Badgers Start Preparation for Boilers

With the No.1 defense in the country, No.25 Wisconsin heads back on the road for a Saturday morning matchup against Purdue. Badgers coach Gary Andersen addressed UW's defense and other topics on Monday.

Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen

Couple of things off last week's game were important. Haven't talked a lot about Darius Hillary this year, because he's on the corner. Plays very, very well, there is a lot of times -- a lot of people don't see production or see what he's doing, he's played fantastic, he is good in his man skills, his physical skills and he is a good tackler, and I think he needs to be thrown out there as a big part of this defense that has become fairly successful in the last few weeks of what they've been doing, and his work ethic and everything else is what we are about as a football team on and off the field. So that's for starters.

Excited about the opportunity to get out and compete, it was a big game last week, we were able to win on the road and ready to get back to work. Purdue is an offensive football team that causes you a lot of problems, and they've got two very fast running backs, as fast as we've played all year long as far as sheer speed. I would bet the fastest, when you win the 200 and the 100 in the Big Ten, I don't know that much about track, but I know that's really fast when you win a race like that, and it shows up on film.

Both those young men are very good football players and very, very fast. It's an offense that's changed from a year ago. They're much more wide open, their plan is to obviously spread the field both ways on you from sideline to sideline, from end zone to end zone and they've done a nice job, created big plays. There is a lot of defenses in this league that I've learned to truly respect from a coach's standpoint and players and their scheme over the last couple of years, and one of those would be Minnesota and the other would definitely be Michigan State. That's not taking away from the other teams in this conference's defense at all, but I've seen those guys play and they're very good, and Purdue played well offensively against both those teams.

So we will have our work cut out for us without question. On the offense, as far as their defense goes, I love watching the two defensive ends play. They're good pass rushers, they get up the field, cause havoc in the run game and those guys are as good of a tandem as I've even. Also, if you were looking at the tape, I think you would agree with me, offensively they will be aggressive, stack the box, and plan on playing a physical brand of football. I think it’s a single digit couple of defensive linemen in there -- I forget the kids' names, I apologize I don't have them -- but they’ve got some big kids on the defensive line that are stout and hard to move, so we'll go on the road again and excited about it.

QUESTION: Coach, do you have any updates on Alex Erickson?

ANDERSEN: Fully expected to play, be ready to go.

QUESTION: You've got a defense right now that ranks No. 1 in the country in total defense, obviously Dave Aranda has a lot to do with that. What is it about Dave that has made him excel wherever he goes?

ANDERSEN: I think the first thing is, anytime a coach is successful he's got some good players with him that buy into his system, and the beliefs of what the defense is trying it get done as a whole. Without that you’ve got zero chance as a coach, I don't care where you're at or who you're coaching. So these got some very talented young men who care. Number two, there is a plan. The plan is in place. The plan is flexible, but the core of the plan always stays together on the defensive side of the football. It starts with fundamentals, it starts with stopping the run, and it moves to causing issues with the quarterback, as he continues to move through the game, that you want to get him off track. Dave is a good mind.

Let's not forget the rest of the guys in the room with him -- Coach Chad (Kauha’aha’a), Bill (Busch) do a tremendous job, Ben Strickland does a tremendous job -- and those guys, as a core defensive unit, this year I have spent a lot of time sitting in the meeting room with those guys, and I really haven't done that since I've been with Dave. I took my last year at Utah State and decided to spend more time on the offensive side of the ball for meetings, and he handled that situation very well, as far as the defense there, and last year I was not in there hardly at all again, handled it very well, but it's fun to be over there this year and see how they kind of go about things.

Dave is a very good football coach, he's got some very good football coaches with him, and like I said, talented players, and that's a recipe for success as long as you stick with your plan, which he does.

QUESTION: Gary, along the lines of the defense, you just talked about (Darius) Hillary and you talked about (Michael) Caputo's value and (Marcus) Trotter at times, but before the game Kyle (Flood) from Rutgers -- was talking about, he was asked about the defense, and he said it's an 11 man defense. He didn't single anybody out because he thought the strength of it was that all eleven guys on the field are doing their job. How important is that, even if you have playmakers, at end, linebacker, whatever, for everyone to carry out their responsibility?

ANDERSEN: It's unbelievably important, especially with all the spread, and this is going to be a great challenge this week. These guys force you to play 11 man defense and that would be another one of the strengths if I sat back, and I just said how Dave goes about teaching, and how he goes about implementing a game plan. The young men understand where their fits are, and if they've gone through their time here, approaching two years here pretty quick, they've been able to understand what the system is.

And there is ideas that go into it, there is terminology, there is a language that -- I always use that word with defense -- I think it's so important that they speak the same language, and then you can get 11 guys on the same page. And it doesn't have to necessarily be 11 NFL players at this level to be a very good defense, but it does have to be 11 good football players or however many kids are running through it. And the other thing I think that is important is the packages that we run, it allows young men, even if they're a young player, and they're getting seven reps a game or they're getting 10 reps a game, and they're in a package, it allows them to have tremendous pride in their defense and know their number can be called at any moment, and it's not going to be guaranteed to just sit there and watch the game, and that's another big part of our defense as we move forward, and I think Dave has done a good job of using that, also.

QUESTION: In talking to (Derek) Landisch and Marcus Trotter and Vince Biegel, those guys talk a lot about playing for each other and playing for Coach Aranda. Do you sense a greater chemistry on this defense that maybe your squad had a year ago?

ANDERSEN: No, I wouldn't compare them, as far as that goes, in a positive or negative way to a year ago. I think the kids last year had a great chemistry among themselves, they were senior-laden, they accepted us, and I said that many times and I'm always going to be very, very appreciative to those kids for that opportunity that they gave us to walk in and, quite frankly, change a lot of things on the defensive side of the ball when they've had some success, so they handled it well.

This year, this whole team, I think, is like that, which you explained. Their ability and their care factor, to number one, they like each other, and that's not just the offense or the defense or special teams. You walk through the locker room after practice, spend five minutes with them, do they all love each other? No, that's fallacy. 105 guys aren't going to love 105 guys, but they like and respect each other and care for themselves and care for the other kids on the team and make sure they try to do things the right way, but it's been apparent to everybody on this team that they do care for each other, and that is one of the reasons they're so fun to coach, because they're a good group of kids.

QUESTION: Gary, in your opening statement you said that your defense is fairly successful at this point in time. Are you underselling it a little bit?

ANDERSEN: Well, we've still got a long ways to go in the regular season so I'm going to stick right there, so stats are stats and facts are facts, and to me the facts are when it's all said and done and the helmets are back in the locker room for the year, that's when you can sit back and be judged how good you were on offense, defense, or special teams, and, quite frankly, by wins and losses. So they've played well, they've done tremendous things, and I'm proud of them. We're sitting in a great spot, and what they have done to this point is continue to get better, but they're going to be judged, as we all are, on our last performance, not really one that's ahead of us. We'll see.

I think they have the same little edge about them, too. They're not going to sit there and say ‘Oh, we're number one at this, we're number two at that,’ so they pride themselves on being good at defense, but trust me, to get a win this week against Purdue, and if that meant that they won by one point and the other team scored a bunch of points and their offense scored one more, they would be happy with that.

QUESTION: Corey (Clement) has been named player of the week this week, and I know you said his preparation hasn't changed his mindset the whole season but the last three games he's averaging close to 130 yards a game. Is it just a matter of getting more carries or what do you attribute that to?

ANDERSEN: Probably all of the above. You know, I think he's young man is growing up. He's having his opportunities, and Corey is explosive. The more you play the better you get at anything, and his angles were very good this last game. Watching a young man like Melvin Gordon play I'm sure doesn't hurt him at all, when he sees the angles that Melvin takes when he gets to the second level. It's very good, and Corey showed in this last game he took a tremendous angle for the long run that he had the stiff arm on. He took a nice angle and the young man took a nice angle, too, but Corey was able to get the stiff arm out there and have him bounce off and he's a strong, physical running back.

Corey, I had an opportunity to ride next to him on the plane this last trip, and once I got him off taking pictures and Snapchatting and things and the plane took off, it was fun to sit next to him and listen to him, how important the game was, to go back home and how things are. And to get to sit with a kid for an hour and a half or two hours, it's a good thing but he is in a good spot and he's driven not just in that game, but he's driven to be a great running back. That's very obvious. I knew that before, but you learn a little more when you spend an hour and a half with somebody.

QUESTION: Gary, most head coaches don't like to worry about kickers, they hate talking about kickers, but I'm curious about Rafael (Gaglianone). He made his first one, missed one, made four in a row, missed two, made five in a row. Does he have some mental toughness to him in addition to having a strong leg? Because those conditions Saturday weren't exactly ideal.

ANDERSEN: Yeah, he he is very mentally tough, I would say, for a true freshman to walk into an environment that he's had. Quite frankly, my biggest concern with Rafael is keeping him grounded. He's kind of a whatever. He walks on the field and people want to cheer for him. I want to make sure that he realizes that, you know, he might have been a little bit of a I don't know, a teacher's pet or something early on, but he better keep performing to keep his edge and let him understand where he's going. But he is tough. We put him in tough situations. I think I've got him in some spots that have allowed him to help him grow through decision making processes in his life from the first when he got here but he's proved to me that he wants to go out and compete at a high level.

He's proven to his teammates that he can go out and make big kicks. Hasn't always gone his way and he's bounced back, so for a freshman in the position he is, I feel good about the position as far as the place kickers as they move forward through the years.

QUESTION: Back to Corey Clement, he said recently he watches Melvin play and wishes he could do some things that Melvin does. Does Corey do things that Melvin can't?

ANDERSEN: I don't know. Off the top of my head, probably say no. But, you know, Melvin is pretty special. Corey, I'm sure he'll hear that and he will come and have something he does better. At this point, you know, I think Melvin does a lot of things very, very well. So does Corey, and it's great that Corey can look at that and say ‘This is a great player, I can learn from that great player.’ A year ago I will guarantee you that Melvin Gordon was watching James (White) and he was working to get better at some of the things that James did that Melvin thought James did better than he was doing at that point.

QUESTION: You talked about Alex Erickson, you said you expect him to go against Purdue. Do you anticipate him or Melvin for that matter missing any practice time this week?

ANDERSEN: Alex may jump back into things tomorrow, I would expect him to be there. Today we don't do much so it's kind of a glorified walk through, full today. I don't know the time frame on Alex, honestly. I just expect him to play. If we were going to play a game tonight at 6:00, Melvin would be full steam ahead ready to go with no problems.

QUESTION: Gary, I was wondering if you had a chance to catch any of Chris Borland's 18 tackle game yesterday and if so what you thought of that.

ANDERSEN: I didn't. First I heard of it, actually, so I didn't know that he had a game like that, but that's terrific to see, and didn't catch any NFL games yesterday so I missed that one, but I'll text him and let him know that we're proud of him as always. Maybe he should come to games more often, huh? It helped him.

QUESTION: There are a lot of moving pieces in special teams. At the end of the day how do you judge that unit? Are there statistical categories that you value more than others?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, there is. The ability to, number one, sustain and get position of the football, and that's not really an easy thing to say, that's the the end result is one you want to get the ball, and you gotta get the ball back in the best position that you can possibly get it back, that's key, and then you want to put themselves when you kick the ball, you want to do your best to make sure that you do just the opposite of that.

I judge the special teams as a whole, and the Plan to Win and play great special teams, they're definitely judged as a whole. Last week we did play special teams, and I look back and I say, did they change the game in our favor? Ultimately that's what we ask ourselves as a special teams unit every single week, and they absolutely did this last game, with the field goals, and the blocked punt was a huge momentum changer, and we were solidly consistent in all the other areas.

I've never been Coach (Bill) Busch and Coach (Jeff) Genyk, I'm sure, in their own little areas, they've got, ‘This is what we need to do on punt return, to do it on kickoff, we want this on kickoff return,’ but from a head coaching standpoint much as you do from a defense, did they give us an opportunity to help us win the game the way they needed to, and surely they can't be a detriment or anchor to the whole team.

If you win two of three, of offense, defense, special teams, every week, you're going to be a really, really good football team and potentially a great team.

QUESTION: Gary, regarding your travel plans sitting next to Corey, was that random that you sat next to him going back home? When did you learn that you didn't know about him?

ANDERSEN: Yeah, completely random. I try to you know, all the seniors go up front, you guys know that, we've done that for a long time and then all the big guys, try to give them exit aisles. The plane that (Zach) Nyborg bought a year ago was a little small, so I let Zach know what I thought about that, so we were crammed in there, packed in there.

Corey just happened to be there. Just seeing how important his family was, talking to him about what you learn when you get into a home, I get one visit in the home and other than that I get to see them when the family comes to visit, very quickly -- his family. He's got a lot of people that are very important to him. I like where Corey is. I like where he is off the football field; I like where he is academically. You can listen to him talk about his classes, he knows what he's talking about. His direction in life, seems to be very clear and focused as far as what he's doing socially, he has bright eyes and he looks you in the eye when he talks about those things, so football wasn't really even discussed in those situations.

He tried to show me how to do a few things on the new iPhone that I have to use now, but I'm not any better at that, so I'm not very coachable in those situations, I guess.

QUESTION: End of the first half against Rutgers, the sequence, I think Corey picked up a first down, and then it looked like you guys weren't rushing anything. Were you willing to setting for a field goal there because I know there was a lot of time burned after the first down run. Were you saying, let's not worry about it? Were you pressing, what happened there?

ANDERSEN: Once we got it, I felt good about it. I didn't want to get us in a panic situation. We could have spiked it, I suppose, and given ourselves the opportunity to run two plays instead of just one more, but I felt like I didn't really want to get on the headphones at that point and tell Andy what to do. I didn't think I needed to do that with Andy Ludwig, I really don't. And, number two, I didn't want to really take two shots of throwing the ball at that moment, in the end zone, with that score. I felt like getting three more (points) would be fantastic. So you pop a run, you get it, then it got down to 10 seconds, that's it. All of the sudden, no timeouts, 10 seconds left, procedure (penalty), half's over, you got major issues on your hands, so that's why we decided to kick it with 10 left.

QUESTION: I know the injury to Alex isn't a positive thing, but it allowed certainly George (Rushing) and Reggie (Love) and Krenwick (Sanders) and Natrell (Jamerson), more experience in that game and seemed like George actually made some nice plays for you guys?

ANDERSEN: It was good to see those young men get in. The most important thing is George's ability to catch the ball was fantastic, make a couple of plays, very important, same thing with Krenwick, being able to make a play. The reps are invaluable, get in there and not just catch it, but to block it, get lined up, understand where they're going, know that you can't look over to the sidelines and no coach is going to tell me to line two yards inside the hash, and da, da, da, because there is a lot that comes with our offense. It was definitely there was progress made, let me say that, at the wide receiver position with the young kids in this last game, and we need it.

QUESTION: Each week seems like you've been asked about the passing game and trying to connect on the big ones, and you've talked about Tanner (McEvoy) and Joel (Stave) and their "want-to" and "care" and their desire in practice to get it right. Are you seeing in practice the connection, the success rate that you want to see there, and it's transferring over to the game or is it in practice some of the struggles that you have in the game?

ANDERSEN: We always have our struggles in practice, but I really see the progress throughout the week and a lot of times, as you know, we run a split practice, and it would probably be a better question for Andy because I'm with the defense so much but I don't see a lot of their practice, but I know when I come back and watch it on tape, which I do every day, it looks good to me, but I don't get to see every second of every practice. You know, neither team threw the ball real well last week. It was really windy. Those are not excuses, but I feel like put it this way: When the ball goes up in the air, and I see a guy running wide open down the field, I'm feeling pretty good that we're going to get in the right spot to be able to catch it, and sometimes it's worked out, sometimes it hasn't.

QUESTION: Gary, back to the defense. I'm sure a lot of people in this room had questions about your front seven, given all you lost. I'm curious at what point did the coaching staff as the season developed have a feel for the season is not over yet, that the defense would be pretty stout and the be able to do some things that maybe not everyone anticipated?

ANDERSEN: I would probably myself, you know, the Maryland game was a great opportunity for us to play against a very talented group and we walked out of that having played very well. So if it was over today, I would say that was the turning point that I felt, hey, these guys are gaining momentum and really moving forward, and then that carried on to this week. We will see what happens as they move forward. The best thing about that defense is there are some very talented players on there and some very youthful players as you've said many times, but it's kind of the unsung hero if you will. One guy makes a play this week and another guy makes a play next week and there are a lot of guys stepping up and a lot of pieces to the puzzle. They got a chance to be special so hopefully we can help them get there and then we will get themselves there as we move through the next few games.

QUESTION: Is it your experience that when you have two guys who have been coordinators of special teams, and I'm curious how that relationship, having both Bill (Busch) and (Jeff Genyk) have worked together doing this and what their chemistry is like?

ANDERSEN: I did not truly believe in that initially, and when we came to Wisconsin and we kind of put the staff together, you look at what we do on offense and the tight end coach is so involved in the offensive system, which you all know as well as I. You look at us on the defensive side and when you're coaching the out front, you would love to have five assistant coaches on the defensive side of the football, well you don't get those five. They've got four assistants, offense has five assistants -- which offense needs them all -- and defense has four assistants and a GA or, for instance, they have to deal with me this year coaching the ‘B’ backers, so it makes it five over there. Bill has to coach the safeties, and he's in charge of the ‘F’ linebackers also, and that's a lot, to handle four special teams and handle those duties. It's a lot for out tight end coach, in this offense, to handle the tight ends and then be involved with all the special teams duties, so to split in half seemed natural.

They both were excited about the opportunity, because they work well together, number one, and number two, I'm not going to say it's half the workload, like they're afraid of the work, but it lets them be better at their job because they can manage it and handle it.


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