year. How much more comfortable are you as a staff heading into this second year of the Big Ten in terms of knowing players on other teams and knowing schemes?

ANDERSEN: It's nice to have a knowledge base. You look at the young men that you watched a year ago and you knew a number and you looked at them and respected for who they were on tape, and now that you've been on the field against them for three hours, it does give you a little bit better feel of who they are, the size of the team. And what they do live is always a little bit different than what they do on tape.

But then to have the familiarity, to have our guys playing against them and our scheme, I think that helps also. So there's definitely some positives to that and there's some just preparing for a team for the second time through gives you what was the same as it was a year ago. So with the coordinators, maybe have an idea of who they are.

Now, on the flip side of that, they get the same. So now they've got an idea a little bit more of who is Dave Aranda and who is Andy Ludwig. So that definitely goes both ways.

QUESTION: Big Ten play starting for you guys this week, if you look at the West, there are four teams that are 1-0 right now. In some ways do you think the West Division is maybe tougher than what some might have anticipated a month ago?

ANDERSEN: Yeah. I always anticipated it to be tough. And that's not just talking, that's not just lip service. There's very good teams. And I think this is a very, very talented conference all the way through. But if you look at college football and you just see last weekend, we're approaching now a stretch where the games are five, six, seven, eight, nine, I believe are goes without saying they're the most important games of the year at this point because they're the ones you're playing.

But it's a tough stretch for all kids to sustain and maintain, because these young men have been doing this since June. And the freshmen that came out here that are playing as true freshmen, walked out of high school, some two or three days after high school and jumped right into a Division I football program.

So the ability to help them understand to stay fresh, to stay in a position to continually understand football is repetition and that's when you get good is so important.

But I think we're in a good spot. Like I said at the press conference after the game, I wanted to sit back and take a big deep breath and look to see anything that I could come up with to really help the kids. That's why I wanted to meet with them this morning and communicate with them. And nothing drastic to tweak. Really nothing came from them.

But we'll continue to work at it and put them in a position to be successful.

QUESTION: After the opener, you talked about a number of the players that it was their first time on that stage, you're going away from home and playing in a big time game like that. It's their second at least game away from home, going out on the road. What do you hope or think some of those players, Tanner included, that they would have learned from that experience that will benefit you this time?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, the road is the way we travel, once we get there, is exactly the same, just a different hotel. So I try to make it be as consistent as we can. We will go over to the stadium. I've never been there. Our staff some of them have been there, some of them haven't.

There's not a kid on the team, I believe, that's played there. To my knowledge. I've asked, and I haven't run into anybody that's played there. So there's going to be difference, so we need to go see it and understand it.

But just the travel, this time we're going to be on a bus instead of an airplane. Hey, let's get there. Let's enjoy the trip. Let's enjoy our teammates. Then we'll walk in and get into the standard operating mode.

We'll do the same much we always do a workout here before we go, and then we'll go have like we would we call them Best Fridays in Football and relax get ready to play the next day.

QUESTION: Could you share your thoughts on Northwestern's defensive front? They get after the quarterback, do a nice job against the run, too, it seems like.

ANDERSEN: Northwestern is a very good defense. Longtime defensive coordinator who is very, very sound. Ton of respect the way they line up, the way they play, the techniques that they use in the front end, the techniques that they use in the back end. That's gone on for years. So he's very good and his staff is very good at what they do.

They have some good players. Like everybody has good players, but they play at a high level. They do the fundamentals. They tackle very well.

But I think they take the highlighted players that they have and they make sure they're putting them in the opportune spots to change the game or flip the game upside down. And the communication I think they had last year to cause issues with Penn State's offense was very impressive.

QUESTION: You had multiple players after the game on Saturday seem annoyed by guys not being on the same page, guys not maybe coming to the start of the game with an edge. How much of that is youth and how much of that perhaps is chemistry?

ANDERSEN: Well, I think a lot of that can get overblown in a game like that in my opinion. If we don't get a holding call at the beginning and we go down and score and potentially it's 7 0, but it wasn't. And South Florida stopped us from doing that. We score there at the end and don't fumble the ball we were our own worst enemy. Not because we weren't playing hard.

That's -- again, what I shared with the kids this morning is the effort is there, which is I look for every single time the first thing I look for on tape is the effort of the offense, the effort of the defense and the special teams.

And it was there. It was like I stated at halftime, it was six more inches that we needed to get a big play, we would have had a couple scores. And South Florida wasn't allowing us to get that six inches. So they did some good things.

But kids naturally will go to that when all of a sudden they didn't get what they wanted at the beginning and maybe they think it's because they weren't as jacked up or as excited when they came out of the locker room.

I think that's way overblown. We played with emotion. Can we have more? Yeah, potentially you could have more. But I've been in games where you have great emotion and you don't play well and I've been in games when the emotion is just okay and you play very, very well.

So I was happy with the way they prepared, the way they walked out. But if they feel they need to get a little more of an edge, then it's important that they find a way to get that edge. And when I was a player, I sat in the corner of my locker and I didn't want anybody touching me, talking to me, and the last thing I wanted to do was somebody tapping me on the head and say, come on, let's go.

My deal was you go worry about you; I'll worry about me and I'll get my job done and then we'll be okay. Some kids on this team are like that, some aren't.

So if you need to get juiced up, get yourself juiced up where you need to be, but don't distract somebody else that may not need that.

QUESTION: You mentioned trying to get some of the younger receivers involved. Do you envision having to get them more snaps, maybe at the expense of some of the guys that are ahead of them right now stuck at one and two catches, or are you looking for them just to emerge when they're looked to by Tanner?

ANDERSEN: Well, the big thing is they've got to show it in practice. And consistency in practice leads to opportunities on game day. It's not there's no, ‘Hey, I'm ready. I'm a gamer.’ We don't use that word. There's no such thing in this program as ‘I'm a gamer.’

So when they deserve to be on the field and in practice, then they'll find themselves out on the field. And, again, the efforts there, the want to is there, but it's got to consistently show up. And then at that point you're going to see those young men come in in opportune times when the game is highly contested and they'll be allowed to make some plays in that spot. You saw George (Rushing) in there early on the fly sweep. It was good to see him get in and make a play on a run on a first down.

We're looking for more of it, but we're not going to push a button that is going to put the team in harm's way, at least with our the most educated decision we can make at practice.

QUESTION: Just want to follow up, (Rob) Wheelwright's health status? And then you mentioned earlier, anybody coming close to getting back from injury in the run game?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, Robert's healthy. He was all go last week in practice and seemed absolutely fine to me and doesn't show up on the injury report. So he's ready to go.

Other than that, you know, excited this week to continue with Joel and the snaps that he's getting at practice. Like I said last week, he was more involved in some team reps. And we're looking forward to continually growing that this week. And that's a good part, it's a good part for us to be in or a good spot for us to be in right now.

And the other guys are rehabbing, coming back. I think we came out of the game fairly healthy, so that was a big positive. Nobody else comes to mind that might this week or next week are going to be back. I would say after Illinois, then hopefully we're talking about two or three kids returning.

QUESTION: When you're asked about the passing game the other day, you said that needed to improved if you were going to be a good team or even a great team. That leads me to believe you think this could be potentially a great team. What gives you that belief?

ANDERSEN: Well, first of all, we're sitting at 3 1, which gives us an opportunity to get those wins as we go through it.

Secondly, said it many times, I like this team. I like the way they deal with adversity. You worry greatly about a team that is as youthful as they are and the lack of numbers in the senior leadership role, but I'm highly impressed with the way they have hung in there.

Another example struck me in this last game. Could have been real easy when you've got Melvin Gordon taking a handoff on the 2 yard line and he gets smacked in the backfield. You didn't see him get up and point fingers again. You saw him get up and dealt with it and we moved on and we played the next snap when we had the opportunity to.

So that's something that you don't coach. You hope it happens. And with this team, that's what's going to help them, I think, move down the line. And the few times when they had to face adversity, they battled through it and they flipped some bad situations, somehow, some way, again, into a good situation.

It's not ideal to be in the position where we were and blow a coverage and have it go down to the 10 yard line with a 10 point game, but you knock the ball out and you found a way to get it done.

And, again, that's kids playing hard. That's playing with great effort. They believe it can happen. It's not some coach drawing up on the board and saying, hey, when you blow a wheel route, run the ball 50 yards run 60 yards down the field and put your hand on the ball and knock it out and make sure it doesn't go out of bounds. We don't talk about that stuff. So it's great to see things like that.

QUESTION: Along those lines about Lubern (Figaro), how would you rate his ability to if he had to come up to the line of scrimmage, either on a quick screen or a running play and close and try to shut it down from getting off the back end?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, it's improved. If you go to the Bowling Green game, he had a tackle on the edge of the defense that he made and he had another one that he missed and he had one on Tuesday in practice that none of you saw that he came up and he missed, and he answered the next day and came back and made the exact same play.

So the learning curve is great for that young man, but he's getting coached very hard by no one else in the world I'd rather have coaching that guy in his room with a young safety than Bill Busch, and he accepts the coaching. He doesn't think he's arrived in any stretch of the imagination.

But his ability to tackle has improved week in and week out. I think his speed is good enough to get him into those situations.

But one of the biggest things as a free safety, sometimes you have to learn that you're going to just have to take a charge and you're going to get run over and you're going to get three more yards. That's the way it goes. But he's on the ground. And let us line up a play again. That mentality is still being learned in Lubern's mind, but it has improved over the last 10 days.


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