Badgers Looking for a Bounce Back

After succumbing on the road in the Big Ten opener, Wisconsin - no longer ranked in the AP poll - returns to Camp Randall Stadium to host a struggling Illinois program Saturday. Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen addresses a number of the issues surrounding his football team.

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen Opening Statement

ANDERSEN: I want to just talk real briefly about the last game and then move on. A lot has been talked about with the quarterback position, and I just want to bring some things to the forefront here in my opinion as I look at it. Understand that, yeah, we threw four picks, but I think everybody needs to understand that this is an offense. It's not an individual game and kids get put into a spot where it's all them, it's all their problem. So the pick goes into one stat box under one name, I understand that.

I was going to share you the facts of the deal. On the four picks, one of them the quarterback was hit and it was a contested ball that could have gone either way, which Northwestern got. The other one was a tip ball. There was another one that was a contested ball, and the other one was a decision that we'd all like to have back, but we can still look at ourselves in the eye and say we're all responsible for every one of those picks.

So that's me as a coach. And I believe in both of our quarterbacks. I'm excited to see them continue to grow and develop, and we're looking forward to getting better on the offensive side of the ball. That is that, and that's really all there is to say.

So I'll move on. But would like to point out Melvin (Gordon), unbelievable game again, and I'm sure there's more to come. Excited about the level of play and where he is and the situations that he's putting us in to be able to have an opportunity to win games. Then the last thing on the defensive side, from the Northwestern game, our defense was just OK in that game. If we sit back and look at it again from a team aspect, and we all look at ourselves and I look at myself first in all these situations, the fact of the matter is we allowed the Northwestern to run the ball effectively on us, and they did run the ball effectively on us, which, in turn, flipped field position. There were four starting drives that were very difficult for the offense, and the defense had a lot to do with that, the starting point.

We had an opportunity to make two special plays on fourth down. We didn't make them. I guess one was on fourth down, the other one was on third down there at the end of the game where they completed the power pass in the flat.

So, again, it's a team game, a team effort. I look at myself first, but there are no individuals that cost us the football game.

QUESTION: You were asked after the game about moving forward with the quarterback situation. How are you going to handle that this week, whether it's incorporating both of them, one of them? How do you sit down with Andy and decide that this week?

ANDERSEN: Andy (Ludwig) and I have discussed it, and Andy has discussed it and communicated with the quarterbacks also. They could possibly both be on the field at the same time. I'm hoping that happens because I think that opens up a little can of worms for people to wonder what's going to happen. So we'll see if that takes place for a couple plays. We'll also play them in different situations.

I'm a firm believer now that our offense with where we are with our offense as a whole, not at the quarterback position, we're best served to be able to play both quarterbacks to help Joel (Stave) when he's in there at quarterback, to help Tanner (McEvoy) when he's in there at quarterback. Both of them playing on the offense, and in turn, help them be better.

QUESTION: Obviously, one guy can only handle so much of a workload. But when there is a one score game like that and you get to watch it over and over again, do you ever think to yourself man, we should give Melvin the ball even more, as crazy as that seems, because he does touch the ball so much?

ANDERSEN: He's had an opportunity to make (no audio). We got the ball, we made a great run. We got the ball on the 2 yard line and we got ourselves backed up and that was a huge situation. You know, you sit there and you're going to go back, and anyone would sit back and say, oh, would we like to have called a run down there on the 2 yard line, but if it was a completed pass, it would have been great, but it wasn't. So we look at ourselves and say, could have, would have, should have. But Melvin has a nice workload right now, and I think he's handling it well.

QUESTION: This is in the hindsight department. Where you are today and where you are moving forward, has it forced you to revisit the original decision in camp on how to proceed with the offense at the quarterback position?

ANDERSEN: No, because the key thing for that is there are so many factors in my own opinion, and where we were and what took place and the whole scenario that was there, that, no, I do not. Because, again, there is a lot more to it than just the public's eye or I guess the people that weren't in the middle of the two a day camp with the coaches.

QUESTION: We've all seen some of the nice things you've done with the option and the running part of the quarterback game. Regarding Tanner, if you had maybe committed even more to that or would that make him a more effective player do you think?

ANDERSEN: After the amount of games that Tanner has played and where he sits, yes, I would agree with that statement. His ability to throw on the run, his ability to get outside of the pocket and move around, and that's the direction that we potentially can move, I hope, as we go forward. To play within the strengths of Joel. Play within the strengths of Tanner, and quite frankly if one of them turns around and runs away with it, goes as the offense goes. But there needs to be more opportunities to function on the skillsets of the players on the offensive side, and quite frankly, sometimes on the defensive side too.

QUESTION: Is that going to be hard to have an offense with maybe a split personality like that? Obviously, the two quarterbacks are different.

ANDERSEN: Yeah, because right now I don't think you'll see any type of a split personality because of the fact that the familiarities are there for us. We're not going to come out and be a pistol team with one guy sitting in there, and then turn around and be our normal offense that we are as we sit today. So you'll have a flavor. Tanner can run our offense, and he can also give us the flavor of some of the option stuff that he's done, which is great. Without adding new plays right now for him, those are plays that are already in the repertoire. And Joel, on the flip side of things, can get that ball down the field like we hope he can. He showed two very, very nice balls that were thrown in the last game and his ability to take the top off the coverage, and his ability to be involved in the throw game, I believe, will be a huge positive.

He can run our offense that we've had down the line. So I think we're in a good spot.

QUESTION: Did you see enough of Tanner last year as a wide receiver to get a solid evaluation? And given where you are at that position, if you're only going to use him on a part time basis at quarterback, can he help you at all there?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, that's also some things to sit back and discuss. The knowledge base and the ability for him to get out there. There is a learning curve, again. But it's a possibility. Let me put it that way.

QUESTION: You mentioned after the game that one of Joel's better passes was when he checked on the flat to Corey (Clement), and that at times seemed to be hit or miss. Is that a learned skill? Is that something you can still teach them at this point or do they have to have that ability to know to check it down to get to their progression that quickly?

ANDERSEN: I don't know if I could answer that from a professional standpoint, and I don't want to sit here in front of you and make stuff up that I know how to coach a quarterback. I'm sure reps help that. Learned behavior as far as where they are in the offense and how they feel and the overall knowledge, because I couldn't even tell you what the name of that play is. I have no idea.

But I think that Joel's comfort zone to get through the checks in the offense is pretty good at times. I think Tanner has shown that in games too.

QUESTION: Have you been walking a fine line with your wide receivers in terms of having veterans who know what they're doing and maybe young guys who are possibly bigger better big play threats down the field? How do you resolve that and where do you go with that?

ANDERSEN: Coach (Chris) Beatty and Coach (Andy) Ludwig are talking long and hard about that. We had some discussions this morning, just talking about where we sit, how we try to move kids forward without hurting the team. Again, I go back, and it is a complex offense, but these kids should be in a spot to where they know the offense now and they should be able to get out there and be involved. It's getting better. I said it a week ago, you've got to show it in practice to get on the field, and that is improving.

So our ability to get those kids in those moments is hopefully those moments on Saturday, I should say, is hopefully close to happening. I like them.

QUESTION: Along those lines of the wide receivers, you mentioned and Chris (Beatty) has mentioned about the contested balls. Is there anything you can do in practice, if a kid just doesn't have that in him at this point in his development to say you've got to go up there and rip the ball out of the other guy's hands and not just let him take it and protect your quarterback?

ANDERSEN: Contested balls are definitely part of the game. It's difficult. It's kind of like, I guess, a corner speaking from my area and where I grew up as a defensive player, there are corners that just feel comfortable in that last six inches when the ball is coming down on the fade route, and I don't panic because I see the receivers hands go in the air. I feel comfortable. Keep moving down the field, and get my hand up there and knock it out, most of the time in manned coverage because it's not an interception defense for the most part.

I think receivers are like that too. There is just a calmness that comes over them when they get into a position where they are involved in the contested ball.

Much like a great pass rusher, they're born; I think, great contested ball catchers are born. Can you do things to help them in practice? Absolutely. We do. Chris (Beatty) does a great job of teaching these wide receivers the skillsets that they need to be able to be prepared. But they've just got to get up there and make it. Practice helps, but it's not the answer to making them be great contested ball catchers.

QUESTION: In addition to the young wide receivers and as you sort out the offense, one thing is that you haven't had someone come out of the back field whether it's combined the role that James White had last year as a pass catcher. Have the opportunities just not been there this year for them?

ANDERSEN: We've missed some. The screen game has not been great for us. I think the swings to Melvin and the swings to Corey are in the game plan weekly. Our ability to be consistent and get in those dump off throws and those throws to them have not been as good. The check downs, which we hit a few of those, we hit a touchdown a few weeks ago to Corey. I believe Bart (Houston) threw that one, if I remember right. It's part of our offense. It's there. I do agree with your statement. The involvement of the backs in the throw game will open things up for us a little bit more as we move forward, I hope.

QUESTION: It seemed as you were moving through the season that you were adding plays that had Melvin and Corey on the field at the same time. Northwestern seemed to be a lesser amount of those plays. Was there a reason for that?

ANDERSEN: I would probably just say the run game was very successful. That was not our nemesis. Our base core runs were successful in that game. Because of that and the way Melvin was running, we wanted to keep him in there with the speller of Corey coming in when Corey needed to spell him. So probably quite honestly, I'm sure they were there within the call sheet of Andy's. I don't know Andy's call sheet, but I'm sure those plays were there. Andy, obviously, didn't feel like he needed to go to those in the running situations to win the game. The running game had no effect on us not winning.

QUESTION: I know you're not a Twitter guy anymore, but you don't have you probably know that Bart Houston has become the fan favorite, so to speak, as a second or third stringer often is. Given how highly he was recruited, is there some reason he's not been able to become a factor in this mix?

ANDERSEN: You know, just I would just say that the opportunity, and he comes in, he competes hard. He works his tail off. Bart's a good quarterback. I think our other guys have done some pretty good things too at times. That's a hard one for me to explain other than the fact that as a coaching staff we sat down and made a decision that those are the guys that we're going to go with, and Bart was obviously a big part of it. Evaluate practice, review practice, it was Tanner, and Joel, and then Bart.

QUESTION: Because the conference season is so young, you've obviously just played one game, what is the approach with the team mentally this week? Because as you mentioned after the game, just 0 1, and the last couple times the team started 0 1 in the Big Ten they've gone on to win the conference title. How do you approach that this week?

ANDERSEN: A year ago we sat in this exact same spot, if I'm not mistaken. So the sky has not fallen completely for sure. So these kids I truly believe will be able to come back, and being 0 1 in conference is not the end of the world. It wasn't the plan walking in, but our kids were good this morning.

I don't really formulate a plan when I get up in front of the kids today in the team meeting. I don't write down a bunch of notes. I just speak from my heart to them. I believe we're going to be fine. I believe in this crew. They're going to work hard. They're going to fight back. We lost to a team that's a good football team.

Northwestern is going to win a lot of games as they go through the year. I truly believe that. They've really done a nice job of getting the ball to their play makers on offense. The two transfer kids that came in, one from Rutgers, one from USC, I believe, those two kids flipped their offense upside down and gives them a core of four or five wide receivers that are talented kids that helps them move along.

So we'll have a message of positiveness, and as always, don't forget it, but we have to move on to have an opportunity to beat Illinois.

QUESTION: What are the challenges Illinois poses. Without their starting quarterback, how do you go about start scouting their quarterback position?

ANDERSEN: Well, the Nebraska game, the young man that will play against us played, so we'll put a lot of stock into that game. He's played games. We'll go back and look, he's finished some games and played some games in the past so I think we have enough film to get him evaluated and see what kind of quarterback he is.

The offense is very wide open. They throw the ball all over the place with a lot of different schemes. It's a coordinator that's done it for a long, long time and been very effective at what he does. So it's going to be an interesting challenge for us. Again, they have a very talented tailback who we played against last year, and he's continued to get better, and better, and better as he's gone through his career. So they'll pose a series of problems just like every offense does, and it will be a good match up for us.

The key is this week for the Badgers to take care of the Badgers on offense, defense, and special teams. If we do that, we'll have a good opportunity, and I'm sure Illinois would say the exact same thing. They'll have a good opportunity if they take care of themselves.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the status of (Marcus) Trotter and (Devin) Gaulden and (Derrick) Tindal, also, Taiwan Deal, is he any closer to being back or any of the other guys that have been out?

ANDERSEN: Taiwan will be back out at practice, but he'll be involved in the scout team scenario. Right now the plan is to redshirt him unless well, we're going to redshirt him because nothing's going to happen. So there you go, we're good there.

Let's see. Devin (Gaulden) is questionable. We'll see exactly how he moves forward. (Marcus) Trotter should be fine. (Derrick) Tindal should be fine, and did you mention somebody else I'm missing?

QUESTION: Any of the other guys?

ANDERSEN: No, not yet. Those guys are still getting closer as the days click by they're getting closer to getting back.

QUESTION: Melvin has played awesome the last few games. How good is he right now, and how much better do you think he can be by the end of the year?

ANDERSEN: I think he's leading the country, right? Right now there is nobody better. He's leading the country. I'm biased, I'm sure, but he is an unbelievable force out there on the football field. Anytime he catches it, he has the ability to go the distance and exciting to watch him play. You know, when you walk by that young man after the game and the first thing he does is walk up to you and say sorry, coach, are you kidding me? That is a class individual. He's a great kid and deserves what he's getting in the run game.

Hopefully his accolades follow him and he gets everything he wants in football, because he's a tremendous young man, and a great player, and will have high expectations of playing at a high level again this week, and hope he'll lead us to a victory.

QUESTION: Coach, one, you seem to put a lot of emphasis and stock in how players perform in practice, was there anything last week that led up to them maybe not performing as well as your expectations were? Then when things don't go quite as well, you've talked about motivation and reinforcing positive stuff. But as a coach, parent, teacher, do you let your players know if there is an area of disappointment, you're honest and just tell them you're better than this?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, first of all, if we look back and say, OK, how are we going to handle the loss with the kids, there are a lot of different ways to do it. But we're aggressive in our coaching. We always have been. We believe in being aggressive in our coaching, and we'll completely let them understand when we need to get better, how we need to get better, and what our issues are. We'll also take responsibility for coaches. Because I think if we do that, we're not who we say we are. We can't just sit back and hide from it.

So I expect our coaches to coach young men tough, hold them accountable on and off the field, like we always talk about, and expect them to continually move forward. What was the first part of the question again?

QUESTION: Did you have a good week of practice?

ANDERSEN: Oh, good week of practice. Well, both offensively and defensively we had what our coordinators told me was our best week of practice. So maybe that's verbiage we should stay away from in the future. But I thought the kids practiced very well and came out and did good for my mindset. They did also. But good practice doesn't always guarantee a victory, that's for sure.

QUESTION: Getting back to Melvin for a second. You may have partially addressed this. You know what his expectations are. You know some of the things he talked about, why he came back this year. Is he on your radar at all in any way if his frustration level with the lack of team success to this point affecting his performance? If he starts to try to do too much and step out of his comfort level.

ANDERSEN: Do I worry about that? No. I'm very comfortable with Melvin being driven enough as a competitor to go out and compete every week regardless of the team's record and regardless of, quite frankly, what successes he had the week before. He's going to keep on going. But it does make me happy for him that he is where he is today versus where he was after three games. I think it's great for him to be in the spot he's in because that was his expectation to be a great running back.

Again, we know he doesn't sit there and say I'm the best or I'm this, I'm that. That's not him. But he sees himself as a very good football player and has high expectations of himself. I think he feels he's in a better spot right now with his numbers personally than he was weeks ago. There is a little bit of a selfish side to this game. It's good for Melvin to be there. I like him. I like the fact that he's having that success.

QUESTION: Since we're moving our way down the depth chart at quarterback. D.J. Gillins is definitely going to redshirt?

ANDERSEN: Yes, D.J. will absolutely redshirt.


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