Badgers Shift Focus to Nebraska

On a four game winning streak, No.22 Wisconsin faces its toughest, and most important, test Saturday against No.11 Nebraska at Camp Randall Stadium. Badgers coach Gary Andersen addressed the media Monday.

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen

A couple notes off last week's game I think are important. (Vince) Biegel had a tremendous game. Played very, very well. It's great to see him have such an impact on the game in a positive way. Hopefully that can continue.

You know, Melvin (Gordon), again, just goes about his business, 200 yards, and you know, you'd think he had like 120 or 130 and the kid comes out of there with 200 yards and I think that's just a credit to how great a player he is and what he's been able to do and, again, hopefully that continues.

Was proud of the offense, defense, special teams; all contributed. We have plenty to work on.

As we look forward to this next game, Nebraska is obviously a quality opponent. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a great environment for us here, with three games left. This is the next one on the schedule, and it's the only game that matters. A lot of that is coach talk, but it's really true. This is where Nebraska falls in the schedule, and we're excited to have the opportunity to prepare and get ready to play our next game.

QUESTION: Gary, I know every game is important, but is this the most significant or meaningful game you believe your team has played at Camp Randall since you've been coach here, given what's at stake?

ANDERSEN: You know, I don't know. I think it's all hard to say, and I hate to get into that. You know, everybody wants to talk about big games, and it's this and it's that. You know, we're going to approach it exactly the same. And the reason I say that is because a week from now we're going sitting here and then we're going to say that that's a big game, or two or three weeks ago when we were getting ready to play, how big was that game.

So we're going to prepare the same, and as a coach, I think it's important to allow the kids to prepare exactly the same; you put them in a position if it gets built up too much, it's not good, and if it gets built up, not good enough, I don't think it's good for the kids. And quite frankly, I don't think it's good for the coaches, so we're just going to prepare how we always prepare.

QUESTION: After the game you mentioned that the kickoff unit, the coverage, remains an area of concern for you. When you looked at it, I'm assuming you did yesterday, what are some of the options you have? Were guys not in their lanes? Is it a personnel issue, a schematic issue? How do you address that issue this week?

ANDERSEN: We're going to look at it in all those areas. Number one, we've got to put the kick in a position to be able to cover the field to the best of our abilities, and that's just not all Andrew (Endicott). That's not just pointing the finger at the kicker. It's the team in general. We have to give him an opportunity to put the ball where we can cover the best. We'll look at potential personnel scenarios, and you do that every single week depending on the returners or what kind of return team, what kind of schemes that they use, and we'll also look at that. But it's the whole team, and when we have a problem we're always going to look at ourselves as a whole and we'll always look at it as coaches first.

We’ll take a long hard look at it to see what we can do to help them. But no question it has to improve. You know, getting the ball out to the 40 yard line is putting the defense in a bad spot, and we want to be able to improve in that area, and it was so good for so many weeks, and then it's really tapered off. Credit to the teams we've played, but we've gotta do all the areas better. We’ve got to cover better. We’ve got to coach it better. We’ve got to kick it better. If we do that, you know, we'll be okay, because these guys got some really good returners back there and talented people blocking.

QUESTION: This is an offense that's averaging over 40 points per game this season. What in your mind makes that offense so effective and how much does Ameer’s (Abdullah) return impact that?

ANDERSEN: You'll be surprised when I say this, but players. There is no magic schemes. Very good coaches again like there always is in this league week in and week out. But there's talented players all over the field. The quarterback can hurt you in every way a quarterback in every way you want a quarterback to hurt you, and every way that you don't want a quarterback to hurt you from a defensive standpoint.

He makes good decisions. They're check-with-me game, looking over to the sideline, is very good. It's ran through the coaches to the players and I think they handle that very, very well and then they’ve got the personnel on top of it and the quarterback can also hurt you with his legs.

Obviously the running back, Abdullah, is fantastic. He cuts on a dime. He's fast, he's quick, he's physical, catches the ball well, all that stuff. He’s a talented, talented young man, and all the accolades that is talked about him having and that he's received in the past are definitely warranted. He's a tremendous back, and the receivers are very, very good.

You know, something that goes unnoticed many times with our receivers at Wisconsin and also the receivers at Nebraska is they're very physical blockers. Nebraska takes great pride in blocking down the field and with the amount of fly sweeps and things they do to get to the edges it's a big part of their game, and the offensive line does a very, very nice job.

They play a number of people. You'll see sometimes eight kids rotate in and out of that, and even nine in certain scenarios. The big left tackle stays in there almost all the time. I apologize for not knowing his name, No. 71. But the other guys kind of roll through there and one of the guards flip back and forth, from right guard to left guard.

And they're all talented players, not a big dropoff when those other kids come in, tight ends and fullbacks. So it's a good scheme, very talented players and they do a tremendous job, I think, of getting the ball in their playmakers’ hands.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on Konrad Zagzebski and as well as maybe Derek Watt, whether you expect those guys to play this week?

ANDERSEN: Yeah. I expect them both to play and be actively involved in practices. We'll know more, really, tomorrow. We don't do a bunch today. It's a mental time out there on the field for us to start to understand schemes and get a jump on the opponent, just like we always do. But I think we'll get more we'll learn more -- as we get into Tuesday and Wednesday, but right now I would expect them both to participate and play, and I know they sure want to play.

QUESTION: Gary, should we automatically assume that a team that has had a bye has an advantage over a team that just got done playing a game?

ANDERSEN: You know, that's an easy that's an easy thing to assume. There's definitely a head start. That's a guarantee. They've had practice times on schemes and on reps and different scenarios that are out there. You always feel like you're a little bit behind, especially early in the week, when a team has had a bye.

Again, when you have a bye, you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to make sure when you're preparing against a team that had a bye, I should say, you need to be careful, just as I say when you have a bye, you don't want to chase too many ghosts on the flip side and look way too far back at what the other opponent did. And I would say the same thing here, you get yourself caught in the middle of getting prepared for what they have done and then, because they've had a bye week, what they may do. And that can cause you a problem. So I think it's a delicate balance as you go through, and the key is to continue to prepare.

But early in the week, right now, does Nebraska have an advantage because they had a bye week? Yes. And it’s our job as coaches to eat that up and, as we practice, the players’ responsibility to eat up the prep time that they've had so when we take the field, we're where we need to be to be ready to play. Byes are never an excuse for playing well or playing poorly.

QUESTION: As crazy as it sounds, but after putting up 200 yards, and you know, he had a couple touchdowns, after the game Melvin seemed more concerned about the fumble, the reads that he missed. He even said something like somebody asked him about keeping track of Ameer's statistics every week and he said yeah I do that. What is his demeanor on the sidelines? Is he a guy you say that maybe he's pressing or trying to do too much, and if so, how do you guys deal with that as a coaching staff?

ANDERSEN: No. I don't think he presses at all. It's his competitive nature. Melvin, we've seen him come out and sometimes have his best individual performances after a mistake or whatever it may be that he's had. I think that's more just the situation that arises more so than Melvin all of a sudden is cranking it up and ‘Hey, let's go.’

But he does get down on himself. A great competitor gets down on himself when he looks at something that he deems as a mistake or as an issue that he should have done better or could have done better. And I credit him for that. But his demeanor has never been down to the point to where, ‘Oh, he's not handling this well and not playing well because he hasn't had the success.’ He's fantastic at that. He keeps his head up. He's very good with, you know, other guys when they have issues, too.

When they make a mistake, he's the first one to go over there and tap them on the head and say, ‘Let's go.’ And he got a little bit of that from his teammates, which is great to see. It doesn't surprise me from this team that look at something that didn't go our way and they'll find a way to correct it through making a play and move on from the last snap. And that’s the key when you get in those scenarios. You can't dwell on what the past was. You’ve just got to move forward and try to do your best to move throughout the game and make plays when opportunity presents itself.

QUESTION: Just based on the stats, it looks like their tackle, No. 7 on the inside, and then 4, Gregory, are very disruptive. I'm just curious what you say about that tackle and also, does Gregory stick to one side or do they try to get mismatches for him on one side or the other?

ANDERSEN: Gregory is really the 3-technique most of the time, which is playing in the B gap, I guess, without getting too technical. He moves to the weak side or the strong side depending on where they're going within the defensive scheme. So he will play on both sides, and he's a very talented player. He's stout and solid and physical against the run. Very, very talented pass rusher, a change of direction guy. People have tried to do some different things to him in the read zone concepts and he's shown, for a big guy, he can definitely not have much worry about doing whatever he needs to do to get involved.

And I would go way past that with that defensive front. They're talented. Very, very good pass rushers on the edges. That's the strength of their defense, which is a very good defense throughout, but a strength of their defense if you throw on the tape -- and maybe my eyes always get drawn there because of my background coaching the defensive front -- but there's a bunch of guys on that defense that a lot of defensive coaches in the country would like to coach, let me put it that way. They're good players.

QUESTION: I don't know if this falls into the category of chasing ghosts but did you watch tape of the last Wisconsin Nebraska game?

ANDERSEN: No. No. I probably saw that 15 or 20 times on the Big Ten Network, so to say I watched the exact game tape of it, no, but I've watched it quite a bit in the past. It's always good to go back and compare schemes. I'm sure that Andy (Ludwig) and Dave (Aranda) have gone back and done that. I personally have not gone back that far.

QUESTION: With the production in the division of snaps you had out of Tanner (McEvoy) and Joel (Stave), quarterback, how much of that was something would you have envisioned, I guess, when you're thinking about this back in the off season or earlier in the season in terms of ideal outcome and what can you do to build on that these last three games?

ANDERSEN: I think the key is, again, that's just where we are at this point. I've said it. I know this team believes it. The kids believe it, that it is best for us to have both of those young men be ready to play. It worked fantastic in this last game. It's worked good in some other games.

The best thing for us, I believe, moving forward now that we're into the maturity part of this thing into the season to where those kids can handle going in and out and the offense can handle them going in and out a series, on and off the field, whatever you want them to, whatever scenario Andy deems fit to put Joel in there or put Tanner in there. It's even a little bit more of a vicious weapon if I just look at it from a defensive coordinator standpoint.

Would I rather defend a guy for a whole series or defend a guy maybe for a snap or two snaps and have another guy coming in? They both have justification, but I personally think it's best when you have the ability to use them at any moment and you have to adjust your defensive schemes to it. So you'll see more of that as we continue to move forward, and when opportunity presents itself through the games, there is no, ‘Hey, he's going to take 10 snaps, he’s going to get 15 snaps, this other guy is going to get 50 snaps.’ It's kind of how the game is dictated, and we’ll use Tanner as we deem fit, and he handled it very well last week, as well as did Joel.

QUESTION: Along those lines, I know the guys both talked about having to adjust to splitting series at some point. And then they also talked about, okay, that was a change last week. When Andy first approached you, did you have any reservations of how Joel might handle it, because Tanner thought it's tougher for Joel if he's in a rhythm as a thrower to come out for a play or two and then come back in, but it didn't seem to have any negative effect.

ANDERSEN: I don't know if I really buy into that. I think if it works then nobody wants to talk about it. If it doesn't work and he has a bad throw, then all of a sudden everybody is going to want to talk about it. So many of those plays, they're not designed throws that are in there in the moment and to pull Joel off and put Tanner in when you would be handing the ball off, I guess I don't see that as a reason why we wouldn't throw the ball well.

And you know, just the flexibility within the offense is a huge plus for us. You know, all I can do is sit back and watch demeanor as a head coach, especially this late in the season, and look at the eyes of the kids and ask for them to truly continue to be invested in all the areas that we're asking them to as coaches and they do. And Tanner and Joel are at the forefront when it comes to that. They are all in, and they're excited about each other's success and the team's success.

QUESTION: Two of the first four games Vince Biegel had one and a half tackles for loss. Five games since it's been pretty dramatic on the other side of that. Did a light go on? Did schemes change? What prompted this run of success for him in terms of that?

ANDERSEN: I would say, again, Vinny is a very, very talented athlete, and the more you play this game of football, you gain confidence when you have success, just like anything in life, if you have success at what you're doing, you tend to get better at it. He is definitely improved in his ability to prepare. His practice habits have always been fantastic from an effort standpoint, but he's starting to understand some pre snap awareness. He's starting to understand as the game goes on, what is the guy I'm playing against, what is he like? And I think that's a maturity that goes through with a young man that has potential to be a great player, who is playing very, very well, at a high level the last few weeks.

The game kind of slows down for him a little bit as it moves forward, because he understands he gets better as the game goes on, because there's things on tape; you could watch 20 games and there's nothing like having 10 or 15 reps against somebody who you're playing against, and he's grown from that. I know he does because he talks about it. And then just the ability to be in the moment and understand where he's going. His athleticism is showing up because he's loose; he's full-steam ahead. He's reacting, and that's what a great athlete can do on defense. When he becomes a reactor instead of thinking, he's a step faster and that's how Vinny’s been the last couple of weeks. It's all a credit to that kid. He's a big part of that defense now and he’s a big-time playmaker.

QUESTION: I know you have a million other things to worry about during the week other than individual awards, but with Melvin being in the Heisman running, do you embrace that? Do you encourage Melvin to embrace it? I'm just curious on your mindset on that.

ANDERSEN: Absolutely. Melvin wants that and he's wanted it from the very beginning. And it goes back to the same deal I always talk about. There's a little bit of selfishness. If I'm a defensive tackle and defensive end, I want to get there and make the tackles before the linebackers do, and there's nothing wrong with that attitude.

For Melvin to be in elite company as far as just a conversation of anything like that, I mean that’s as big as it gets. That’s a special, special young man.

And I also would say that because I know that Melvin can handle that. He has no problem. It's a driving force for him. It's a driving force for him to play better, and in turn it helps his football team. I don't worry about that, any of that stuff with Melvin at all. I really don't. It’s something that I guess you could say he's a little bit used to, and he expected to be right where he is today at this moment and is excited to continue to compete against the best in the country. And there's two of them that are going to be against each other on Saturday. What more could you really ask for in college football as a fan, a coach or a player? It's a special time for those two young men and both of these teams to have them matched up together for three hours and however many minutes it is.

QUESTION: You mentioned Zagzebski. I'm just curious, in that LSU game when you lost both Konrad and Warren obviously it hurt the front. But with Warren back now and the reps some of the younger guys have gotten, are you better prepared if Zags is limited at all Saturday, to handle that if he can't give you what he normally gives you?

ANDERSEN: Yes. Absolutely. The tradeoff with Warren (Herring) being able to go to the nose and the defensive end -- and as he's come back, he’s played more in the nose spot -- but has the ability to flop out to end at any moment if he’s needed to, and (Arthur) Goldberg can come in and play the nose guard position. That's positive for us.

(Jake) Keefer came in, and I was really proud of him in this last game. He was physical. He made some plays. He was assignment clean. His technique was very, very good, and it was good to see him get those quality reps because he's been waiting for that opportunity and took advantage of it in this last game. And if Zags is out, and we had to, this week against a very good offensive line. So, better equipped than we were, you know, with a couple of those freshmen hopping in there in the LSU game. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Could you talk about the significance of playing for the Freedom Trophy?

ANDERSEN: I didn't know there was a trophy to this game until about four or five days ago. I had no idea. I guess I was too locked up in the season and seeing what's out there. So I guess my answer to that right now would be I haven't seen the trophy. I don't know what it looks like. I think what it stands for is awesome. It's great to have a trophy that stands for something that special, especially with the traditions of both the stadiums and all the stuff that comes with it. So, sounds like it's there for all the right reasons. Kids have an opportunity to compete for something that they can trade back and forth as one of them is victorious throughout the years. Always gives it a little bit of a special edge for the game. So I think it's good. Pretty soon we're going to have a trophy for every game we play. So at that point it turns into Little League, right? There's no winner, there's no loser, just give them a trophy. But this one's good. This one stands for all the right things.

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