Badgers Ready for Stretch Run

Returning from its second and final bye week of the season, Wisconsin begins its second half of the season by hosting Maryland on Saturday. Badgers head coach Gary Andersen previews aspects of the matchup and discusses other topics during his Monday news conference.

Wisconsin Coach Gary Andersen

Ready to get back to work. Excited about the big challenge in front of us. Move on to Maryland: They're a very skilled team. Did a nice job last week and a big win for them, obviously, against Iowa. Point out a few things on the offensive side of the ball. Spread offense, very multiple. Quarterback has done a very nice job of running the ball and throwing the ball to a group of very skilled wide receivers.

They give you a bunch of different looks and cause you problems in the option game, throw game; it's a wide-open spread offense with a little bit of pace, but they do a nice job on the defensive side of the ball.

Personally, I'm very impressed with the ability for their inside guys on defense, their defensive linemen and linebackers; thought they played extremely well against Iowa. Physical, stout. Made a bunch of plays. Rushed the passer. They did a nice job there. At the back end, they've got some young men, (William) Likely, the young man has made nice plays back there. And overall it's a skilled defense that runs pretty good.

On special teams, their return game speaks for itself. It's very dangerous. Gotta make sure, if you're going to kick it to them, you have to cover down or they're going to make you pay.

Our opportunities to cover the field will be there for us. And that will be a big challenge for us moving through this week. And kicking the ball will be a high importance, kicking the ball the correct way. Overall, looking forward to the week of prep as we move into today.

QUESTION: Regarding their offense, it appeared that Iowa had a difficult time locating the ball, with the ball facing the backfield by the quarterback, whether it's play-action passes or their misdirection running game. How important is that going to be this week for you guys to see it quickly and be able to get there?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, it's a big part of it. I'm not going to sit back and say it's an offense that's designed just tricking you. It's not, but they do a lot of things. There's a lot of formations. There's a lot of different parts to it.

There's pullers. There's great play-action pass schemes that come out of it. And so your presnap awareness will be important, and our ability to fit where you need to fit.

Many of their plays are built and designed to kind of cut a defense in half, if you will, by things that can go on on both sides of the football, whether that be a screen play or a player, puller going opposite of where the ball's really going.

So there's a lot to it. It will be important to tackle in space, I would say. They force you to tackle the quarterback, the running backs, whoever it may be, in space. So our ability to get that done athlete on athlete will be very important for us.

QUESTION: Where are we at as far as status of (Warren) Herring and (Derek) Watt injury wise?

ANDERSEN: I have to see how the week goes. I'm optimistic, the end of the last week. I'll remain optimistic until I'm told that they're going to play, so I'm not optimistic anymore. I was correct. And if I'm told different, then I won't be correct. But I hope they play.

QUESTION: At the halfway point of the season, what concerns you most as a coach, your passing offense, which is obviously not where you would like it to be, your turnover margin, or your red-zone conversion ratio, all those numbers are much different than they were a year ago?

ANDERSEN: I don't even know if I can sit back and say one of those is more important than the other. I think they're all three very important. And it's holding us back from being more productive on the offensive side of the ball. Those are three things we've absolutely discussed along with our ability on defense to not give up the big play in crucial situations.

That's easy to say. That's kind of what happens when you give up a big play in critical situations on defense. But there's been some of those that have really hurt us, and our inability to be able to kick the ball effectively, especially in the punting game.

So those five or six things are vital to us. It's important that as coaches we stress the importance of getting better and players understand the importance of it getting better. And then we see us getting better. That is the bottom line. We need to get better in those areas. And there is no sit back and say well this and that and whatever. We need to be better.

QUESTION: You mentioned when facing a really good return guy, and Maryland has two of them both, punt and kick, best way is not to give them a chance to return it. Can (Andrew) Endicott give you that on kickoffs? And with the rugby style with Drew (Meyer), can he just try to get it directional, kick it out of bounds enough so that you don't let that guy get a chance?

ANDERSEN: I think the key is we need to mix it up a little bit. And depending on how the weather is, looks like the weather's going to be great. Who knows what the wind is going to be. But our ability to try to get the ball in the end zone is the easiest way to take care of it. That would be to our liking if we can get that done. If we can't, then you cover down, do a good job.

In the punting game, we'll use a mixture. We won't just be a rugby team. There's opportunity for rugby situations for us. I think the key is to, again, when we do kick it, kick it well and, number two, get off and cover well.

This is a punt return team that's much like our punt return team. I think they take great pride in blocking and give them space to their returner, just like our kids have done a pretty good job with Kenzel (Doe) back there all year long, and it becomes contagious within a punt return team when they have a returner that can do something. I would say it's a mixture of kicking the ball well, covering well and having some changeups.

QUESTION: The depth chart this week has Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy again, is that because you don't want to name a starter for tactical purposes, or are you going into this week again thinking it's yet another competition type of situation?

ANDERSEN: I wouldn't say it's a competition. We have two quarterbacks. And those kids are completely on board with that. And that's the way I see us progressing, and that's the way we are moving forward. And Andy (Ludwig) believes it's best to have the ability to play both quarterbacks, for what they can bring to the offense at certain moments, certain situations.

So we'll continue to progress forward. And the good thing is Joel and Tanner understand. I think they get it. They're competitors. Would they like to take every snap? Yes, but they also understand where they sit and they're working to get better just like we're trying to help them get better as coaches and put the offense around them to give them the best chance to be successful.

And right now, without a doubt, having both those kids an opportunity to allow their presence to be known in certain situations.

QUESTION: Now that you've gone through it, how much do you like the two bye week schedule and especially helpful this season with the issues you're working with the offense and injuries too?

ANDERSEN: I really liked this bye week. Halfway through the season, it's a natural break. And never had a bye week (then) that I can remember. I've had them early. I don't ever remember having one after week two. Had one after week one, which is basically the same thing.

So like I always say with byes we'll take them whenever they come and make the best of it. But I think this last week was good for us. It was a great challenging moment for our young players to understand that we expect them to rise up to the occasion and we're never going to, I say it many times, I say it again, we don't use youth as a crutch and we won't.

And now I expect that youth to grow and develop and put themselves in a position to understand that they have played some road games. They've lined up in Camp Randall now four times. And whether they've played six or seven snaps or they've played 70 or 80 snaps, they should be able to get into the moment and understand it better and I expect them to produce at a high level when given the opportunity.

QUESTION: What did you think of Maryland and Rutgers before you ever knew you were going to play them, and what do you think of them now that they have some Big Ten games under their belt?

ANDERSEN: I didn't know much about them, other than simply watching them on TV. I had a little bit of a tie with Maryland. Brian Stewart, their defensive coordinator, was back with us at NAU. And talked to him a little bit. I know Coach (Bill) Busch has a pretty good relationship with Brian. So it was from afar on TV, I guess. ESPN or wherever, where they were when you get to watch them play. Now we get to watch them on the Big Ten Network.

But much respect has been gained when I didn't know much about them, but they play with a physical presence. I've crossed paths with Rutgers. Obviously spent more time watching Maryland as we prepare for game week with them.

But they'll fit in very well. They seem to have a very nice recruiting base. They're physical. They're tacklers on defense very, very technically sound I would say within the fundamentals of tackling. They do a nice job and they'll do just fine in this league as they continue to grow. And right now we're doing pretty good, too.

QUESTION: Has it been your experience over time that after the halfway point in the season you are who you are, your strengths through the first six games, are your strengths and your weaknesses, your inabilities are your inabilities and you'll just have to deal with them?

ANDERSEN: I don't think I'd ever cave in and say, `Oh, we can't do that' -- that's just not my nature. We'll continue to work hard. And we understand your deficiencies, and people are going to prey on your deficiencies. That's what good coaches do. Until you can say that you've fixed it, they're going to make you pay.

And this league is full of very good coaches and it's no different this week with Maryland. They're very good coaches. So you've got to look at it. You've got to address it. You try to mold and get the best kids you can get out there on offense, defense, and special teams to give you an opportunity to win football games.

But you also have to understand who you are, and you can't just keep trying to beat it down, beat it down. If you can't do it, you've got to move on and do some other things.

And I think we've done a pretty good job of that on offense and defense. Although we need to see more production in some of those areas that we talked earlier about or we won't be a good football team, let alone have an opportunity to be a great football team as we move forward.

QUESTION: Do you expect Marcus Trotter back this week? And also I know obviously (Derek) Landisch came back with a brace on. Do you expect Landisch and Trotter and if those guys are at full strength, do you still want to work Leon (Jacobs) in there in the inside as well?

ANDERSEN: Yes to all those. I expect Derek (Landisch) and Marcus (Trotter) to be full steam and Leon (Jacobs) to continue to grow, develop, get the practice reps and move forward and be involved in the game plan as we go through the week. And getting Marcus back is big for us.

He's played very well now when we've had him. He's been healthy. He's been a force. I go back to a year ago I believe it was when Chris (Borland) was hurt in the Illinois game. So when Marcus has been given that opportunity, he's played well.

And he deserves to be given an opportunity in my mind again this week and he will be the starter as long as he's healthy, and we would expect nothing more than to have him play at a high level again. But Leon has an opportunity to be in the mix also.

QUESTION: With what Melvin (Gordon) has done this year, obviously he's gained a lot of national recognition with Heisman buzz and things of that nature. What does it mean to have a guy like that on the team, not just on the field, but what does it mean for the program as far as having a guy who is getting the Heisman buzz and national recognition things of that nature?

ANDERSEN: It's always great to have your name out there when it's attached to something like Melvin Gordon, or attached to a young man like Melvin Gordon. You all know what I think of him on and off the field.

But from a recruiting standpoint, it's big for us. Not just because of the not just at the running back position, it's big for us to be in the national spotlight. I don't know how many times this weekend I saw the `Heisman Hopefuls' come up. And I never saw one that didn't have Melvin on it.

So it's great for Wisconsin, overall, as a university. And to have such a great young man kind of be the poster (child), you're in good shoes with that kid being up there.

QUESTION: Referring to specifically Watt and Herring, what is your rule how long they have to practice? Do they have to be on the field at the outset of the week? What's your overview on how you handle injuries like that?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, those kids, as soon as they can get back and play, they'll be prepared to get into the game prep opportunities. That will be handled a lot earlier in the week, especially by the trainers. It's really going to be how they progress. If they're ready to play, I'll expect them to jog out there and be ready to play. How much they play, you know, who really knows.

I think it's so early to say. But if they're ready to go, they'll play quite a few reps on Saturday.

QUESTION: This will be the fifth time you've opened at 11 a.m. here at home. And I know not ideal for the fans. Probably wouldn't be the team's first choice. But have there been challenges, dealing with so many? You can always expect that in the second time zone, but having so many here?

ANDERSEN: I've been asked that question in the past, is it abnormal. Coach Strick (Ben Strickland) told me a few years ago, every game, except maybe one, was at 11 the whole season.

It's something our kids, it doesn't really faze them. I don't think it really bothers them to play 11. We played one night game. Played at 2:30 once and 11 on the other ones. Not a big deal.

The place it probably hurts us the most is in recruiting. We have a huge recruiting weekend this weekend and every game at home this year has been at 11. And you try to get kids on bye weeks to get up here on Friday night. Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn't.

But if a kid plays on Friday, he has to drive to get here, has to get on an airplane to get here for an official visit, it becomes difficult for them to see the game or hopefully get to see some of it, if not all of it, and experience Camp Randall because you can't show that on a video presentation or whatever it may be. To be in that stadium and be part of that experience on game day is something that we really like our recruits to be part of if possible.

So we play better or worse at different times? No. A little bit later kickoff would be good a couple of times of year for recruiting.

QUESTION: With Northwestern now losing twice, you're back in control of maybe your own fate in terms of the Big Ten championship game, is that something you bring up with your guys, are your guys aware of that, obviously?

ANDERSEN: Yes, we absolutely talk about it, yes. I walk through the coaches' offices and meeting rooms. A lot of those coaches have the standings up on the board once we got into the Big Ten so the kids understand where they sit.

I would be very hopeful our kids already know that. Which I'm sure they do. Don't make a big deal out of it other than they understand where they sit. The season's halfway over.

There's a bunch of league games left. Every game we play right now is going to be very, very meaningful, as far as moving on and having the opportunity to get into a Bowl game and having an opportunity to compete and get into that big game that allows us to have an opportunity to get to the championship game.

So our kids are, I'm sure, very aware of it. That really should be in the back of our mind for this football team in my opinion for any football team right now, just take it one step at a time and what's at the end of the rainbow hopefully is a nice pot of gold and a lot of pennies sitting there.

QUESTION: With regards to the teams in the West Division, has anything caught you by surprise to this point? Has anybody stood out where you went, I didn't think they'd be that good or they haven't performed the way they thought, again not giving scouting reports, but just your thoughts on that?

ANDERSEN: I would say I felt going in it was going to be very competitive. Much more so than what everybody turned around and talked about. And I think it's shown to be that at this point. Every team can line up and play and they have playmakers, and given the opportunity they're going to put themselves in a spot to be able to win the game.

I'm not surprised at all with how competitive it is, number one. And I think it will continue to remain competitive, quite frankly, probably right down to the last week, to see there's going to be, might be four teams left in that thing at the end. Who knows as you look at it.

It's crazy right now. It will work its way out. But there's again good coaches, good players. This is the Big Ten. You're going to have good football teams and they're going to continue to work to get better as the season goes on and take advantage of your deficiencies that you may have and try to take away what you do well. And that's what good coaches do.

QUESTION: Your relationship with David Aranda dates back to a football camp in Hawaii. Could you tell me what you saw in him there that made you want to hire him at Utah State? Was it word of mouth or something specifically there? Curious to find out about that relationship.

ANDERSEN: Dave and I spent kind of a week together at a camp, four, five days on Maui -- tough duty having to go to Maui for a camp for four or five days. But we dug our way through it.

I got to see him coach. I got to see him be around young men, how he really taught. And Dave's personality is much, much different than mine. And I never try to really hire a coach off of personality. I just try to hire a coach off what he's done. And his ability to be able to, number one, teach young men, be around young men and care about young men. And he showed me in that week he definitely did that. We were able to talk a little bit of football. And he had enough of a background to let me understand that he had put together some nice pieces to puzzles in defense.

Probably the most important part was his boss at Hawaii, Greg McMackin, head coach at Hawaii, who I have tremendous, tremendous respect for. And when I called Greg about possibly hiring Dave Aranda, without question he said that would be a great hire. And it turned out to be. So that's how that story went.

But he cares about young men, which is number one. And he does a nice job recruiting and then he molds a pretty good defense together also.

Badger Nation Top Stories